Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno's only touchdown Sunday put the Ravens in a 31-3 hole. (US Presswire)

The Broncos' 34-17 demolition of the Baltimore Ravens (9-5) pushed them to 11-3, and thanks to help from the 49ers, moved them closer to a first-round bye. However, it wasn't quite the litmus test that many expected.

As the Broncos piled up wins following a 2-3 start, skeptics pointed to the Ravens game as the one that would demonstrate their worthiness as a title contender. But by the time Denver arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens were beaten up, with injuries crippling their offensive line and linebacking corps. The Broncos attacked both Sunday and never trailed, winning their first game in Baltimore since 1983.

In retrospect, the Week 9 win at Cincinnati might have revealed more about the Broncos' readiness for January than their effort Sunday. The Bengals have only lost once since then, and are the only team to hold a fourth-quarter lead over the Broncos in two months. Cincinnati looks ascendant and has the potential to be a tougher playoff out than the Ravens, who quickly capitulated in the third quarter Sunday.

Nevertheless, their Week 15 win on Sunday was over a division leader, something the Broncos didn't have until now, having lost to Atlanta, Houston and New England in the season's first five weeks. The Broncos' early season woes seem far behind them, and there's ample reason to believe that if they play any of those three teams in January, the results will be different.

Offense: A-

The Broncos ran 45 times -- a tally they hadn't racked up since Tim Tebow was keeping it and taking off with the zone-read option last year -- and RB Knowshon Moreno averaged 5.4 yards per carry on his 22 runs, finishing with 118 yards and a touchdown. That set everything in motion for the Broncos. QB Peyton Manning was able to exploit the Ravens' increasing commitment to run defense with play-action passes, none more devastating than a 51-yard strike to WR Eric Decker. With each week that they commit to the ground game, the Broncos become more capable of winning a grinding slugfest in January -- and setting up Manning for play-fakes, at which he remains one of the league's best. Previous game's grade: B-

Defense: B

If grades were given for three quarters only, the Broncos would have aced the test; after 45 minutes of game play Sunday, the Denver defense had outscored Baltimore's offense 7-3, thanks to CB Chris Harris' 98-yard interception return in the final seconds of the first half. Alas, the fourth quarter was a letdown; although the Broncos got three sacks of QB Joe Flacco in the final 15 minutes after pressuring him consistently throughout the game, they surrendered two touchdowns on just eight plays in the fourth quarter. After the game, CB Champ Bailey could barely contain his frustration with the closing act, which continued a recent trend, as Denver has given up 33 points in its last three fourth quarters. "Great defenses don't do that," he said. "The first three (quarters) were pretty good. The fourth quarter -- it's not who we are. We can't keep putting that on film." Previous game's grade: B-

Special teams: D+

It was sub-par all around for the Broncos' special-teams units. P Britton Colquitt's net punting average of 36.5 yards was his second-lowest of the year, largely because of Tandon Doss' 40-yard return. KR/PR Trindon Holliday's feast-or-famine tendency continued; he had a 27-yard punt return up the left sideline but gained just six yards on his other five returns and fumbled for a second consecutive game. Holliday has fumbled four of his 40 total returns with the Broncos, but coach John Fox said he would not lose his job. K Matt Prater sounded alarms again by hooking a last-minute 45-yard field-goal attempt wide left after drilling his previous six attempts; he's just 3 of 7 this season from 40-49 yards. Previous game's grade: B

Coaching: A-

Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's insistence on establishing the run game and emphasizing it in practice has reaped dividends the last two weeks, and now Moreno is running with more patience and decisive burst than he ever has as a pro. The Broncos also did a good job keeping Moreno engaged and involved during his eight weeks on the inactive list. That's paying off now, too. Previous game's grade: B

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