It was the classic tale of a veteran squad teaching a team with no experience a lesson in playoff football Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The game was played with an even higher level of emotion than a regular playoff game.
Chuck Pagano returned to Baltimore where he spent the previous four seasons coaching. There was Ray Lewis’ potential final game and his final home game of his career. Andrew Luck was making his playoff debut after a great rookie season.
When these teams hit the field all the stories were out the door as the Ravens and Colts played a nip-and-tuck game until the Ravens pulled away in the fourth quarter.
There was much fanfare surrounding Luck coming into the game. He played solid, but had two turnovers and was outplayed by the playoff veteran Joe Flacco.
Flacco built upon his own NFL record by winning a playoff game in all five of his seasons in the league. Flacco took care of the ball, as he had no turnovers. He made some beautiful deep throws, especially to the cagey playoff veteran Anquan Boldin.
The Flacco-Boldin connection was a thing of beauty as they dominated the Colts the entire second half. Boldin had no catches at halftime, but finished the game with five catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens’ defense was also flying around the field, resembling the defenses of yesteryear. It was the first time all season Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were all on the field at the same time this season, so that was a huge lift.
Lewis played well in his first game since Week 6 and led the team in tackles. However it was Paul Kruger who stole the show on defense.
Kruger looked like he was shot out of a cannon throughout the game, as he menaced Luck all afternoon. Kruger finished with 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits, as he was the most active player on the field on the pass rush.
Shockingly, Ray Rice, another playoff veteran, looked anything but that against the Colts 29th-ranked run defense. Rice had 70 yards rushing, but lost two fumbles. That opened the door for Bernard Pierce to have a big day. Pierce finished with 103 yards rushing to carry the mail on the ground for the Ravens.
Even in the coaching aspect, the coach with the playoff success built upon his legacy as John Harbaugh won a playoff game for a fifth straight season like Flacco.
The Ravens will need to rely on their experienced veteran team, as they now have to hit the road to deal with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. If they Ravens are to make one last run with Ray Lewis, the defense will have to lead the way and slow down the likes of Manning, and potentially Tom Brady.
It would be a storybook ending for Lewis and the Ravens if he could go out a champion. He will have to be at the forefront of that attack if the Ravens can prolong his career.
At this point, expect the Ravens to throw everything they have at Manning and the Broncos in Lewis’ last ride.