Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis was not ready to retire on Sunday. And his teammates were clearly not ready to let him go just yet either.
In front of a packed crowd at M&T Stadium, Lewis erupted from the tunnel one last time. But this time, if even possible to imagine, there was even more energy and emotion behind his signature “squirrel dance”. Lewis, who has played all 17 seasons of his NFL career in Baltimore and will end his career with the team, having announced he will retire after this season, came through the tunnel with a mission.
With Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” blaring in the back, Lewis came out to the cheering crowd, leaning over to grab the big piece of sod and smack it into his face, then erupted into his dance, moving side to side and then leaning back and forth with a dancer’s rhythm and ending with a loud scream.
As the game got underway, it became clear. This was not about to be the last NFL game for Lewis.
A scoreless first quarter saw both teams committing fumbles, but the Ravens’ defense soon emerged and began to take control in the second quarter. Game announcers even commented that this was a “2000 style” Ravens’ defense on the field, alluding to the team’s 2000-01 Super Bowl win.
Towards the end of the second quarter, the crowd erupted as Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck got sacked by Ravens’ linebacker Paul Kruger. It would be the first of three sacks for the Ravens' defensive line.
The Ravens then got a 23-yard field goal to get them on the board, only to have the Colts answer back with a 47-yard field goal. But then at the end of the 1st half, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco hooked up with Rice for a 47-yard pass, and Rice set off.
Ravens’ fullback Vonta Leach completed the drive by getting the ball in for the touchdown, with Tucker getting the extra point on the kick. But the Colts were not leaving this half without putting more on the board, as veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a 52-yard field goal with barely any time left to close out the half.
As for the second half, you might as well call it the Anquan Boldin show. The Ravens’ wide receiver lit it up, having 5 catches for 145 yards, a Ravens’ postseason record for receiving yards in a game. Lewis did not do too poorly himself, with a team-leading 13 tackles in Sunday’s victory to add to his 112 career postseason tackles, the highest ever for any Raven.
At the end of the game, as the Ravens' defense came off the field for the last time, the stadium crowd started chanting "Thank you Ray." The chant soon changed to "We want Ray", as the offense began to take the field. Then, to the delight of the stadium, Lewis came back on for the last play with the offense, standing in for Tory Smith in the backfield.
And when the game finally got called, Lewis broke into one last dance in front of the hometown crowd, with his teammates joining in around him on the field. Lewis then did a lap around the field, to pay homage to the fans and franchise that have been all he’s known for his 17 seasons in the NFL.
“My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned,” the 37-year-old Lewis told the Associated Press. “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.”
Next up for the Ravens will be the Denver Broncos, where Lewis will meet quarterback Peyton Manning for one last chess match. The Ravens lost to the Broncos in Week 15, 34-17, but Lewis says that the team has “all its guns back” and is ready for the challenge. However, the Ravens will have to do something they have been fairly inconsistent with over the regular season. Win on the road.
Game time is 4:30 PM, Saturday at Mile High Stadium. Have your oxygen handy.