The Baltimore Ravens, with emotional team leader Ray Lewis back from injury, beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 on Sunday to reach the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Lewis, playing for the first time since he tore his right triceps in mid-October last year — and days after saying he would retire at the end of the season — notched 13 tackles to lead a Ravens defense that held the Colts to three field goals by Adam Vinatieri and spoiled the postseason debut of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Ravens defender Paul Kruger also excelled, registering 2.5 of the Ravens’ three sacks of Luck and causing one of three turnovers by forcing a fumble.
“It was truly electric,” Kruger said of the atmosphere for the game that was Lewis’ last at home — no matter how far the Ravens advance.
“We had the crowd going crazy, we had more media than ever and we had Ray getting your mind right, and there were so many reasons to fight on and play with the passion that was required. Ray’s been our leader and captain for so many years, and I’m glad we were able to make it happen for him,” Kruger said.
Luck was one of three rookie quarterbacks in action on Sunday, and it was Seattle’s first-year signal-caller Russell Wilson who emerged with a victory, leading the Seahawks to a 24-14 victory over the Redskins in a National Conference contest in Washington.
Wilson outplayed fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Robert Griffin III, who has battled a late-season knee injury and was held to just 84 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before his right knee gave out in the fourth quarter and he limped out of the contest.
“I think everybody could see after our first quarter that he wasn’t exactly the same,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of his decision to leave Griffin in the game after he appeared to aggravate his injured knee, on which he was wearing a brace, in the first quarter. “I still thought he could go in there and make the plays he was capable of making.”
Griffin, whose athleticism has made him a sensation in his rookie year, admitted he did not know just how serious his injury was, but he was not sorry that he played hurt.
“Every time you go out there between those lines, you’re putting your life, your career, every single ligament in your body in jeopardy,” Griffin said. “My teammates needed me out there, so I was out there for them.”
Wilson threw for 187 yards and a touchdown and added 68 rushing yards for Seattle.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 131 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks fought back from an early 14-0 deficit.
“I was worried about the tempo of the game catching us a little bit,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about his team’s slow start. “We just weren’t there with the tempo at the start of the game.”
However, his team scored the last 24 points of the game to advance to a second-round meeting with the Falcons in Atlanta this weekend.
The Ravens, who had been unable to beat the Colts in the playoffs in the years that the Indianapolis offense was run by quarterback great Peyton Manning, earned a second-round meeting with Manning and his new team — the American Conference top-seeded Denver Broncos.
Baltimore signal-caller Joe Flacco threw a pair of touchdown passes, and Anquan Boldin amassed 145 yards and a touchdown.
The defeat was the end of an emotional season for the Colts, who thrived despite the inexperience of Luck and the lengthy absence of head coach Chuck Pagano as he underwent treatment for leukemia.
Pagano, who spent four years as an assistant coach in Baltimore, returned to the sidelines in time for the final regular-season game and the playoff contest against his old team.