First Down/Fourth Down: Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger key Baltimore’s win
Anquan Boldin’s last time topping 100 yards receiving this season? Week 4, in a win over the Browns, when he pulled down nine catches for 131 yards.
That performance also stood as Boldin’s only day in triple digits, until Sunday against Indianapolis.
After his Baltimore team fought tooth-and-nail for a 10-6 halftime lead, Boldin took matters into his own hands in the second half. Boldin did not make a single catch during the game’s first 30 minutes, only to finish with five receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown.
All three of his big-gainers — a 50-yarder, 46-yarder and 21-yard touchdown — were highlight reel-worthy, too. The best of the bunch (with all due respect to his twisting, over-the-shoulder 46-yard grab) probably came on the score. Darius Butler was in Boldin’s hip pocket, but the 32-year-old receiver still managed to leap and pluck a Joe Flacco pass out of the air in the back of the end zone.
The earlier 46-yard grab also put Baltimore in position to put up a TD, with Flacco finding Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard score shortly thereafter.
Without Boldin’s sensational Sunday effort, the Ravens would have had a hard time pulling away for the 24-9 victory.
First Down: Ray Lewis.
Just getting on the field with what appeared to be part of Iron Man’s gear wrapped around his left arm would have been enough evidence of Lewis’ grit. The future Hall of Famer had a lot more in him for his last home game.
Lewis played the entire game Sunday — a remarkable feat for a guy who had not been on the field in two months — and led the Ravens with 13 tackles. He also, as expected, provided a couple of the day’s best moments, opening the proceedings with his trademark pregame dance and closing them by taking the field for Baltimore’s final kneel-down.
Lewis will face a tough recovery now, trying to get his body prepared for another playoff game next weekend. Anyone doubt that he’ll be ready to go?
Fourth Down: Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler.
Most of Boldin’s second-half breakthrough came at Vaughn’s expense. The problems started early in the third quarter, when Flacco heaved up a prayer on 3rd-and-19 that Vaughn allowed Boldin to go up and grab. Boldin then smoked Vaughn on a 46-yard gain up the sideline that set up the Flacco-to-Pitta touchdown.
Indianapolis tried to stop Baltimore’s sudden momentum through the air by benching Vaughn for Butler. It didn’t work — Butler quickly gave up a nine-yard pass to Torrey Smith, then allowed Boldin to make an acrobatic TD catch over top of him.
First Down: Paul Kruger.
Hard to pick anyone but Lewis as the Ravens’ defensive MVP Sunday, if only for emotional reasons. Kruger, though, deserves the honor.
The pass-rushing linebacker recorded 2.5 sacks, forced a fumble, batted down a pass and proved unblockable no matter what the Colts tried. Granted, Kruger had a mismatch for most of the afternoon against Indianapolis’ Bradley Sowell, but he took full advantage of it.
Fourth Down: Ray Rice’s sudden fumbling woes.
Since Baltimore won Sunday and Rice did not cough up a fumble all season, you probably can chalk this up as fluky. But Rice put the ball on the turf twice against the Colts, ending a pair of promising drives.
Rice still finished with 117 total yards, including a critical 47-yard pickup on a screen pass late in the second quarter to set up Vonta Leach’s TD run. The Ravens likely will not have the luxury of dodging turnover bullets next week in Denver, though — Indianapolis scored zero points off Rice’s miscues; Peyton Manning’s Broncos may be more opportunistic.
First Down: Jim Caldwell’s halftime adjustments.
Another one that hearkens back to Boldin’s unexpected eruption …
The Colts paid extra attention to Torrey Smith, who repeatedly proved to be Baltimore’s most dangerous weapon in the passing attack this season. So, rather than force the ball his direction, Caldwell gave Boldin a chance to shine in one-on-one situations. The game plan paid off — Boldin took over after halftime to pace Baltimore’s victory.
Fourth Down: Indianapolis’ receivers.
On the other end of the passing game spectrum are the Colts’ receivers. Andrew Luck finished the day 28 of 54 for 288 yards, despite having to dodge Baltimore defenders. He easily would have cleared 350 yards if his receivers had been able to make a few catches.
Especially late, as the Colts attempted to rally, Indianapolis’ playmakers came down with a case of the dropsies — Donnie Avery put one on the deck, T.Y. Hilton flat-out missed a deep ball, Vick Ballard had a fourth-down toss slip through his fingers and even Reggie Wayne (nine catches for 114 yards) bumbled a nice pass from Luck.
The difference in this game was that the Ravens came up with multiple big plays, while Indianapolis could not hit any home runs.
First Down: Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens have stuck, stubbornly at times, to a 1-2 punch in the backfield, with Rice giving up carries to Pierce throughout the season. All that trust Baltimore had in its rookie backup came full circle Sunday.
While Rice struggled to hang onto the football, Pierce picked up the slack to the tune of 103 yards rushing on 13 carries. His 43-yard burst on a fourth quarter 3rd-and-1 laid the groundwork for Boldin’s touchdown catch, and Pierce put the game on ice with a nice run to help Baltimore kill the clock.
Pierce can expect to see plenty more action next week, when the Ravens head into Denver.
Fourth Down: Mike Carey’s officiating crew.
Carey’s crew will work this year’s Super Bowl, and based on Sunday, that is at least a little bit troublesome.
The first quarter proved particularly problematic for Carey’s group — the officials awarded a fumble to the Colts, despite Marshal Yanda emerging from a pile with the ball (and announced that possession belonged to “Indiana”); they flagged Indianapolis for a very questionable pass interference penalty, turned the other way on two potential face masks; and they ended the day with a dubious “defenseless receiver” call on Bernard Pollard.
All in all, low marks for the officials in this game.