OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Fueled with emotion from the impending retirement of Ray Lewis and a fervent home crowd, the Baltimore Ravens dispatched the Indianapolis Colts in the opening round of the AFC playoffs.
It's going to take more than just unbridled enthusiasm to knock off the top-seeded Denver Broncos on Saturday.
In defeating Indianapolis 24-9 on Sunday, the Ravens (11-6) drew inspiration from a crowd that never stopped cheering before, during and after Lewis' final home game. The standout middle linebacker intends to retire after Baltimore's playoff run, and the Ravens had no intention of seeing Lewis end his 17-year career with a home loss.
"It had to have an impact. The emotions were real," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It was tangible. We all felt it."
Now, however, the Ravens take to the road to face the Broncos (13-3), who have won 11 straight -- including a 34-17 rout in Baltimore on Dec. 16. The Ravens should have plenty of spirit left from Sunday, but Harbaugh isn't necessarily counting on it.
"There's probably an element that we'll carry forward because you're always building on what you are," he said. "Hopefully we take all the things that happened and we take it into that game emotionally and carry it with us. But this is a new game. It's a whole new environment. It's a whole new situation for us. So I think the slate is wiped clean in that sense. This will be a new challenge for us."
And what a challenge it is. Not only do the Broncos own the best record in the AFC, but they're coming off a bye and playing in high altitude against a team they've already beaten handily. Oh, and there's also the matter of Peyton Manning, who's 2-0 lifetime against Baltimore in the postseason.
Manning vs. Ray Lewis with everything on the line. It doesn't get much better than that.
"They are always classic," Lewis said. "It's just one of those chess matches. He knows me very well. I know him very well. ... But at the end of the day, it's not about me and me and Peyton. It's about their team against our team. I love our team right now."
And the Ravens, in turn, love their leader. All the players, as well as the coaching staff, savored the once-in-a-lifetime scene at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
"The crowd was incredible. It was one of those historic moments that anybody that was there is never going to forget," Harbaugh said. "I was so proud of our fans, so pleased that we all have something that we will be able to talk to our kids and our grandkids about -- a Baltimore football moment that's going to live on. That's kind of why you do this, to be part of moments like this."
Lewis was in the middle of it all, playing for the first time in 12 weeks after being sidelined with a torn right triceps. He returned to lead the Ravens with 13 tackles and provided his usual unyielding leadership.
"He played well. He was physical at the point of attack, he did a good job in the pass game," Harbaugh said. "He held up pretty well."
When the Ravens faced Denver last month, the Broncos raced to a 31-3 lead and coasted to the finish. But Baltimore played that game without Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson. All will be available Saturday.
"It's got to be a positive," Harbaugh said. "We're more full strength now than we've ever been all year. So it's the right time to be healthy, and I'm hoping those guys will have a big impact."
In other news, the Ravens cut linebacker Sergio Kindle from the practice squad Monday. Kindle was the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft but spent his entire rookie season on the reserve/non-football injury list after fracturing his skull while falling down a flight of stairs. He played in one game last year and one game this season.
"It was kind of mutually agreed upon between the two of us," Harbaugh said of the move. "He's hoping for an opportunity somewhere where he can maybe take the next step."