Denver A cold rain and two stingy defenses turned the Baltimore-Denver showdown into a kicking competition, and Jason Elam bested Matt Stover in the Broncos' 13-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
The Broncos (3-1) intercepted three of Steve McNair's passes - including a leaping end-zone pick by Champ Bailey just before halftime - to hand the Ravens (4-1) their first loss.
Deep in Ravens territory with a 6-3 lead and 1:55 left, Denver took a chance at the end zone, icing the game on Jake Plummer's four-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith. It was Smith's first touchdown this season and also the first TD the Ravens have surrendered in a second half this year.
"We stuck together tonight," Plummer said. "It was ugly, ugly for a while, but in the end we came and put together some drives when it counted."
Elam connected from 43 and 44 yards, the second one breaking a 3-3 tie with eight minutes remaining and capping a drive that was set up by Sam Koch's 10-yard punt.
With safety John Lynch on the sideline after pinching a nerve in his neck, cornerback Darrent Williams intercepted McNair's pass at midfield with 6:47 remaining, and Javon Walker had a 27-yard catch that set up Smith's score.
Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce, who was quiet all week about his return to Denver, which dumped him and his $10 million salary in the offseason, was even quieter Monday night, assisting on just one tackle.
The teams were tied 3-3 at halftime, and the rain only got heavier during a scoreless third quarter in which the Ravens avoided a big momentum-shifter when center Mike Flynn smothered McNair's fumble at the Baltimore 12.
Flynn saved the touchdown after McNair's third interception, by Domonique Foxworth in the final minute.
The Ravens and the rain combined to limit Denver to nine yards of offense in the first quarter, tying a franchise low since Mike Shanahan became the Broncos coach in 1995.
The Broncos turned the ball over on their first two possessions - one was a fumble by tailback Tatum Bell on a swing pass and the other on an overthrown pass from Plummer to Walker - but the Ravens turned one over themselves in the end zone just before halftime.
Denver's first turnover resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Stover that gave Baltimore a 3-0 lead. It followed cornerback Chris McAlister's nifty tightrope walk along the right sideline after he gathered the loose ball that Terrell Suggs punched out of Bell's hands.
Plummer, wearing a glove on his throwing hand to get a better grip, wildly overthrew Walker on the Broncos' next possession and cornerback Samari Rolle hauled in the long pass at the Baltimore 34.
The Broncos tied it at 3 on Elam's 43-yarder following Williams' 33-yard punt return to the Baltimore 42.
It was the second big return by Williams, who ranked dead last in the NFL going into the game with an average of less than a yard per punt return.
The Ravens were driving for the go-ahead score just before halftime when Bailey intercepted McNair's lob pass to Clarence Moore in the end zone with 30 seconds left.
"It's always the difference in the game: that red zone," Shanahan said. "What were they, one for two? ... Kept them from getting a field goal, kept them from getting a touchdown. Obviously, that was a big play at the time."
Bailey had just been burned for a 26-yard gain on third-and-7 when he appeared to bite on a fake by McNair and Derrick Mason zipped past him and hauled in the pass along the right sideline.
Safety Nick Ferguson saved the touchdown by knocking Mason out of bounds at the 11-yard line.
"We heard all the hype about them," Bailey said. "We've got a good defense, too, and I think we proved that tonight.