In a photo taken with a fisheye lens, Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates after the Ravens beat the Denver Broncos 38-35 in overtime of an AFC divisional playoff NFL game Saturday in Denver.
DENVER — Deflated and nearly defeated, Ray Lewis slumped on the sideline.
The final seconds of his brilliant career were slipping away, just like Demaryius Thomas had escaped his grasp minutes earlier.
Thomas’ go-ahead touchdown gave Denver a 35-28 lead and now the Ravens were out of timeouts, deep in their territory. Under a minute to go, the “last ride” about to make its final stop.
Joe Flacco was buying time in the pocket, about to throw the ball away and bring up fourth down at his 30.
Peyton Manning was about to beat Baltimore for a 10th straight time, and Lewis was about to call it a career.
Then Lewis spotted Jacoby Jones sprinting past him along the Baltimore sideline. More importantly, so did Flacco, who lofted a high-arcing pass into both double coverage and the frigid Denver night.
Safety Rahim Moore leaped for the interception, only he was a tad too early and a bit too shallow.
The football settled into Jones’ arms and he pranced into the end zone, his 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left tying the game.
Baltimore would win on Justin Tucker’s field goal in the second overtime.
Lewis’ retirement party will wait for another day.
“Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. He grew up today,” Lewis said of Flacco. “He grew up today and in the tunnel I told him, `You’re the general now. Lead us to a victory. You lead us today. I’m just here to facilitate things.’
“And to look in his eyes, he has something different about him today and I just wanted to encourage him. To watch what he did today is probably one of the greatest things I’ll always sit back and remember.”
Reminiscing can wait for at least another week.
Lewis gets to play again, against either at Houston or New England in the AFC championship game.
Flacco was the hero, but Lewis wasn’t a bystander.
He was right in the middle of things, providing his usual unyielding leadership.
Lewis made 17 tackles one week after he led the Ravens with 13 stops against Indianapolis while playing for the first time in three months after being sidelined with a torn right triceps.
“We wanted to get this win for Ray and I was going to do everything I could possibly do to get this win,” said cornerback Corey Graham.
He did just that, picking off Manning twice, taking the first one back for a touchdown and setting up Tucker’s winner in the game’s 77th minute with his second interception.
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