NFL wild-card recap: A fitting home finale for Ray Lewis

Even before Wednesday, we knew that Sunday in Charm City would be special.

Rob Woodfork,

WASHINGTON – Even before Wednesday, we knew that Sunday in Charm City would be special. The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North for the second straight season, and were set to host the Indianapolis Colts – the team that abandoned Baltimore a generation ago and had won both playoff meetings against the Ravens on M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Wednesday it got kicked up a notch because it would also mean the last time Ray Lewis would play pro football off the Inner Harbor.

We knew this day would come. We knew the end of the road was imminent. In fact, regular readers of these NFL recaps may recall that I warned you of this possibility after his injury in Week 6.

But now that it’s here, it’s just so surreal.

Given the Ravens literally never existed before Ray Lewis, it’ll be awfully bizarre seeing that team go on after him. It’s odd knowing the dance out of the tunnel Lewis has made so famous will never occur again. It’ll be weird seeing the Ravens play in 2013 without No. 52 in the midst of adoring teammates encircling him as he barks motivational instructions.

The game itself couldn’t have gone better. Not only did Ray’s Ravens win the game, but the defense was the catalyst. They held top pick Andrew Luck out of the end zone entirely, sacked him three times and forced him into two turnovers. It was just like old times.

It’s hard to tell how much of that performance was raw emotion and how much was just Baltimore flat-out playing better than Indy. But that game helped further cement the legacy of Ray Lewis. Even though his place in NFL lore is already fixed, this final chapter seemed a fitting final chapter – even if this run doesn’t end in a second Super Bowl title.

Yes, he’s lost a step and isn’t the same player he was a couple years ago. But what player is at age 37? His value comes from his leadership and being an unbelievable force of nature. You can’t measure intensity. Even if you could, you couldn’t measure his.

So even though Lewis has performed his last dance, we will get to see No. 52 go hard at least one more time.

Get a good look at it. You won’t see anything like it again.

OK, let’s put a bow on Wild-Card Weekend:

Colts 9
Ravens 24

I’ve already said my piece on Ray Lewis’ last home game, but what about Joe Flacco actually showing up? If he plays like that in Denver next week, Baltimore might actually have a shot. Might…

Andrew Luck turned the ball over twice in a game against a Ravens defense basically living off reputation. He’s got to remedy that turnover problem if he’s ever going to emerge from Peyton Manning’s shadow.

Seahawks 24
Redskins 14

Bottom line: Robert Griffin III had no business playing this game after halftime. This loss might actually be a blessing in disguise: Now RG3 can hopefully get completely healthy before he’s thrust back onto the field.

Oh, and in this topsy-turvy 2012 NFL season, why am I not surprised that the overlooked 75th overall pick (Russell Wilson) is the lone rookie QB advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs instead of the first and second overall picks?

Bengals 13
Texans 19

Houston better bring a better effort than this to New England if they want to live up to my championship expectations (and avoid another 42-14 beat down). I’m looking at you, Matt Schaub. Play like that again, and you’re being placed in Flacco territory.

For those keeping score at home, Cincinnati has still NEVER won a road playoff game. I hate to say it, but the Bengals need to put Marvin Lewis on notice. Ten years at the helm and no playoff wins? I really like Lewis, but he’s officially in a predicament far worse than the Andy Reid zone … and we know how that ended.

Vikings 10
Packers 24

At first, I thought Joe Webb getting the start would be a good thing for Minnesota: They could run some of that read-option that has RG3 and Russell Wilson playing like All-Pros, and Green Bay would have no preparation for it. Then we were reminded of just how woefully inaccurate a passer Webb is.

It’s hard to see how good Green Bay’s defense was in this game simply because Webb was so awful, but I can’t wait to see the Packers take on the 49ers in San Fran. I have a feeling Aaron Rodgers is gonna make the Niners very sorry they didn’t take him No. 1 overall in 2005.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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