BALTIMORE (AP) — Ray Lewis did his part to ensure that his last home game wouldn’t also be the final chapter of his NFL career.
Lewis had a team-high 13 tackles Sunday to help the Baltimore Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 Sunday in the opening round of the playoffs. Although the 37-year-old middle linebacker dropped a sure interception, his performance in the middle of the Baltimore defense — and the emotional lift it provided — was a key component of the victory.
He finished up by entering on offense, 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage as Baltimore ran a kneel-down to wrap up the game. As the clock ticked down to 0:00, Lewis broke into his trademark dance.
Baltimore will next travel to Denver to face the top-seeded Broncos on Saturday. Lewis announced Wednesday that he will end his 17-year NFL career after the Ravens complete their postseason run.
Wearing a brace on his right arm, Lewis played for the first time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14 against Dallas. He had seven tackles in the first half, including one in the Indianapolis backfield on running back Vick Ballard during a blitz.
Early in the second quarter, Lewis had a deflected pass in his grasp with designs of taking it into the end zone. But he dropped the ball, and many in the sellout crowd uttered a collective, “Ohh!”
There was some question as to how long Lewis would last in his first game action in three months. But the aged warrior appeared as fresh as the day he played his first game back in 1996.
With Lewis leading the way, the Ravens held the Colts without a touchdown. It was only the second time this season that Indianapolis failed to score in double figures.
As the clock approached the two-minute warning, fans behind the Baltimore sideline shouted in unison, “Thank you, Ray!”
Then, with 1:57 left, the scoreboard aired a montage of Lewis’ finest plays, including several crushing hits. He responded by clasping his hands together over his head, tapping his heart and waving.
Minutes before the opening kickoff, Lewis thrilled the sellout crowd during introductions by coming out of the tunnel and gyrating to the tune “Hot in Herre.”
Hundreds of fans had their cellphones raised to either take a picture or videotape the moment.
Lewis does the dance only before home games, and this was Baltimore’s last this season at M&T Bank Stadium.
Lewis concluded pre-game warmups by addressing the entire team on the 5-yard line. After his short speech, Lewis hugged a few teammates, mingled with a few people in the crowd and jogged to the sideline, where he engaged in a lengthy embrace with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Thousands of fans were wearing No. 52 jerseys. Lewis has been a fan favorite in Baltimore since he was selected in the first round of the Ravens’ initial draft in 1996.
Ken Malik, 61, wore a purple Lewis jersey and a broad smile.
“It’s the end of an era for the Baltimore Ravens,” he said. “He’s been a great player. He’s stood for what the Baltimore Ravens are and what they have been since they (came) to Baltimore.”
There is no age limitation for fans of Lewis, who made his NFL debut when Kylie O’Neill-Mullin was 4. She was wearing a long black tunic with Lewis’ number on the front and back.
“This is a big deal. It’s the last time he’ll come out of the tunnel,” she said. “It’s the last time he’ll play on this field. I’m excited to be here.”
One fan had a sign with a purple heart and the No. 52 in the middle. Earlier, a helicopter flew overhead with the No. 52 painted on its undercarriage.
Lewis was elected to 13 Pro Bowls and is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He told his teammates on Wednesday, “This will be my last ride.”
One fan in the crowd had a sign that read: “Let’s Ride To New Orleans,” site of the Super Bowl. Two more wins, and the Ravens will be there.
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