Baltimore, MD – The Baltimore Ravens never beat the Indianapolis Colts in the postseason with Peyton Manning at quarterback. They had an easier time in their first encounter with his heir apparent, however.
And now they'll get another chance to obtain that elusive victory over Manning after ending the Indianapolis Colts' storybook season with a 24-9 triumph in Sunday's AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
Inspired by the return of emotional team leader Ray Lewis, the Ravens defense held the upstart Colts to three Adam Vinatieri field goals and spoiled the playoff debut of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the return of Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano to Baltimore, where he spent four years as an assistant under John Harbaugh before taking over the Colts last January.
Playing for the first time since mid-October due to a torn triceps and just days after announcing his retirement at season's end, Lewis was credited with 13 tackles in his final game at M&T Bank Stadium to spearhead Baltimore's effort. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger came up with a big game as well, registering 2 1/2 of the Ravens' three sacks of Luck and causing one of three takeaways with a forced fumble.
Joe Flacco added a pair of touchdown passes to the win while throwing for 282 yards and making good on 12-of-23 attempts, while Anquan Boldin amassed 145 yards and a score on five catches -- all of which came in the second half.
"We definitely wanted to come out and put on a great performance for [Lewis'] last time at M&T Bank Stadium," said Boldin.
The Ravens now advance to a meeting with Manning's top-seeded Denver Broncos in next Saturday's Divisional Round. The Colts bested Baltimore twice with the four-time MVP under center in previous Divisional matchups, earning a 15-6 road win in 2006 and a 20-3 home decision in 2009. Manning also led Denver to a 34-17 victory over the Ravens in Baltimore on Dec. 16.
Luck put up 288 yards in his first-ever playoff appearance, but completed just 28-of-54 throws and was intercepted once in directing an Indianapolis offense that was without coordinator and primary play-caller Bruce Arians due to an illness that landed him in a local hospital Sunday morning.
Reggie Wayne finished with 114 yards on nine catches for the Colts, who reached the postseason just one year removed from a dreadful 2-14 campaign, while Vick Ballard rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries.
"What they overcame this year, the circumstances, it's incredible and it's a testament to our organization, our coaches, our players," said Pagano, who was manning the sidelines for only the second time since returning from treatment for leukemia. "I'm so proud of those guys."
Indianapolis did induce a pair of lost fumbles out of the usually dependable Ray Rice on the afternoon, but the Pro Bowl back did come up with the game's first big play after neither offense generated much over the majority of the first half.
With the contest deadlocked at 3-3 and just over a minute to go before intermission, Rice took a short screen pass, broke containment and eluded several Indianapolis defenders before finally being brought down at the 2-yard line after a 47-yard gain. Fullback Vonta Leach plowed across the goal line on the next play, giving Baltimore a 10-3 lead with 50 seconds left until intermission.
Luck did bring the Colts into scoring range before the half would end, with a short strike to T.Y. Hilton that the rookie turned into a 25-yard play setting up Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal as time ran out.
The Colts would fall further behind in the third quarter, however, thanks to another long-gainer from the Baltimore passing game.
Following an exchange of punts to begin the second half, Flacco lofted a 46- yard long ball into the arms of Boldin that placed the Ravens deep into Indianapolis territory. He would later find Dennis Pitta over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown that extended Baltimore's advantage to 17-6 nearing the midway mark of the third quarter.
"Joe made some tremendous throws," said Harbaugh. "I thought Joe threw the ball downfield incredibly well. He had a couple of comebacks with people in his face, and I thought the receivers made some strong catches."
The Colts answered with a methodical 15-play, 72-yard sequence in which Luck converted three third-down situations. A 20-yard hookup with Wayne got Indianapolis to the Ravens' 14, but Baltimore's defense would stiffen and force Vinatieri out for a 26-yard kick that cut the deficit to eight points late in the third period.
Rice, who had just one fumble during the entire regular season, lost his second of the day after being hit by Joe Lefeged on the subsequent possession, and the Colts appeared primed to capitalize after Ballard broke off a 24-yard run to the Baltimore 23 after a 19-yard grab from Wayne.
The Ravens again stood tall afterward, though, and Indianapolis settled for a 40-yard field goal try that Vinatieri pushed wide right to keep it a 17-9 game.
That score wouldn't remain for long. Bernard Pierce got loose for a 43-yard run three plays after Vinatieri's miss to place Baltimore back into the red zone, and Boldin won a jump ball with Darius Butler in the end zone for an 18- yard score two snaps later to increase the margin to 15 points with 9:14 remaining.
The Colts would get the ball back twice more, but came up empty both times.
After getting down to the Baltimore 18 on the first of those drives, Luck's pass in Wayne's direction was deflected by Corey Graham and intercepted by Cary Williams. Indianapolis then turned it over on downs in the waning stages, with the Ravens proceeding to run out the final 2:10 and prevail.
"We had our opportunities," said Pagano. "We didn't capitalize and they capitalized on their opportunities."
Both teams had opportunities go awry during the first quarter.
Baltimore moved into the Indianapolis red zone on its initial series, highlighted by a 24-yard connection from Flacco to tight end Ed Dickson. However, ex-Raven Cory Redding stripped Rice of the football at the 11-yard line, with Lawrence Guy recovering for the Colts.
Indianapolis reached the Baltimore 30 on the ensuing possession, but Kruger forced a Luck fumble on a drop-back attempt and Pernell McPhee pounced on the loose ball to end the threat.
"I saw him get to the quarterback a whole bunch," said Harbaugh of Kruger. "He played tremendously well. Paul's had a great year."
The Ravens finally ended the stalemate on Justin Tucker's 23-yard field goal less than four minutes into the second quarter. The 10-play, 66-yard march featured five Pierce runs totaling 37 yards and a 22-yard strike from Flacco to Torrey Smith, but stalled after Baltimore got inside the Indianapolis 10.
Luck managed just 31 yards on 5-of-13 passing over the Colts' first four drives, but hit on two big completions to Dwayne Allen for 22 and 13 yards on Indianapolis' next touch to put the team in position for Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal that tied the game with 2:25 left in the half.
Pierce ended with 103 yards on only 13 carries, with Rice adding 70 on 15 totes ... The game also marked the first time that Ravens offensive coordinator and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell faced his ex-team since being fired by Indianapolis in January and replaced by Pagano ... Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal was a career-best in postseason play, bettering a 51-yarder in Indianapolis' win over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoffs ... Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe exited in the fourth quarter with an apparent right ankle injury ... With left guard Jah Reid (toe) inactive, the Ravens shuffled their offensive line. Usual right tackle Kelechi Osemele shifted into Reid's spot, with veteran Bryant McKinnie inserted into the lineup at left tackle and Michael Oher moving from the left side to the right ... Redding spent the previous two years with the Ravens before signing with Indianapolis in March, while Colts safety Tom Zbikowski spent his first four pro seasons with Baltimore ... Including the two playoff victories, the Colts had won eight straight over the Ravens before Baltimore's 24-10 triumph at M&T Bank Stadium last season.