During Ray Lewis’ last game at Ravens Stadium against the Colts a few weeks ago, there was an incredible feeling in the air.
The beautiful sky above M&T Bank Stadium was rife with possibilities. There was the sense that whatever happened in the last 17 weeks was well in the past. You were forced to ponder what it was going to take to get someone so powerful off the field for good.
A new season began that day – Ray’s season.
Since then, the Ravens have defied the critics and the oddsmakers. They have beaten two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game in Manning and Brady. Five weeks ago, they weren’t part of the postseason discussion.
The Ravens believed, and so did we.
It wasn’t the New England Patriot’s high-octane offense or their brand of finesse football that prevailed yesterday.
It came down to a linebacker on a mission and a quarterback who silenced his faultfinders with each impeccable throw.
Propelled by the performance of Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco, the game was decided by a few critical plays.
Anquan Boldin snatched two touchdowns out of the air and nearly everything thrown to him by Flacco.
A crushing hit by Bernard Pollard separated the ball from Patriots running back Steven Ridley and that turned the momentum in our favor for good.
The 165th player selected in the 2011 draft named Pernell McPhee tipped a pass that landed in the mitts of Dannell Ellerbe – all but nailing the Patriots coffin shut.
“It was a team victory,” said John Harbaugh.
Imagine Bourbon Street arrayed in purple and black. Fans in purple beads and bird masks. The Ravens are winging their way to the Big Easy to face the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl XLVII.
“If only you knew,” Ray Lewis told reporters after the game. “We built a certain way. We got each other’s back.”
Cutting it Loose
After a sluggish first half that found them trailing 13-7, the Ravens regrouped in the locker room.
They withstood the onslaught of a Patriots offense that went out of its way to try and burn them with gimmicks. They had seen the highway billboard announcing Ray Lewis’ retirement.
They came out in the third quarter and physically overpowered the Patriots on both sides of the ball for the next 30 minutes en route to a 28-13 victory. “We cut it loose in the second half,” said Harbaugh.
Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell expanded the playbook, and the Ravens carved up the Patriots defense.
Joe Flacco was flawless, completing 21-36 passes for 240 yards. In his sixth year, he has run his record as a starter to 62-30 and he is taking his team to the Superbowl.
The Ravens defense stepped up the pressure and caused three turnovers.
When Carey Williams intercepted a Tom Brady pass late in the 4th quarter, he ran off the field and gave the ball to Ray Lewis, whose career will now end at the Superbowl in New Orleans.
“We’re doing this for Ray,” said Ray Rice.
It’s rare that a football team or even a person in life gets to go back to the exact place where they failed with the chance to settle the same score the next year. This time, there were no dropped touchdown passes. There were no missed field goals. There was no retirement for Lewis.
Adding to the drama, his career – and the Ravens season – will end in a match of the coaching wits of brother against brother.
Brother v. Brother
Taught by their father Jack Harbaugh, a former college player and coach, John and Jim both value similar elements of football.
Their styles are similar – each team has a punishing defense and a balanced offense that uses the pass and the run to beat you.
“Our teams are mirror images of each other,” said our Harbaugh, John.
After the game, Joe Flacco stayed focused on the task at hand. His words were few – similar to a humble and laconic quarterback who enthralled us for decades named Unitas.
“We got one more to go,” he said. “We have a pretty good football team in Baltimore and we’re playing really well.”