The Baltimore Ravens wanted one long final ride for Ray Lewis.
They also wanted Denver. They got it.
Having disposed of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, they now face a far more imposing challenge – Peyton Manning and the streaking Broncos.
Anquan Boldin set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown in the Ravens’ 24-9 victory Sunday over the Colts in an AFC wild-card game. The win delays star linebacker Lewis’ retirement for at least another week as Baltimore (11-6) heads to top-seeded Denver (13-3) next Saturday.
The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 three weeks ago.
Lewis, who made 13 tackles Sunday, ended his last home game in Baltimore at fullback, of all things, for the final kneel-down. He then went into a short version of his trademark dance before being mobbed by teammates.
He followed with a victory lap, his right arm, covered by a brace, held high in salute to the fans after playing for the first time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14 against Dallas.
Sunday’s victory enhanced the Ravens’ success rate in opening playoff games. Joe Flacco now has won at least one postseason game in all five of his pro seasons, the only quarterback to do it in the Super Bowl era.
His main target Sunday was Boldin, who had receptions of 50 and 46 yards, plus his 18-yard TD on a floater from Flacco in the corner of the end zone with 9:14 to go.
Baltimore overcame the first two lost fumbles of the season by Ray Rice, too, as John Harbaugh became the only head coach in the Super Bowl era with wins in his first five playoff campaigns.
Backup halfback Bernard Pierce rescued Rice with a 43-yard burst that led to Boldin’s touchdown, and ran for 103 yards.
Flacco also connected with Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard TD and rookie Justin Tucker made a 23-yard field goal.
Indy’s only points came on three field goals by Adam Vinatieri, from 47, 52 and 26 yards. Luck completed 28 of 54 passes for 288 yards. It was the most attempts by a rookie in a playoff game.
Reggie Wayne had 114 yards on nine receptions and moved into second in career playoff catches with 92 – 59 behind leader Jerry Rice. But the Colts, who moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984 – they still are despised here - became the second NFL team to improve to 11 wins following a two-win season and then lose in the opening round of the playoffs.
Both teams were sloppy early on, with Rice losing a fumble, Lewis dropping a potential interception, and Luck being stripped of the ball on a sack.
But Rice atoned with a 47-yard gain on a screen pass, leading to Vonta Leach’s 2-yard touchdown.
That Pro Bowl backfield was bolstered by the kick returns of another Pro Bowl player, Jacoby Jones. He gained 60 yards on kickoff runbacks and 57 on punt returns.