BALTIMORE | The Denver Broncos should have seen it coming: another beatdown in Baltimore by the bruising, no-nonsense Ravens.
Ray Rice ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and Baltimore frustrated Denver quarterback Kyle Orton in a 31-17 victory Sunday.
Baltimore (4-1) jumped to a 17-0 lead and coasted to its third straight win, the first this season by double digits. The Ravens moved past idle Pittsburgh into sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
"It was an important win for us to get where we're going as a football team," coach John Harbaugh said. "This is a game we really had to win at home, against an AFC team."
As if there was any doubt?
The Broncos (2-3) fell to 0-5 against the Ravens in Baltimore. In those games, Denver has been outscored 142-56, including 60-24 over the last two years.
In this one, Rice led a running attack that gained 233 yards, and Ray Lewis spearheaded a defense that relentlessly pursued Orton and limited Denver to 39 yards on the ground.
"Sure, they're one of the most physical teams in the league," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "But sometimes their toughness overshadows the talent that they have. They aren't just tough; they're a good team."
Orton completed his fourth straight 300-yard passing game with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd with 35 seconds left. It was of little consolation to the Broncos, who hurt themselves by losing a fumble and committing 10 penalties for 90 yards.
"They're just so good," Orton said. "It's tough to play them anywhere. Just be honest, they beat us up today."
Denver coach Josh McDaniels concurred.
"I'm disappointed. We didn't play as tough as certainly you're going to need to against a team like this," he said. "This is the first time I thought our mental toughness was questioned."
What was billed as a duel between the best aerial game in the league and the No. 1 pass defense turned into a mismatch.
Orton went 23 for 38 for 314 yards and two touchdowns to Lloyd. But Denver never got closer than 10 points after the Ravens went up by 17 with 9:21 left in the second quarter.
That's because Baltimore's defense and running game were relentless.
"You want to defend the pass. You don't want to go out there and make hits on the running backs the whole entire game," Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said with a chuckle.
"It was a great day to get the running game going," said Rice. "Especially at home, against Denver."
Baltimore's Joe Flacco completed 14 of 25 passes for 196 yards and ran for a score. Unlike Orton, he was backed by a solid running game.
"They started doing some things to combat what we were doing. Then came our running game," Flacco said. "Our offensive line did a great job. Ray was just finding the little holes, putting us in good third-down situations."
Lewis, who had a team-high six tackles, said, "You see what happens when the running game gets going. The passing game opens up, and it's only a matter of time before Ray (Rice) gets cranked up."
The Ravens led 17-7 at halftime after keeping the Broncos from crossing the 50-yard line until after the two-minute warning.
A 58-yard pass from Flacco to tight end Ed Dickson helped the Ravens move to the Denver 1 on their opening possession. The drive fizzled when Willis McGahee was twice stuffed at the line and Jason Hunter sacked Flacco on fourth down.
"We didn't succeed on the 1," Flacco said, "but we did a great job after that."
Baltimore got it right on its second try, marching 73 yards to go up 7-0. Flacco went 4 for 4 for 51 yards before sneaking in from the 1, his first touchdown since Oct. 26, 2008.
The Ravens again forced a punt, then scored again. After Denver's Perrish Cox was called for pass interference in the end zone, Rice took it in from the 1.
First-round draft pick Demaryius Thomas fumbled the ensuing kickoff when hit by Jason Phillips, a collision that forced Thomas from the game with head and neck injuries. Baltimore recovered at the 20, and a field goal by Billy Cundiff made it 17-0.
The Broncos finally broke through with 48 seconds left in the half on a 42-yard pass from Orton to Lloyd, who made a diving catch in the back of the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, after Rice scored on a 1-yard run, Matt Prater kicked a field goal for Denver to make it 24-10.
McGahee iced the victory with a 30-yard touchdown run with 5:06 remaining.
Notes: Denver S Darcel McBath injured his ankle during the opening series and did not return. ... Prater extended his consecutive field goal streak to 17. ... The Ravens have won five straight at home.