Quarterback Kyle Boller
faltered, throwing two costly interceptions when Baltimore was in scoring
position. And elite speed-rushing defensive end Dwight Freeney stymied the
Ravens' offense, particularly offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Ultimately, not even the bruising production of Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis (130 yards on 20 carries) could hold off a 20-10 defeat Sunday night at RCA Dome that inflicted damage on the Ravens' playoff outlook.
The Ravens stopped Manning from toppling Dan Marino from his historical perch, holding the Colts quarterback to one touchdown pass. However, they couldn't prevent him from engineering a victory.
Although Marino's single-season touchdown record of 48 remains safe for at least another week from Manning's grasp as he needs two more touchdowns to eclipse a mark established in 1984, it's little consolation for Baltimore that they limited the leading NFL MVP candidate to one scoring throw.
With the Denver Broncos' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens (8-6) squandered a prime opportunity to be in sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
Instead, they are part of a four-team logjam with multiple scenarios opening and blocking their path into the postseason. Besides the Broncos (8-6), the Ravens are also tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6) and the streaking Buffalo Bills (8-6), winners of their last five games.
With one minute remaining, Boller stared down his primary read in Colts territory and delivered a pass directly to linebacker Cato June in the flat for a game-sealing interception. June stepped out of bounds at the Ravens' 4, and Manning ran out the clock.
Lewis appeared poised for an even larger contribution if he had been involved more heavily.
The wheels began to fall off for Baltimore in the third quarter when wide receiver Marvin Harrison faked out cornerback Chris McAlister.
Harrison sold a fly pattern to McAlister, a Pro Bowl selection last season, before sharply cutting inside for a 29-yard touchdown pass, Manning's 47th of the season.
While McAlister was spinning around in the wrong direction, Harrison was all by himself in the end zone waiting for Manning's spiral to float into his well-practiced hands.
This score built a 13-3 lead that was too much for Baltimore to overcome.
Manning was particularly sharp to begin the second half. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown for a 148.4 quarterback rating. He completed 20 of 33 passes for the game for 239 yards.
Indianapolis wasn't done, though, blocking a Matt Stover field goal attempt.
After driving to the Colts' 13, Boller threw consecutive incompletions to tight end Todd Heap and running back Chester Taylor.
On the ensuing field goal attempt by Stover, offensive guard Bennie Anderson was bulled backward by defensive lineman Larry Triplett. Triplett pushed Anderson into the intended trajectory for the blocked kick.
Von Hutchins' 24-yard return gave the Colts possession at the Ravens' 31. Five plays later, Edgerrin James burst up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 20-3 lead.
Baltimore would answer, though.
Boller, who was pressured continually by Freeney, the NFL sack leader with 15 sacks, found Heap open down the middle for a 13-yard touchdown pass to bring Baltimore to within 20-10. Boller completed 19 of 37 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown.
In the final seconds of the first half, Boller misfired to give Indianapolis back the football. And the miscue directly led to a Colts' lead.
Boller badly missed wide receiver Clarence Moore, and the overthrow connected with Colts safety Mike Doss. Doss' 32-yard return to the Ravens' 46 was followed by a 31-yard Manning completion to tight end Marcus Pollard.
Then, Mike Vanderjagt connected on a 33-yard field goal with one second remaining before halftime.
Baltimore held Manning to 10 of 19 completions in the first half for a mere 133 yards and no touchdowns.
The game remained highly competitive especially with the contribution of Lewis, who ran for 90 yards on 13 first-half carries.
In his most extensive playing time since spraining his right ankle against the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis recaptured a piece of his 2003 form when he led the NFL with 2,066 rushing yards.
Lewis busted up the middle for a 47-yard run in the second quarter, trampling Colts rookie cornerback Jason David.
That run helped the Ravens get on the scoreboard, setting up Stover's 42-yard field goal with 13:04 left in the half.
The Colts drove inside the Ravens' 10, but Manning was nearly intercepted twice by safeties Chad Williams and Will Demps.
Eventually, the Colts settled for a 25-yard Vanderjagt field goal for a 3-0 advantage at 11:17 of the first quarter.
The Ravens dropped to 5-5 in conference record, the second tiebreaker.
With remaining games against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins, they also lost valuable ground in common opponent record in comparison to Denver in the third tiebreaker.
The Ravens have reached another crossroads, with their season on the line.
Now, they'll head to Pittsburgh to face the AFC North champions and undefeated rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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