Despite two Ray Rice fumbles, the Baltimore Ravens used a big second half and a strong defensive effort to beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9, advancing to take on the Denver Broncos this coming Saturday, and sent Ray Lewis out a winner in his last game at M&T Bank Stadium.
With so many storylines heading into yesterday's AFC Wildcard playoff matchup between the Ravens and Colts, it was hard to not to focus in on the fact it was going to be Lewis's last game ever in Baltimore. The atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium was electric and when Lewis was announced and did his dance, for what we thought was the last time, the roar was deafening. The most inspiring news for Ravens fans didn't just come from Lewis being on the field, but the way Lewis played yesterday. He led the team with 13 tackles and nearly had an interception, but perhaps a little rusty, Lewis allowed the ball to tip off his hands. Nonetheless, he was moving very well, and tackled good as well and his play will be a big factor next week in Denver. When Baltimore had the game sealed, and Joe Flacco was taking a knee to end the game, coach John Harbaugh sent Lewis out to fullback for the game's last play so he could finish his career in Baltimore on the field, and Ray did an abbreviated version of his dance for one final time followed by a victory lap around the stadium to thank the fans.
The Ravens offense was very methodical in the first half and mustered only three points in their first two drives that entered the Colts 15 yard line, as Ray Rice fumbled on Baltimore's opening drive inside Indianapolis's 15 yard line, and Justin Tucker kicked a field goal the second time Baltimore was inside the Colts 15. Indianapolis tied the game at three with a field goal, but Baltimore orchestrated a nice 63 yard drive towards the end of the half, including a 47 yard screen pass to Rice that set up a 2 yard Vonta Leach touchdown run. The Colts managed to get a field goal before the end of the half to cut Baltimore's lead to 10-6 at halftime, but the game would never get closer than that the rest of the way.
Baltimore's offense, and more specifically Anquan Boldin, woke up in the second half. Boldin, who was held catchless in the first half, busted out one of, if not the greatest 30 offensive minutes of any Raven in history, as he reeled in five catches for 145 yards and a touchdown to bolster the offense, that scored 14 second half points. The Ravens likely would have added more points, but Rice fumbled for the second time in the game in Colts territory. Rice has lost a fumble in the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and Baltimore will need him to hold onto the football this weekend in Denver, if the Ravens want to have a chance to win the game. Flacco had a very efficient game, completing 12 of 23 pass attempts for 282 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, while Rice ran for 70 yards on 15 carries with the two fumbles and Bernard Pierce busted out 103 yards on just 13 carries. Baltimore's rushing offense was spectacular yesterday, and really made life easy for Flacco as he did not have to do too much for the victory, but next week will be a different story against Denver's stout defense.
Much more impressive was the performance of Baltimore's defense yesterday as they held the Colts to four field goal attempts and zero touchdowns in the game. Cary Williams had an interception while Paul Kruger had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. There were three standout players in the game, in my opinion, on the defensive side of the football. Lewis with his team leading 13 tackles, Kruger with the 2.5 sacks and forced fumble, and the lost performance of Corey Graham. Williams' interception came courtesy of a tipped pass from Graham and Corey, who seemed to be the Colts main target when throwing the football, was all over the field and did a fantastic job. Baltimore did its typical performance, allow a lot of yards, but not a lot of points, and if they can somehow do the same thing against the Broncos, the Ravens may shock the world on Saturday.
Yesterday's win was a great way for Ray Lewis to go out in front of Ravens fans, and more importantly, Baltimore has now won a playoff game in five consecutive seasons. Flacco is the first quarterback and Harbaugh the first coach in the Super Bowl era to begin their careers with a playoff win in each of their first five seasons. Baltimore advances to the Divisional Round of the playoffs to take on the Denver Broncos Saturday at 4:30pm EST.
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