Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is causing more heartache for Baltimore fans these days than Bob Irsay.
Allowing the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player to throw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of the first half, the Ravens were once again undone by Manning in a 20-3 loss to the top-seeded Colts in an AFC divisional playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The sixth-seeded Ravens (10-8) could never seize the momentum from him, failing to score a touchdown against Indianapolis for a third straight game and turning the ball over four times (two interceptions and lost fumbles by Ray Rice and Ed Reed).
The Colts (15-2) stopped their run of abrupt exits in the playoffs as a high seed -- they had been 0-3 after first-round byes -- and advanced to play the winner of today's San Diego Chargers-New York Jets game in next Sunday's AFC championship.
By the end of the night, it was another painful reunion with the Colts, who were moved from Baltimore on March 28, 1984, (9,425 days ago) by Irsay.
"We didn't play well enough to win this game on this day against this team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The loss hit Reed so hard that it could be his last. Standing at his locker after the game, Reed, 31, said it's "50-50" whether he retires. The Pro Bowl safety has been dealing with a nerve impingement in his neck for two years.
He nearly turned the game around twice in the third quarter. But his first interception ended with him fumbling, and his second one was negated by Corey Ivy's pass-interference penalty.
Manning has beaten the Ravens eight straight times, including twice in the playoffs. He stopped their Super Bowl run in January 2007 despite not having a stellar game. And he did it again Saturday in more Manning-like fashion.
His decisive blow came in the final two minutes of the first half, when he threw both of his touchdown passes to take a 17-3 halftime lead. Manning completed 30 of 44 passes for 246 yards against a Ravens secondary that had lost two starting cornerbacks during the regular season.
"If you give elite quarterbacks any air, they're going to take advantage," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "That's something we didn't do last week against Tom Brady and did against Peyton."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn't look injured as he did last Sunday, but he still didn't look like himself. He nearly threw an interception in the end zone on the first drive (which resulted in the Ravens' only points of the game) and then got picked off in the fourth quarter because he underthrew Derrick Mason at the 2-yard line.
"We were never in sync the way we needed to [be] in order to get back into the game," said Flacco, who finished 20 of 38 for 189 yards and two interceptions.
Unlike their wild-card victory at New England, the Ravens were playing catch-up from the opening series.
Indianapolis assumed control toward the end of the first half, scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes.
The key play was the Colts' deciding not to try a 52-yard field goal and converting a fourth-and-4 with a short pass to running back Joseph Addai. Five plays later, Manning found a wide-open Austin Collie (who beat cornerback Domonique Foxworth) for a 10-yard touchdown with two minutes left in the second quarter.
The Colts showed no fear of the Ravens' offense when they called a timeout after the first play by the Ravens after the kickoff. Flacco was rushed into throwing an incompletion on second down, and running back Ray Rice dropped a third-down pass. The Ravens' hurry-up offense managed 4 yards and took 17 seconds off the clock.
Getting the ball back at their 36 with 1:26 remaining in the first half, the Colts marched down the field with help from the Ravens.
Foxworth interfered with Reggie Wayne to stop the Indianapolis wide receiver from running past him on a double move (the %13-yard penalty moved the Colts to the Ravens' 14 and was called by an officiating crew that had assessed the fewest pass-interference penalties in the NFL).
Two plays later, Ray Lewis broke up a pass in the end zone by throwing his shoulder into Collie's head, but the inside linebacker was called for unnecessary roughness. Referee Carl Cheffers explained that it was "a blow to a defenseless receiver." Lewis could be heard responding, "That's football." (The 7-yard penalty moved the Colts to the Ravens' 7.)
"I didn't see it real well. I thought it was a heck of a football play," Harbaugh said. "I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Manning eventually threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Wayne, who beat Ivy to the inside and extended the ball across the goal line before Lewis delivered a hit.
The Ravens headed off the field trailing 17-3 -- matching their largest halftime deficit of the season.
"Those drives at the end of the half and at the end of the game are sometimes the most crucial part of the game," Flacco said. "We didn't make plays when we needed to at the end of the game."
In the third quarter, it looked as if the Ravens' defense would get the team back into the game. Reed picked off Manning and returned it 38 yards deep into Colts territory. But wide receiver Pierre Garcon punched the ball out from behind at the Indianapolis 28-yard line.
"If you're out in the open, you got to put that ball away," Harbaugh said. "If the ball comes off your body low like that, then he has a chance to knock out from behind. Obviously, that was a huge play."
Said Reed: "It's very tough because these opportunities don't come around often. As a player getting older dealing with injuries, you don't know how much you can last. It's hard. It's really hard. You want to win for your team and your city. But you don't always come out that way."
After Indianapolis got the ball back, Reed again intercepted Manning and brought it back to the Colts' 11. But Ivy was called for interfering with tight end Dallas Clark to negate the turnover. It was the second-pass interference penalty by an officiating crew that called five of them in 15 regular-season games.
Escaping those two interceptions by Reed, the Colts settled for a 33-yard field goal by Stover to increase their lead to 20-3.
The Ravens are once again dealing with an unwanted exit from the playoffs. They lost in the AFC championship game last season. They fell in the divisional round this time.
Now, the focus is taking the next step.
"Obviously, we're not where we want to be right now," Harbaugh said. "We want to [get to] the point where we can win the divisional playoff game, we can win the AFC championship game and we can win the Super Bowl. We tried like crazy to be good enough to do that. We're not good enough yet. We have to find a way to make our team better."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times