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DENVER – Deflated and nearly defeated, Ray Lewis slumped on the heated bench on the sideline, the hood of his heavy jacket pulled over his head. The final seconds of his brilliant career were slipping away, just like Demaryius Thomas had escaped his grasp minutes earlier.
"I've never been a part of a game so crazy in my life," he said.
Thomas' go-ahead touchdown had given Denver a 35-28 lead and now the Ravens were out of timeouts, deep in their territory. Under a minute to go, the "last ride" about to make its final stop on a frozen field in the Rocky Mountains.
Joe Flacco was buying time in the pocket, about to throw the ball away and bring up fourth down at his 30. Peyton Manning was about to beat Baltimore for a 10th straight time, and Lewis was about to call it a career.
Then Lewis spotted Jacoby Jones sprinting past him along the Baltimore sideline. More importantly, so did Flacco, who lofted a high-arcing pass into both double coverage and the frigid Denver night.
Safety Rahim Moore leaped for the interception, only he was a tad too early and a bit too shallow. The football settled into Jones' arms and he pranced into the end zone, his 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left tying the game.
Baltimore (12-6) would win on Justin Tucker's field goal in the second overtime.
Lewis' retirement party will wait for another day.
"Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. He grew up today," Lewis said of Flacco. "He grew up today and in the tunnel I told him, 'You're the general now. Lead us to a victory. You lead us today. I'm just here to facilitate things.'
"And to look in his eyes, he has something different about him today and I just wanted to encourage him. To watch what he did today is probably one of the greatest things I'll always sit back and remember."
Reminiscing can wait for at least another week. Lewis gets to play again, against either at Houston or New England in the AFC championship game.
Flacco was the hero, but Lewis wasn't a bystander. He was right in the middle of things, providing his usual unyielding leadership.
Lewis made 17 tackles one week after he led the Ravens with 13 stops against Indianapolis while playing for the first time in three months after being sidelined with a torn right triceps.
"We wanted to get this win for Ray and I was going to do everything I could possibly do to get this win," said cornerback Corey Graham.
He did just that, picking off Manning twice, taking the first one back for a touchdown and setting up Tucker's winner in the game's 77th minute with his second interception.
Lewis had a fumble recovery in the third quarter that was negated by a questionable hands-to-the-face call on cornerback Cary Williams, but the Ravens, who were thumped at home by the Broncos 34-17 a month ago, shook it off.
The Broncos (13-4) became the ninth top-seeded team to lose at home in its first game in the playoffs, and to a team that was coming off a short week and playing at altitude, no less.
"When you look back at it and let the emotions calm down, it will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history," Lewis said. "It's partly because of the way everything was stacked against us coming in."
It was even better than his emotion-filled farewell to Baltimore last week, when he did his famous dance coming out of the tunnel and then again after lining up at fullback in victory formation.
"One thing about the playoffs," Lewis said, "the only way to top it is to win the following week."
He said he spoke to his team last week about dismissing all those who said they had no chance.
"What if we do the impossible?" Lewis recounted saying.
It wasn't just the lead-up to the game that was so daunting. The Ravens allowed Trindon Holliday to become the first player in NFL playoff history to return a punt and a touchdown for scores, and both his 90-yard punt return and 104-yard kickoff return were the longest in league postseason history.
"For us to come in here and win, nine- to 10-point underdogs, that's the beautiful part about sports," Lewis said. "That's the thing that, if I miss anything about my career, it will be to listen to what people say you can't do and then to go do it."
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