Let's begin with this truth: few events in recent Baltimore sports history packed the emotional wallop of Ray Lewis' farewell game at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday.
From the moment No. 52 emerged from the tunnel during pre-game instructions and danced his crazy dance for the last time, to the end of his exhilarating victory lap around the field, the charged atmosphere was unlike any other game the Ravens have ever played.
And in their 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens fed off that energy in various ways. (Most of them positive ways, if you don't count the 70 yards in penalties.)
Anquan Boldin caught seven passes for 145 yards and made two spectacular leaping catches: on a 50-yard pass from Joe Flacco to start the second half and an 18-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter, when he fought off Darius Butler -- who was just about clubbing him in the face -- for the ball.
Bernard Pierce rushed for 103 yards in 13 carries and ran hard and mean all game long.
Paul Kruger, a Ravens project the past few seasons, turned in the game of his career, harrassing Colts quarterback Andrew Luck unmercifully and finishing with 2.5 sacks, four tackles and five QB hits. And Joe Flacco, the favorite whipping boy of disgruntled Ravens fans everywhere, was 12-for-23 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and 125.6 passer rating.
But what will the Ravens do now, now that they're headed to Denver to face the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round?
How do you sustain that kind of emotion against the red-hot Broncos and their All-Galaxy quarterback, Peyton Manning, who is authoring the comeback story of the decade with a marvelous season for the ages?
Short answer: you can't.
With the Ravens as nine-point underdogs, it could be Ray Lewis' last game in a Ravens uniform, the end of one of the most storied careers in NFL history, and that will get the Ravens jacked up again to some degree.
But they'll be playing in a cold, hostile stadium, far from the nurturing environment of the Bank, and that wellspring of Ray's-last-game emotion will only go so far.
John Harbaugh seemed to recognize that in his postgame remarks Sunday.
"You can't play a 60-minute football game on emotion," the Ravens coach said. "You've got to go play football. You've got to go play well. You've got to play this play efficiently and effectively. To me, you just don't do that emotionally.
"Emotion wears out really fast. So, we'll carry forward. We'll still be emotional and enthusiastic, but the fact that we played well, that's what's important."
So Harbaugh gets it, and we'll see if the rest of the Ravens get it when they play Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
Heck, even the name of the stadium sounds cold and hostile, a corporate-evoking battlefield where the Ravens will be on their own and in full us-against-the-world mode.
And if they can't feed off the kind of emotion they fed off Sunday -- which they can't -- they better do what Harbaugh alluded to, what all teams have to do if they want to survive the grueling playoffs and make it to the Valhalla of the Super Bowl.
They better play really, really well.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times