He pulled and tugged at a patch of sod, smelled it and rubbed it on the front of his jersey. The pyro lit up the sky as he began to gyrate and dance for the home crowd as only one man can. And on this sunny afternoon in January, one man proved that while he plays in front of his fans of Baltimore for the last time, that perhaps he isn’t quite done playing in the NFL just yet.
The triumphant return of Ray Lewis boosted the Baltimore Ravens as he stepped on the field for the first time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14th against the Dallas Cowboys and led the team with 13 tackles. The swarming defense in the end proved too much for rookie Andrew Luck, defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 24-9 in front of more than seventy-one thousand fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens defense sacked Andrew Luck three times and picked him off late in the 4th quarter which sealed the victory for Baltimore. And after it was over, Ray Lewis took a victory lap around the stadium for fans that stayed to cheer and thank him for his accomplishments during his 17-year career.
Joe Flacco didn’t put up monster numbers in this one, but was very efficient in the 2nd half once the Ravens got it going offensively. Flacco was 7-for-11, 174 yards and two touchdowns in the 2nd half after going just 5-for-12 for 108 yards in the 1st. Early on Flacco tried to establish some tempo, but the offense really couldn’t find their rhythm. A solid first drive of the game was stalled after Ray Rice fumbled at the Colts 11-yard line. In the 2nd quarter, another drive in the redzone left the Ravens to settle for a field goal after Tandon Doss couldn’t haul in two Flacco throws.
Flacco did have some trouble early throwing high to receivers, but corrected that in the 2nd half. His perfect toss to Anquan Boldin over the back shoulder for 46 yards was an absolute thing of beauty. Flacco later found Boldin again, this time for a touchdown on a throw that Boldin made look a lot nicer because it was a jump ball. Joe Flacco needed to make plays for this offense in the 2nd half and both he and Anquan Boldin led the way.
He was good, but not great. And that’s just what he’ll have to be next Saturday against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Whether you like the guy or can’t stand him, he’s now been at the controls for six playoff wins in his first five seasons in the NFL.
Running Backs: B-
Ray Rice had an uncharacteristic day. He ran 15 times for 70 yards, but coughed up the football on two separate occasions, the first time he’s done so this season. Luckily, the Colts never took advantage of the turnovers. That may be a different story next week against the Broncos because weather could be a factor so ball security will be important.
What a pleasure to watch Bernard Pierce. After Rice fumbled, Pierce saw more action and brings a different dynamic to the Ravens offense. Pierce finished with 103 yards rushing on 13 carries. He averaged nearly eight yards per carry. The Ravens in total averaged just about 5.4 yards per carry, and if you read my Playoff Primer that was a key in controlling clock and being able to create plays down field. Pierce is such a fun runner to watch; he doesn’t shy away from defenders and is very decisive in his running abilities.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+
Anquan Boldin put the offense on his back when Ray Rice and others struggled. Boldin had three catches of 20+ yards to go with his 18-yard touchdown catch which put the game away. He out-muscled Antoine Bethea for a 50-yard catch in the 3rd quarter and then did it again later for his touchdown on Darius Butler who had a hand on the football. Strong hands, strong upper body, most times Boldin can’t be beat. And he wasn’t today.
The rest of the unit had a quiet day. Torrey Smith had two catches for 31 yards, on his 22 yard reception, he went high up the ladder to bring down a Flacco throw. His biggest contribution was throwing a crushing block on Dennis Pitta’s touchdown. Torrey is really rounding into a nice player because his blocking has gotten better throughout this season.
Tandon Doss didn’t have a good game, allowing all three of his targets to go off his hands.
Offensive Line: B
The Ravens did some adjusting before the game as Jah Reid sat this one out, bothered by a toe injury. Bryant McKinnie moved to LT, Kelechi Osemele to LG and Michael Oher to RT. Even with the line reshuffling, overall they did a very nice job limiting the playmaking ability of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Flacco was sacked one time in the game by Mathis and hurried only twice.
