BALTIMORE — If this rust belt town needed a bib to catch all the sentimental tears shed at the last home game of iconic linebacker Ray Lewis, how is Baltimore going to handle the emotional breakdown when the Broncos force him into retirement as a loser?
Addressing teammates Sunday before facing Indianapolis in an NFL playoff game, Lewis made a promise, punctuated by a scowl: No way, no how did the Indianapolis Colts have a chance to win.
"Ray told us we were definitely going to win. It wasn't going to happen on his last day, his last game at Ravens Stadium," Baltimore safety Ed Reed said.
So I asked Reed: Will Lewis bark another guarantee of victory, when Baltimore again takes the field, next weekend, in Denver, against the No. 1 seed in the AFC?
"He's probably going to say the same thing," Reed said.
To a man, the Ravens seem ticked at the Broncos.
But, like Lewis, their very passionate but washed-up warrior, the Ravens now seem better at striking a pose than striking fear in the hearts of a foe.
Sure, Baltimore toyed with Indianapolis during a 24-9 victory. Big deal. The undercard matchups in the NFL playoffs are over.
Are the Ravens' arms long enough to box with Peyton Manning?
"If you've ever been in a fight with somebody and they beat you, you want to fight again," said Baltimore offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, throwing back the shoulders on his 6-foot-8, 354-pound frame to appear as intimidating as humanly possible.
Last time we looked in on Manning against Baltimore, the result was so ugly that the Ravens should have covered their eyes.
The score was 34-17 in favor of Denver on Dec. 16. If it were a fight, the referee would have stopped the humiliation in the third on cuts that left Baltimore bloodied. Did Manning leave emotional scars on the Ravens?
"He didn't put his hands on me or nothing like that," joked Reed, the Baltimore defender with nine Pro Bowl seasons on his résumé and more than a few flecks of gray in his beard.
"We know what we got. (The Broncos) know what we got. We're going down there with all our weapons and all our tools. And we're coming to bang."
Giving Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a rookie tutorial in playoff intensity didn't make for much of a football game. But it made for one heck of a farewell party for Lewis, whose trademark "squirrel" dance is bigger in Baltimore than "Gangnam Style."
When Lewis tore his triceps in October, an obituary was written for his brilliant NFL career. Lewis refused to read it.
"I called (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) two days after I got hurt," Lewis recalled. "I said, 'Don't put me on IR (injured reserve).' He was like, 'What do you mean?' And I said, 'Trust me, I will be back.' "
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Lewis is back in Baltimore gear, but with a warning: When the Ravens leave the playoffs, he turns out the lights and goes home, never to wear No. 52 again.
Oh, Lewis can still dance. Put in the offensive lineup for a snap in the victory formation during the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Lewis did an encore of the "squirrel" to the roaring approval of 71,379 spectators.
But the question remains: How much does Lewis really have left as a football player?
The MVP-caliber season being produced by Manning at age 36, after missing more than a year while rehabilitating from four neck surgeries, is all the more remarkable when you watch the 37-year-old Lewis drop an interception. He botched a certain pick against the Colts, when the football rattled off the bulky brace worn to protect his weakened right arm.
Now it's Lewis vs. Manning. The greatest linebacker and quarterback of their NFL generation. Squaring off one more time. With the same, old feeling.
"They are always classic, I will tell you that," Lewis said of his confrontations against Manning. "It's just one of those chess matches. He knows me very well. I know him very well."
When the Broncos beat Baltimore, the rout was on as soon as cornerback Chris Harris stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass intended for Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Harris returned the interception 98 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter. What's more, Boldin did not make a single catch against Champ Bailey and the Denver secondary.
So it was stunning to watch Boldin do a Jerry Rice imitation against the Colts, hauling in five receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Walking the hallway to a happy locker room, Boldin demanded to know: "Who are we playing next?"
Oh, he knew the Broncos are waiting for Baltimore.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Boldin said. "I was hoping we would get them."
I asked: "Were you hoping for a rematch, because the Broncos shut you down?"
Boldin replied: "Just because we lost to them."
Wow. Kind of crabby, don't you think?
Guess it makes sense. Baltimore is known for crabs.
Why, I pressed Boldin, does he believe it will be any different against Denver this time around?
The eyes of Boldin grew as hard and cold as blue ice.
"We'll make it different," Boldin vowed.