Emotions will be high at that moment - for Lewis, the fans, the players, the coaches and members of the Ravens organization. Coach John Harbaugh went as far as to say it will be historic.
Whether keeping Lewis’ career alive for another one, two or even three games beyond Sunday provides enough intangible oomph to help propel the Ravens will be worth watching. It certainly changes the dynamic of this year’s playoff run, as Lewis’ teammates face the prospect of letting down the greatest player in team history if they can’t top the Colts and whichever teams might wait in the following weeks.
Lewis even said it Wednesday. He didn’t push himself back from surgery in less than three months just to go out in the first round.
But the Ravens will be doing their best to not let that ne a distraction. Football is an emotional game and while Lewis’ last ride could add an inspirational boost for the playoffs, the team will have to guard against a drain on emotions now that one slip could end its season.
“It’s taking that energy and that emotion and focusing it and focusing it at the task at hand and doing our job,” Harbaugh said.
Safety Bernard Pollard knows that could be a concern.
“You’ve got to leave your emotions where they’re at,” Pollard said. “It’s about us playing this game. You can’t attach emotions to it. I would rather be emotional winning that Lombardi. I would rather cry holding the trophy, I would rather hug my teammates, send Ray out right. So I’m not trying to get emotional by us saying, ‘OK, this is our last game.’ Whatever.
“It’s about us going out and playing football. We are trying to get to Louisiana. We’re trying to find the quickest route to Louisiana. Right now, we have a rest stop in Baltimore and we’re playing a team here and wherever our next place is, we’ll drive there.”
First up is the Colts, who enter the postseason as one of the AFC’s hottest teams having won five of six and nine of 11.
Indianapolis owned the league’s 10th-best offense during the regular season, keyed by rookie Andrew Luck and the NFL’s sixth-ranked passing attack.
Luck put together a fantastic first year after being drafted first overall, passing for 4,374 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while running for another 255 yards and five scores.
His favorite target was veteran Reggie Wayne, who finished among the league’s top seven with 106 catches and 1,355 receiving yards.
While Luck has matured quickly into a top professional passer, the Ravens will be looking to remind him he hasn’t been here before.
“He’s a great quarterback. Throughout the film that you watch, he’s done a lot of great things,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “Moving around, he’s mobile, faster than you think, he’s bigger than you think and does a lot of really good things. Hopefully, we can just try to make him look like a rookie out there instead of a veteran quarterback.”
To combat Luck, the Ravens should go in confident having shored up a defense that was pretty leaky early in the season.
Baltimore permitted more than 300 passing yards just once in the last 12 games and held each of its last two opponents to fewer than 200 yards overall.
The Ravens ended the regular season ranked 17th in total defense and 12th in points permitted.
“We are playing fundamentally a lot better,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We are communicating better. We are on the same page better. Our coaches have done a great job of continuing to coach - every single week, every little thing. You can improve throughout the course of the season. Our team has done that every year. Our defense and our offense and our special teams have all done that this year.”
On the other side of the ball, the Colts have allowed seemingly a ton of yards this season, ranking 26th in the NFL in total defense.
However, they possess a playmaking unit that is tied for sixth in the league with 18 picks and ninth with 41 sacks. Linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, now with 21 combined seasons between them, continue to lead the unit. The 31-year-old Mathis had eight sacks while the 32-year-old Freeney had five in 2012.
Former Indianapolis head coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said he believes that duo remains tough to stop despite their advanced age.
“No question. No doubt about it,” Caldwell said. “You look at those guys, for a number of years they were just a terror - the two of them, those two bookends. They would give you so many problems, because the minute you got into a situation you had to pass a little bit more often than you would like, they would heat it up on you.
“Dwight is still as powerful and strong. He has developed even more of a power move along with that great spin game that he has, and he can still get up the field and run by you. Mathis, as usual, he does it all. He’s just a talented guy. Fortunately, we’ve had an opportunity to play against some guys here down the stretch. At Denver, they had (Elvis) Dumervil, obviously, and Von Miller. We had an opportunity to go against the Giants who had some great rushers as well. These two guys are a little bit different in their style, but very, very, very talented.”
The Ravens aren’t the best match-up for a team with a quality pass rush, but they set a single-season franchise mark for fewest turnovers (16) and have been quite good offensively at home. They surpassed 400 yards in five of eight contests at M&T Bank Stadium this season.
Baltimore also set a franchise record with 398 points in 2012, 254 of which were scored at home.
Playoff experience could be a factor, as the Ravens are the only team to have appeared in the postseason each of the last five years while the Colts rely on a rookie quarterback and are one year removed from a 2-14 campaign.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who owns a 5-4 career playoff record, tried to somewhat downplay the benefit of postseason experience.
“People try to make a big deal about the playoffs and the extra intensity that goes into it. I try not to buy into that stuff, but five years down the line, you definitely have more experience than you did Year One,” he said. “Not just in terms of playoff games, but just in terms of games, in terms of seeing defenses, in terms of being comfortable with your offense, comfortable with the guys around you, I think we are all a little bit more experienced than we were last year. I think we had a little bit of a young team last year. I think we definitely have more games under our belt.”
As much as several players don’t want to admit it, the Ravens might have an emotional advantage following Lewis’ announcement that he’ll retire after the playoffs.
The Ravens’ focus might be on what it takes to beat the Colts, but they’ll also have Lewis on their minds.
“It’s about chasing rings, and he is always talking about it,” wideout Torrey Smith said. “If you have a conversation with him, he never talks about the individual awards and accolades. He always talks about trying to get another trophy, another Lombardi.
“We have an opportunity. That’s all you can ask for at this point. We’re one of 12 teams that have an opportunity to go out there and try to get it, and we want to send him out the right way.”