McKinnie played well and helped to contain the edge and worked well in tandem with Osemele who’s better able to use his strengths at guard. Oher struggled at times as he was matched up with Mathis who was able to get near Flacco a few times.
Up front the Ravens won the battle in the trenches blocking for the running attack against a Colts team that was ranked 29th against the run in the regular season. This line as constructed was very cohesive as a unit, yet you wonder if John Harbaugh sticks with the line as is against a better defense in Denver. I say yes.
Defensive Line: C+
Vick Ballard ran for 91 yards on the ground which is decent considering the Colts were 22nd in the NFL at running the football. These guys got worked up front by the Colts offensive line and weren’t really able to get too much push. At times they were able to bat down some passes that Luck threw because Paul Kruger was getting to him. Haloti Ngata had four tackles in the game. Art Jones had a tackle, one for a loss, but outside of that not much was going on with this unit. Pernell McPhee recovered a fumble forced by Paul Kruger in the 1st half.
The linebackers were extremely active in this game because the defensive line underperformed up front. They would get a higher grade except they miss very easy tackles at times which leaves you baffled. Dannell Ellerbe had nine total tackles but could have had three or four more had the players not bounced out of his arm tackles.
Ray Lewis was back and played more than I think some expected, but being it could have been his final game there was no way Lewis was coming off that field. He finished with 13 total tackles and nearly had an interception that bounced off his arm brace and face mask. Would have made for a great story.
Paul Kruger’s pay day is growing each performance he turns in. Kruger finished the day with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. It was pure dominance as he has gotten better each week and may be the most improved player on this team. His performance today reminded me of the days of Michael McCrary who’s motor never stopped and was constantly hounding the quarterback.
There was an APB out for Terrell Suggs because he didn’t show up in this football game.
Cary Williams finished with 10 total tackles, two passes defended and an interception late in the 4th quarter on a deflection caused by fellow corner Corey Graham. Williams saw a lot of time on both T.Y. Hilton (a player to watch) and Reggie Wayne. Though the Colts got a lot of yardage from receivers, the corners didn’t allow the big play. Luck didn’t have much time to throw the football and the Colts could have made more plays but didn’t.
Ed Reed nearly had an interception but just missed as he broke on a pass under thrown by Luck. Bernard Pollard returned from injury and stalked the Colts all over the field. He also had two penalties late in the game, one being inexcusable on a taunting penalty. These dumb mistakes have to stop.
Special Teams: B
Jacoby Jones averaged 30 yards on two kickoff returns, his longest run being 37 yards. He also had a punt return long of 34 yards. The Ravens had good field position on their returns while limiting the dangerous Deji Karim and the Colts in theirs.
Sam Koch punted the ball well today, his longest going for 60 yards. Justin Tucker had a normal outing, converting three extra points and a field goal from 23 yards.
It took a little while but the game plan finally churned out in the 2nd half. The Ravens attacked the Colts corners who struggled, specifically Cassius Vaughn (as was mentioned in the playoff primer) but on defense, the Ravens have to tackle better and make it count. Going to Denver next week, Dean Pees needs to get better line play up front and wrap up when tackling or it could be the end of the road. The offensive line was stronger today than at any point this season.
The Ravens made more big plays at the end of the game than the Colts. Plain and simple. An emotional win against a quality opponent in Indianapolis playing for a fan base that was equally as emotional. The Ravens offense kicked it into high gear in the 2nd half and the defense slowed Luck down to pull away from the Colts for the victory. Now, its onto Denver to face the Broncos in a divisional round match-up.
The rested Denver Broncos will be a tough task for a Ravens team that has six days to prepare and one of those days will be a travel day. With weather sure to be a factor in this game, the Ravens will need to be at their absolute best, holding onto the football, matching points and slowing Peyton Manning down for Ray Lewis and the Ravens to advance one step further towards the Lombardi trophy.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.