Videos: Ray Lewis's real last dance will be in Ravens' loss to Broncos on Saturday
Now we know who the Broncos will face in their 2013 playoffs debut: the Baltimore Ravens, by dint of the squad's 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. So...will the emotion from Ray Lewis's final home game (depicted in videos included in a big collection of clips below) help the Ravens defeat a squad that destroyed them in a December road game? Short answer: No.
The Ravens' margin of victory over the Colts suggests a blowout, but that's not how the game played out. Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck looked like one for much of the contest, repeatedly getting away with passes that should have been intercepted -- including one heaved directly to Lewis, who should have been able to haul it in even with an enormous brace on his arm necessitated by the triceps injury that's kept him out on the shelf for the past several weeks. Yet Indy stayed close through the first half and well into the third quarter thanks to Baltimore's inability to cash in on loads of opportunities.
Granted, a Baltimore turnover that put the kibosh on a drive into the red-zone was based on a blown call that couldn't be reviewed under the NFL's increasingly arcane rules. But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hardly looked like the elite hurler he claims to be, and running back Ray Rice matched an ordinary performance with an unexpected case of fumble-itis.
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Colts' secondary is the very definition of mediocrity, and the mighty Anquan Boldin took advantage, turning several unimpressive Flacco heaves into big gainers and applying the dagger in the fourth quarter with a touchdown catch in which he snared both the ball and defender Darius Butler's entire arm.
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Unsurprisingly, these achievements were overshadowed by Lewis, a surefire Hall of Famer whose announced retirement at season's end transformed the contest into his final home performance. He took advantage via an extended version of his trademark out-of-the-tunnel dance that he reprised in the waning seconds -- and the fact that he took part in more than a dozen tackles in between these displays more than justified them.
Don't expect to see a similar performance on Saturday in Denver, though.
Continue for more about the Broncos-Ravens match-up, including eight videos. As Denver demonstrated during a 34-17 mid-December victory in Baltimore, the Ravens' once vaunted defense is not what it was in Lewis's prime. The squad was able to rattle Luck via blitz overloads that Denver QB Peyton Manning is more than capable of turning into big gains because of the open spaces they create, and which his quick release and legendary field vision is ideal for exploiting.
As such, the Ravens may well unleash the hounds on fewer occasions and opt for a base defense instead. But doing so will allow Manning the time he needs to check down and find open receivers and/or hand off to Knowshon Moreno, whose late-season surge has created the sort of balanced offensive attack Denver established prior to Willis McGahee's injury, to he unexpected delight of doubting fans like yours truly.
Defensively, meanwhile, the Broncos have a lot more weapons -- not just pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil (plus well-kept-secret Wesley Woodyard), but also a secondary anchored by Champ Bailey, who'll join Lewis in Canton five years after his retirement (several years from now, we hope), and bolstered by up-and-comers such as Chris Harris, a star in the making in our estimation.
That doesn't mean the Baltimore game will be a breeze. The team brings oodles of playoff experience and a lot of post-season wins, albeit usually in round one. But as long as the Broncos don't overlook the Ravens in light of a likely pairing against New England in the AFC championship game, they should find a way to send Lewis into his next life as an ESPN commentator less than a week from now. And a lack of focus isn't something Mr. Manning is going to allow.
Look below to see a clip of Lewis's first dance, a post-game interview and an ESPN analysis -- the first helping of a video buffet.
Continue for five more videos -- an interview with Manning after the defeat of the Ravens last month, Peyton's post-game press conference, a weird animated video by a disappointed Baltimore fan, veteran Raven Ed Reed admitting to frustration and an ESPN analysis.
More from our Sports archive: "Videos: Peyton Manning, Broncos prove Joe Flacco, Ravens aren't elite."