BALTIMORE -- The Denver Broncos no longer can be considered a notch below the best in the AFC, nor can they be viewed as a team that can succeed only when Peyton Manning puts up dazzling numbers.
Their 34-17 rout of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday showed just how good these Broncos can be.
Chris Harris returned an interception 98 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown, and Denver cruised to its ninth straight victory in surprisingly easy fashion.
"You come to the Ravens' house and beat them handily, it's definitely a statement game," Harris said. "We definitely wanted to show to everybody that we're an elite team."
Manning threw for 204 yards and a score in his ninth consecutive win against Baltimore, the first with the Broncos (11-3).
But he was merely a role player in this one, because Denver's defense dominated the Ravens, who sputtered in their first game with Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator.
This was supposed to be a test for Denver, which was 0-5 in Baltimore and was eager to face a quality opponent on the road.
"Pat Bowlen has owned the team for 29 years and has averaged 10 wins a season, but it's the first time he's won in this building," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I was proud to see that for him."
Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris stepped in front of Anquan Boldin, picked off a pass by Joe Flacco and sprinted down the right
"He just ran the out route and I was waiting to see when he was going to look back at the quarterback," Harris said. "As soon as he looked back, I looked back and the ball was there. I just made a play on the ball."
It was the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history, and it turned a close game into a rout.
"I made a mistake. No other way to say it," Flacco said.
"Baltimore had some momentum there on the drive and looks like they're probably going to get the touchdown -- plus they get the ball the first series of the second half," Manning said.
"So just a huge play. The turnover is good, the fact that he took it all the way to the house for a touchdown was even bigger. Big play, big swing in the game, in the momentum. I thought it kind of jump-started everything in the second half for us."
The Ravens (9-5) were playing their first game under Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron. Baltimore's offense sputtered in the first half, gaining only 119 yards and committing two turnovers that led to 10 Denver points.
Baltimore has lost three straight -- including two in a row at home for the first time since December 2007. The Ravens trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter before Flacco threw touchdown passes of 31 and 61 yards to tight end Dennis Pitta.
"We couldn't get anything going until late," coach John Harbaugh said.
Caldwell's debut was a resounding flop. Flacco went 20 for 40 for 254 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception. Ray Rice ran for 38 yards on 12 carries and the Ravens produced a meager 56 yards rushing.
For three weeks, Baltimore has needed one win to clinch a fifth straight trip to the playoffs. The Ravens still lead the AFC North, but their lead has shrunk to one game with two to play.
"We're a 9-5 football team and we feel like we're 0-14 right now," Flacco said.