A strong second half from Joe Flacco and the Baltimore defense keeping the Colts out of the end zone led to a Ravens playoff win on Sunday.
The game would be the last played by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in his home stadium, win or lose, while last year's defensive coordinator and this year's Colts head coach Chuck Pagano returned to town after missing most of the season while being treated for leukemia.
It pitted an upstart team with a highly-touted rookie quarterback against a Ravens team looking for a playoff victory for a fifth straight season. To say there was pressure—on both teams—would have been a gross understatement.
Ultimately, experience and home-field advantage won out, with the Ravens handily defeating the Colts, 24-9.
Though their defense gave up a total of 419 yards to the Colts as they piled up drive after time-consuming drive, key pass breakups, helpful drops from Colts receivers and a stiffening of the Baltimore defense when it mattered most limited the Colts to just four field-goal attempts and three makes.
In fact, both offenses ended the day fairly evenly matched. Baltimore had 441 yard of offense—269 passing and 172 rushing—while Indianapolis' yards were rather similarly split, with 267 passing and 152 rushing.
Though the Colts won the time of possession battle, 37:32 to 22:28, the Ravens ultimately did more with the ball when they had it. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and Vonta Leach added a rushing score on top of Justin Tucker's field goal on the team's first possession of the game.
The Ravens' victory mainly came from their second-half offensive effort, though, clearly, their defense keeping the Colts out of the end zone was no small help either.
In the first 30 minutes, Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin had no targets, while tight end Dennis Pitta had a lone, seven-yard catch. In the second half, however, Flacco's connection to Boldin came to life. The receiver grabbed five of seven passes thrown his way for a total of 145 yards and a score, including a huge, 50-yard reception that led to Pitta getting a touchdown of his own on his second and final target of the game.
There were occasional distressing signs from Baltimore's offense, however. Running back Ray Rice, who has benefited greatly from the team swapping out Cam Cameron for Jim Caldwell at offensive coordinator, fumbled the ball away twice—something he hasn't done all season. But the fumbles fortunately resulted in no points (Adam Vinatieri's missed field goal ended the Colts' drive after Rice's second fumble).
The fumbles also didn't limit Rice's overall effectiveness—70 yards on his 15 carries—though he was outshined by rookie Bernard Pierce, who had 103 yards on his 13 carries, including a 43-yard run that set up Boldin's fourth-quarter score.
Of course, having two productive running backs presents few problems for the Ravens.
Most impressive was again the efforts of the Ravens linebackers. Lewis was on the field for the first time since tearing his triceps in October against the Dallas Cowboys, but he appeared to play almost every defensive snap and led the defense in total tackles with 13, nearly notching an interception as well.
Pressure on Luck was omnipresent, with linebacker Paul Kruger adding to his team-leading sack total with 2.5 on the day and him sharing a sack with cornerback Corey Graham. And though neither Pernell McPhee's recovery of a Luck fumble nor Cary Williams' interception led to Ravens points, they killed the Colts' momentum.
It wasn't completely dominant—the Colts offense was on the field a tad too long. Nor was it pretty, as Baltimore committed a total of nine penalties, costing them 70 yards. But the Ravens accomplished what they set out to do on Sunday. And most importantly, though it may have been the final game Lewis plays in Baltimore, it wasn't the last game of his career.
Though the Ravens have a much more difficult test when they travel to Denver and face the top-seeded Denver Broncos next weekend, there couldn't be a better muse for this postseason stand than Lewis. Through injuries and lowered expectations, the Ravens remained a strong team, winning their division and now a playoff game; now, they're just two more away from the Super Bowl.