BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The Baltimore Ravens pounded the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 on Sunday to extend the illustrious career of Ray Lewis and set up a meeting with the Denver Broncos in the second round of the playoffs.
Joe Flacco completed 12 of 23 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns for a Ravens team that limped into the playoffs with losses in four of their last five regular-season games.
Flacco, who became the first quarterback to earn at least one playoff win in each of his first five years, averaged more than 12 yards a completion in the AFC wild-card game.
His favorite target was Anquan Boldin, who caught five passes for 145 yards, including an 18-yard strike in the fourth quarter that gave the Ravens their 24-9 lead.
“Everyone in the locker-room wanted to make sure this wasn’t our last game,” said Boldin. “We all have a goal in mind and we’re focused in on that goal. The only way we’re going to get there is if we go out and give our all on the field.”
Rookie Andrew Luck, who guided the Colts’ march to the postseason following last year’s miserable 2-14 campaign, threw for 288 yards on 28 of 54 passing but was victimized by too many drops by his receivers.
”We had our opportunities but couldn’t get it done,“ said Luck. ”We made too many mistakes and left too many plays out there. But the Baltimore defense is a great, great unit.
“We can’t make the mistakes we made today and advance in the playoffs.”
Indianapolis, despite driving downfield repeatedly, had to settle for three field goals by veteran Adam Vinatieri.
The 37-year-old Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler widely considered the best linebacker of his generation, announced Wednesday he would be retiring after this season, his 17th in the National Football League.
Lewis missed the last 10 weeks with a torn right triceps but started Sunday’s game and made 13 tackles, each of them cheered wildly by the crowd of 71,379 at M&T Bank Stadium.
”For it to go the way it went today, I wouldn’t change anything,“ Lewis told reporters. ”There were so many moments today. Just the things that were said, the tears I was seeing from people -- and I‘m trying to hold it in myself because I‘m trying to play a game.
“Just a very, very emotional day.”
The Ravens play at Denver on January 12, meaning the victory over the Colts was Lewis’s last before his home fans. Despite the emotionally charged victory over Indianapolis, Lewis said it would be easy to prepare for the Broncos.
”I’ve already turned my iPad on to get Denver film,“ he said. ”It’s on to the next one. That’s one thing about being in this business so long.
“We don’t have the 24-hour rule now. We have less than a 12-hour rule because we are back to work.”
Baltimore took control of the game in the third quarter when Flacco found Dennis Pitta on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Ravens a 17-6 lead.
A 26-yard field goal by Vinatieri in the final minute of the quarter trimmed the Ravens’ lead to 17-9 but the Colts were not able to get any closer.
Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano, who missed much of the season to recuperate from leukemia, praised his 11-6 squad for making the playoffs after last year’s nightmare.
“To accomplish what they accomplished, I told them all, ‘When you walk out of here, hold your head high and be very, very proud of how you played this game,'” said Pagano, a former defensive coordinator with the Ravens.
“To come up short, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But it will make us better in the end.”
Editing by Frank Pingue