BALTIMORE -- Ray Lewis and Andrew Luck finally crossed paths Sunday, Lewis on his way into NFL history after 17 seasons, Luck just arriving for his spot in history in his first.
The Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts are rivals with bitter history that predates both players. But in an AFC wild-card game with many dramatic storylines, it was the Baltimore offense -- for which the Ravens have waited several years to assume the team identity as Lewis' defense has aged -- that broke through. The Ravens seized a 24-9 victory, ending a remarkable run by a Colts team that was expected to be one of the worst in the league this season.
"My only focus was to come in and get my team a win -- nothing else was planned," said Lewis, who has announced he is retiring after the season. "It's one of those things, when you recap it all and try to say what is one of your greatest moments. I knew how it started, but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore. To go the way it did today, I wouldn't change nothing."
The Ravens next travel to Denver, where the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning are the AFC's top seed, in the divisional round Saturday.
But to get there, Baltimore first had to dispatch Manning's successor in Indianapolis.
Luck is one of three rookie quarterbacks who led their teams into the playoffs, and the Colts -- a young, rebuilding unit that last season won only two games and was buoyed this season by the emotional return of coach Chuck Pagano after leukemia treatment -- made it in part because of Luck's cool. He has led seven second-half comebacks from a tie or deficit this season.
But on the day Lewis took his final herky-jerky walk through the tunnel for a rapturous pregame dance, his right arm enrobed in an enormous brace to stabilize the torn right triceps that cost him a large part of the season, the Ravens defense held up just enough. It allowed its offense to survive two fumbles by Ray Rice and gave Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and receiver Anquan Boldin their own showcase.
Facing a nearly nonstop blitz in the first half, Luck -- with his offensive coordinator Bruce Arians hospitalized with nausea and headaches -- was sacked and fumbled in Baltimore territory in the first quarter, stopping one drive. Then the defense forced three field goals by the Colts' Adam Vinatieri and held on an early fourth-quarter drive that ended with a rare Vinatieri miss.
That was all the breathing room Flacco needed. He threw two second-half touchdown passes, including the clincher to Boldin with 9:14 to play. Boldin finished with five catches for 145 yards.
"I went up to him before the game and told him I feel like 200 yards today," Boldin said.
Pagano told his team to remember this feeling.
"Because we've got the foundation, the foundation is set," Pagano said. "We said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand, because you can weather storms like this and you can learn from times like this."
The Ravens inserted Lewis for the final play, an offensive victory formation, allowing him one more dance in Baltimore -- an idea that occurred to coach John Harbaugh only when the offense got the ball back, although he said that owner Steve Bisciotti suggested putting Lewis at running back. But before Lewis went back on the field, he turned to the crowd and pounded his heart. For one more game at least, the Ravens and their heart will keep beating together.