BALTIMORE — Ray Lewis' spectacular 17-year NFL career will continue for at least one more week.
Returning to the field 12 weeks after tearing his right triceps, Lewis helped the Baltimore Ravens defeat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.
The Ravens (11-6) will now visit Denver on Saturday in the divisional round.
For Lewis, the emotions began pouring in on the ride to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday morning. Lewis rode in silence with teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo, partially reflecting on his career and what the significance of what his last game in Baltimore would be.
And like he typically has throughout his tenure with the Ravens, Lewis didn't disappoint. He finished the day with 13 tackles and a pass deflection, one he should've had for an easy interception.
With the game on ice and the Ravens taking knees, the Baltimore fans began chanting, "We want Ray! We want Ray!" Ravens coach John Harbaugh then put Lewis in for the game's final play as the safety in the victory formation. Once the ball was snapped, Lewis did the dance he does when he's introduced in front of the home fans, something he learned from a childhood friend in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla.
When the game concluded, Lewis ran a victory lap around the stadium as fans stayed in their seats until the players completely left the field.
"There was probably no greater moment than seeing my kids, my mom, my dad, my family right there in the end of the end zone," Lewis said. "That was probably when I lost it emotionally, because I knew that everything I have always done has always been for them."
Lewis announced he was retiring at the end of this postseason on Wednesday, whenever that may be for the Ravens, who have now won a playoff game in each of the last five seasons.
For Lewis, he still has a shot at a second Super Bowl title if Baltimore continues winning.
"He's a heck of a football player," Harbaugh said. "It's always so funny to hear people say, 'Well, he's not the same that he was 10 years ago.' Well, who is?"
Though Lewis once again provided the emotional lift, it was Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger who provided the spark for the defense. Kruger finished the game with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble, which was recovered by defensive end Pernell McPhee in the first quarter.
Kruger also added five quarterback hits of his own as he had his way with whoever he was matched up against.
"The game plan set up real nice and after we got off a little bit, it just set up real nice," Kruger said. "Then the offense started throwing the ball a little bit and it was time for us to tee off."
Though the defense gave up 419 total yards to a young Colts team, it held Indianapolis to just four scoring opportunities on field goals. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri made three of four kicks, accounting for all nine of the visiting team's points.
At the half, Baltimore held a 10-6 lead, which it extended with 8:33 to go in the third quarter. After quarterback Joe Flacco threw a deep pass to receiver Anquan Boldin for 46 yards, Flacco found tight end Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard touchdown two plays later, giving the Ravens a 17-6 lead.
The Colts responded with Vinatieri's third field goal of the day, after running 15 plays and 7:46 off the clock. This drive was Indianapolis' second that lasted more than seven minutes, though the Colts were only able to muster three points on both possessions.
"We had our opportunities but we couldn't get it done," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. "We made too many mistakes and left too many plays out there."After Flacco found Boldin for an 18-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were able to put the game away with an interception from cornerback Cary Williams with 5:35 remaining. The pick came after corner Corey Graham deflected a pass into the air on a fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 18.
After a shaky first half, Flacco finished the game 12-23 for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Boldin set a franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game with 145 on five catches.
"I just wanted to go out and give everything," said Boldin, who caught all five of his passes in the second half. "I think everyone in the locker room wanted to make sure this wasn't our last game. I think we all have a goal in mind and we're focused on that goal."
For the Colts (11-6), the game ended a heartfelt season that featured a tremendous turnaround. After finishing 2-14 a year ago, the Colts were able to get back to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback and a roster that featured a slew of new faces.
In addition, the Colts hired coach Chuck Pagano, Baltimore's defensive coordinator a year ago, who was diagnosed with leukemia during the team's bye week. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians filled in while Pagano was absent, though Arians missed Sunday's playoff game after catching the flu.
"This year was incredible," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "It was special and unique in so many ways."
For the second consecutive week, Ravens rookie running back Bernard Pierce ran for over 100 yards, totaling 103 on 13 carries. Fellow running back Ray Rice added 70 yards on 15 carries, though he uncharacteristically lost two fumbles after losing none throughout the regular season.
With Lewis back, he'll get a chance to face Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for the first time this season. Manning's Broncos defeated Baltimore 34-17 in Week 15, with Baltimore not having much of a shot throughout the contest.
Lewis has one more game in his career, at minimum, though he would like to extend it for a few more weeks. To do so, the film study starts immediately.
"I've already turned my iPad in to get Denver film," Lewis said. "It's on to the next one. That's one thing about being in the business so long. I told them, 'We don't have the 24-rule now. We have a less than 12-hour rule,' because we are back to work. We know who we have next week."