Ravens inspired to win by Lewis
A playoff victory in hand, Ray Lewis ran onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium for one last time.
It was for an offensive play -- his first since high school in Lakeland, Fla. -- and as quarterback Joe Flacco took a knee from the victory formation to seal a 24-9 triumph vs. the Indianapolis Colts, Lewis broke out into his signature “squirrel” dance.
The 71,379 in attendance ate it up. Then Lewis took a victory lap for good measure. No one wanted it to end.
Lewis' 17-year career isn’t over yet because the Ravens (11-6) travel to play the Denver Broncos (13-3) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET in a second-round playoff game.
Flacco threw for 282 yards on just 12 completions for a 125.6 rating. Running backs Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice combined for 220 all-purpose yards. Receiver Anquan Boldin set a franchise postseason record with 5 catches for 145 yards and 1 TD. Linebacker Paul Kruger had 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a broken up pass and five knockdowns of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
But Sunday was all about Lewis, who played for the first time since tearing his right triceps in a game Oct. 14, and electrified the home crowd. It was the first time that Lewis and linebacker Terrell Suggs took the field together this season. Suggs missed the first six weeks with an Achilles tear.
“It probably won’t sink in,” said Lewis, who played with a brace on his arm. “The reason why it probably won’t is because it’s probably the last thing on my mind right now. … We are poised to go do something.”
Lewis finished with 13 tackles, including 9 solo. In the second quarter, a pass from Luck was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Haloti Ngata. Lewis was all alone as it came down in his arms, but he couldn’t quite gather it.
He bobbled the ball as it fell to the ground. On the Colts’ half of the field, he had a chance to make a run for the end zone, too.
"From the moment I told the coaches I was going to play, fear is gone from that point," Lewis said. "I just never hurt it. I never re-injured it."
Ray Rice had a first-quarter fumble in Colts territory that ended a promising drive, but his 47-yard catch-and-run on a middle screen set up Vonta Leach to run it in for a 2-yard TD and a 10-6 halftime lead.
Flacco threw TD passes in the second half of 20 yards to Dennis Pitta and 18 yards to Boldin.
The Ravens defense kept Luck out of the end zone. He threw 28-for-54 for 288 yards and was intercepted in the fourth quarter by Cary Williams. He was sacked three times and was harassed on at least a dozen occasions that resulted in errant throws and a grounding penalty.
The Colts were 0-for-3 inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line, settling for three field goals from Adam Vinatieri.
During Lewis’ pregame introduction, Rice and Arthur Jones admitted they were in tears. If the Ravens had lost Sunday, there would’ve been many more. Instead, the locker room was littered with smiles.
“I’m sure anybody who was in the stadium, especially with him coming out of the tunnel for the last time in this stadium … was affected by it,” Boldin said. “We all wanted to play well for him and make sure it wasn’t his last game.”
Center Matt Birk had to keep his emotions in check, even though he understood that some were overwhelmed.
“You have to stay focused on the game. It’s definitely a special circumstance. Everything about it is special,” Birk said. “I’m sure down the road it will be a little bit more fully appreciated. … I can’t say enough about what he means to this organization, this city and this team. Certainly, a special moment at the end when he got in there on offense. Just a really good deal, a good day.”
Flacco was elated about the Lewis coming out for one last play. Coach John Harbaugh asked Lewis to do an encore.
"They told me on second down that they were going to send Ray in there for third down and get one more play out there, so I knew he was coming in," Flacco said. "Pretty cool."
Harbaugh took the emotional impact of Lewis' final appearance at home to a deeper level.
"I think it means a lot. You feel it right in here. You feel it right at your core," he said. "I know the people in Baltimore feel that way. The Baltimore fans are so proud of Ray Lewis."