Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

July 02, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

Harbaugh grabbed Lewis on the sideline as the crowd roared its approval. “I’m gonna have you take a bow,” the head coach told Lewis. “I might put you in on victory. You can be the back guy.”

The “victory formation” is checkmate in football. It’s when your quarterback is taking a knee to end the game and drain the clock. Usually there’s one safety lining up as a distant running back in case there’s an errant snap. Tight ends coach Wade Harman, the remaining holdover from the Super Bowl XXXV staff, told Lewis: “Don’t tackle the quarterback. We’re on offense, baby!”

As the crowd chanted, “We want Ray!” he took the field behind Flacco as the Ravens drained the clock. Lewis went to the referee and as his last act in an NFL game in Baltimore, he said, “I’m reporting eligible!”

Before the final gun, the ball was snapped and Lewis cleared the way and did his patented “Squirrel Dance” celebration to the delight of the Baltimore faithful. As his teammates Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith, and Bobbie Williams circled him he said, “I love you all to death, man!”

The Ravens fans who had supported Ray Lewis for 17 years, the ones who had cheered the dance – watching all of the joy, passion, and effort that No. 52 brought on the field since 1996 – had one last chance to thank him with a symbiotic salute. Lewis then did a four-minute victory lap – reminiscent of Cal Ripken’s jog around Camden Yards in 1995 on the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.

As much as Flacco played well and the offense put up points, once again it was the Ravens defense that proved stingy in the red zone, allowing the Colts offense just three field goals all day despite having the ball for 38 minutes.

It was a coming out party for Paul Kruger, who finished a with two and a half sacks, five quarterback hits, one forced fumble, one pass deflection, and one tackle for loss. “That dude is making money,” said safety Bernard Pollard, who was acknowledging that Kruger would be getting a healthy contract somewhere in the NFL from his pre-free agent efforts in the playoff win.

On offense, the Ravens put up 24 points despite two fumbles from Ray Rice and several drops by Tandon Doss. Pierce wound up having a monster day with 103 yards on 13 carries. But it was the big plays in the passing game from Flacco, who was 12-of-23 for 282 yards and two TDs, that led the way.

Boldin told Flacco before the game that he wanted the ball. “I went up to him before the game and told him I felt like 200 yards today,” said Boldin, who settled for 145 yards. “I don’t know if he thought I was joking, but he gave me a shot in the second half.”

“I just wanted to go out and give everything,” Boldin said. “I think everyone in this locker room wanted to make sure this wasn’t our last game. I think we all have a goal in mind, and we’re focused in on that goal. The only way we’re going to get there is if we go out there and give our all on the field. I was real motivated [today]. I’ve said it before, I came to Baltimore to win a championship. That’s my goal.”

As for next week in Denver? “I was hoping we would get them,” Boldin said. “I wanted Denver because they beat us. We’ll make it different.”

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was rock solid in his second game back, as the offensive line allowed just one sack on Flacco against an imposing pass rush led by