A solid defensive effort led by linebackers Ray Lewis and Paul Kruger and a huge second half from wide receiver Anquan Boldin lead the Baltimore Ravens to a 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
With the win, the Ravens have advanced to the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. Baltimore will have a quick turnaround, as they will face the Denver Broncos at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 12. The Broncos beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Dec. 16.
The Ravens and Colts would combine for 860 yards of total offense, but turnovers and stout red zone defenses would keep the scoring to a minimum. The Ravens' first offensive possession of the game ended with an uncharacteristic fumble from Ray Rice, who lost two of them on Sunday after not losing one fumble during the regular season. Following Rice's fumble, the Colts drove down to the Ravens' 30-yard line before quarterback Andrew Luck had the ball stripped out of his hands by Kruger, who abused Colts offensive tackles Winston Justice, Bradley Sowell and Anthony Costanzo throughout the game.
Baltimore opened the scoring with a 23-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker with 11:23 to play in the second quarter. The two sides would exchange punts before Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri connected from 47 yards out to tie the game with 2:31 remaining in the half. A 37-yard kick return by Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens excellent field position, an opportunity that the Ravens would not squander.
Facing a second-and-10 on the Colts' 49-yard line, the Ravens ran a running back screen to Rice that was diagnosed and snuffed out by outside linebacker Robert Mathis. However, Rice made an adjustment, sliding to the inside to catch the quick dump-off from Joe Flacco. In the open-field, Rice made a nice move on safety Tom Zbikowski and nearly scored a touchdown before Moise Fokou ran him down at the two-yard line. Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach punched the ball into the end zone on the following play to give the Ravens a 10-3 lead.
The Colts added a 52-yard field goal by Vinatieri to trim the Ravens' lead to 10-6 at the half.
Baltimore and Indianapolis exchanged punts to start the second half before Flacco led the Ravens on a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Flacco hit Boldin for 10 yards to start the drive and, after a four-yard run by Rice, would connect with Boldin deep down the right sidelines for a 46-yard gain. Two plays later, Flacco would dump the ball off to tight end Dennis Pitta, who rumbled for a 20-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens an 11-point lead midway through the third quarter.
The Colts responded with a methodical, 15-play, 72-yard drive that chewed up most of the remaining clock in the third quarter, but again could not find the end zone as Vinatieri was called upon for a 26-yard field goal to trim the Ravens' lead to 17-9. The Ravens would give the Colts an excellent opportunity for the equalizer when Rice fumbled at the tail end of an 18-yard run with the loose ball being corralled by Colts safety Joe Lefeged.
Luck would hit Reggie Wayne for 19 yards and rookie running back Vick Ballard broke off a 24-yard run to put the Colts at the Ravens' 23-yard line, but the drive would stall and the Colts would come away with empty-handed after Vinatieri's 40-yard attempt sailed wide to the right. The Ravens would strike quickly as rookie Bernard Pierce sliced through the Colts defense for a 43-yard gain on a third-and-one. Two plays later, Flacco and Boldin hooked up in the back corner of the end zone for an 18-yard, game-sealing touchdown.
On their next possession, the Colts would reach the Ravens' red zone, but Luck's fourth-down pass to Wayne was tipped by cornerback Corey Graham and intercepted by Cary Williams. The Colts' final possession of the season ended when a fourth-down pass from Luck sailed through the hands of Ballard.
Entering a critical post-season as his contract is set to expire, Flacco completed 12-of-23 pass attempts for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Boldin was Flacco's top target, catching five passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, all of which came in the second half. The Ravens' running back tandem of Rice and Pierce combined for 28 carries for 173 yards, with Pierce topping the century mark in his first post-season game.
The Ravens' defense deserves much of the credit for Sunday's win. Though the Colts - who were without offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after he was hospitalized earlier on Sunday with an undisclosed illness - were able to produce 419 total yards of offense, the Ravens limited them to four field goal attempts and had one takeaway. Luck completed 28-of-54 attempts for 288 yards and faced constant pressure from the Ravens, who sacked the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft three times. Most of that pressure came from Kruger, who had 2.5 sacks and five of the Ravens' 10 quarterback hits on Sunday.
Lewis, 37, had a game-high 13 tackles and nearly capped off his final game at M&T Bank Stadium with a second quarter interception that bounced in and out of his hands. Lewis would get one more chance to dance for the home crowd, as head coach John Harbaugh had the veteran play the deep back position in the "Victory" formation on the final snap of the game.
Outside the Game from Yahoo! Sports:
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Caden Crisp can rock epic hair, just like dad Coco
• Wizards' John Wall returns to practice, impresses
• Ohio State hoops exposed, falls fast in stock report
• Y! New: Why Republicans are 'mad as hell'