BALTIMORE -- There was no more perfect way for Ray Lewis to spend his last day in a home uniform at the stadium where he created so many Hall of Fame moments in a storied 17-year career.
The Ravens' star linebacker, returning only three months after tearing his right triceps -- an injury that requires a recovery time of up to a year for many athletes -- did the trademark pregame dance he calls "The Squirrel" one final time as he came out of the tunnel to the cheers of a sellout crowd. Then he helped his team to a 24-9 win over the Colts Sunday in an AFC wild-card game, earning at least one more game in his NFL run.
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The Ravens, who kept rookie quarterback Andrew Luck's offense out of the end zone, will face the Broncos in a divisional-round game Saturday afternoon in Denver.
"My total focus was to come in and play my heart out and get my team a win," Lewis said. "Everything else just came with it."
It ended with Lewis as part of the Ravens' victory formation, the first time he had ever taken the field in the NFL as an offensive player. When it was over, Lewis did his dance one last time in the middle of the field.
Lewis was drafted out of the University of Miami in 1996, the year the team began play in Baltimore. "I was a child then, but I'm 37 years old now," he said. "I'm a full-grown man. I could never ask for anything else."
Make no mistake: Lewis' return was not merely intended to give the AFC North champion Ravens an emotional lift. He was exceptional, leading the team with 13 tackles.
Playing with a brace to guard against re-injury of his right arm, he nearly had a first-half interception that could have resulted in a touchdown, but he blamed the brace after dropping the ball.
The Ravens limited No. 1 overall draft pick Luck -- who led his team to the playoffs despite the absence of coach Chuck Pagano for 12 weeks as he underwent chemotherapy treatments for leukemia -- to three field goals.
The Colts kept the score close early, trailing 10-6 at halftime, but Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass in each of the final two quarters as the Ravens pulled away.
"It was incredible, man. We just witnessed some of the greatest fans honoring one of the greatest players of all time," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said of the emotion-packed crowd's reaction to Lewis' impending retirement. "It was a wonderful feeling."
The game wasn't without its shaky moments for the Ravens. Usually sure-handed running back Ray Rice fumbled twice, ending drives in Indianapolis territory. And although the Colts didn't score a touchdown, Luck did drive them fairly consistently throughout the game. He had 288 passing yards, the Colts ran for 152 yards and held the ball for 37:32.
The Colts' inability to finish drives was their undoing. Adam Vinatieri, one of the NFL's best clutch kickers ever, had three field goals but missed a fourth on a 40-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter that would have cut the Colts' deficit to 17-12.
Flacco ended the Ravens' next drive with an 18-yard scoring pass to Anquan Boldin, who set a franchise playoff record with 145 receiving yards.
"We kind of wanted to hold some things back until the second half," Boldin said. "We got the looks that we thought we were going to get, and the second half, we made the adjustments and came out and opened it up a little bit."
By the end, when it was obvious the Ravens would win, coach John Harbaugh said he got the "idea from a higher power" to have Lewis on the field for the game's final play.
Afterward, Lewis took a victory lap. It was similar to the one Cal Ripken took around Camden Yards after he broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played in 1995 -- a year before the career of another Baltimore superstar began.
"I knew how it started, but I never knew how it was going to end here in Baltimore," Lewis said. "For it to go the way it went today, I wouldn't change anything. It was just a very, very emotional day."