(Sports Network) - Ray Lewis raced to the center of M&T Bank Stadium and the Baltimore crowd erupted.
The seven-time All-Pro, who announced his retirement last week, was part of the Ravens' victory formation and did his trademarked "Squirrel Dance" one last time for the hometown faithful after Baltimore wrapped up an emphatic 24-9 win over Andrew Luck and Indianapolis in an AFC wild-card encounter.
"There's no great reward than for me to take this last victory lap for me to see my team," Lewis told CBS after the game. "Because we have a vision. We're not trying to end here. This is just my last game at Ravens stadium, and it's the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career."
It's been a long and often surreal ride for Lewis -- once indicted for murder and now regarded as one of the faces of the NFL.
During the pregame festivities on Sunday, Lewis was almost a one-man receiving line, accepting well-wishes from Mr. Morality himself, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, along with his teammates and children.
If you thought Lewis might be distracted, however, think again. In his first game since suffering a torn triceps in mid-October, the 17-year veteran was credited with 13 tackles in spearheading Baltimore's win.
"My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned," Lewis said. "It's one of those things, when you recap it all and try to say what is one of your greatest moments. I knew how it started, but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore. I wouldn't change nothing."
Perhaps inspired by the return of Lewis, the Ravens defense, which has been pedestrian for most of the season, held the upstart Colts to three Adam Vinatieri field goals, and spoiled the playoff debut of potential NFL Rookie of the Year Luck and the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore.
Pagano, of course, spent four years as an assistant under John Harbaugh before taking over the Colts last January.
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger proved to be a Philip Seymour-Hoffman-like co- star to Lewis, registering 2 1/2 of the Ravens' three sacks during the game and causing one of three takeaways with a forced fumble.
"I saw him get to the quarterback a whole bunch," Harbaugh said of Kruger. "He played tremendously well."
The seemingly always embattled Joe Flacco added a pair of touchdown passes to the win while throwing for 282 yards and making good on 12-of-23 attempts, while Anquan Boldin amassed 145 yards and a score on five often spectacular catches -- all of which came in the second half.
"We definitely wanted to come out and put on a great performance for (Lewis') last time at M&T Bank Stadium," Boldin said.
Luck put up 288 yards in his first-ever playoff appearance, but completed just 28-of-54 throws and was intercepted once for the Colts, who reached the postseason just one year removed from a dreadful 2-14 campaign. Lewis also nearly nabbed another pick but dropped a hand-delivered gift in his bread basket.
It wouldn't be the 2012 Colts, though, if they weren't asked to navigate some kind of ridiculous hurdle, and sure enough offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was not with the team after being sent to a local hospital with a flu-like illness.
Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen handled play-calling duties in Arians' absence but didn't have the same feel of Arians, who served a large portion of Indianapolis' surprising 11-5 regular season as the acting head coach while Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.
The 60-year-old Arians guided the Colts to a 9-3 record during his time in charge, and few know Lewis and the Ravens as well since the veteran play-caller spent the previous eight seasons on the sidelines with Baltimore's biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To his credit, Luck refused to make any excuses.
"We had our opportunities, but we couldn't get it done," the rookie star said. "We made too many mistakes and left too many plays out there. But the Baltimore defense is a great, great unit. It was great to make the playoffs, but we can't make the mistakes that we made today to advance in the playoffs."
So much for so many was on the line in this one and the emotions flowed afterward as Pagano warmly embraced members of the Ravens' coaching staff, including his good friend Harbaugh.
Meanwhile, Lewis, who is bound for Canton after being the heart and soul of the Ravens franchise as well as a leader of one of most consistent and ferocious defensive units of this generation, will have another chance to extend his final season against one of his few peers in the legacy department, Peyton Manning.
Baltimore will travel to Denver to face the Broncos in a divisional-round matchup the Ravens hope is more successful than their 34-17 loss back in Week 15 without Lewis.
Long-time Baltimore football fans, who have never forgiven the Irsay family or gotten over the image of Mayflower Transit trucks bolting from the Colts' Maryland training facility in the early morning hours of March 29, 1984, were almost forgotten Sunday.
Maybe for them, however, the memories of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry can finally be exorcised and morph into a Squirrel Dance.