The Associated Press
BALTIMORE — Andrew Luck was harried and hurried in his first career playoff appearance as the Indianapolis Colts’ unlikely run came to a disappointing end.
Chuck Pagano’s emotional return to Baltimore also ended with a thud as the Colts fell 24-9 to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card game Sunday.
“The Ravens made plays when they needed to and we didn’t,” Luck said. “Field goals in the red zone killed us. Some bad balls by me killed us. ... I wish we could have done better.”
After improving from 2-14 to 11-5 with No. 1 overall draft pick Luck running their high-octane offense, the Colts couldn’t even score a touchdown against the Ravens, who advanced to the conference semifinals against Denver next weekend.
But Pagano chose to emphasize the improvements the Colts made in a season filled with adversity, rather than dwell on the way it ended.
“The foundation is set, and we said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand,” Pagano said. “You weather storms like this and you learn from times like this. This disappointment and the feelings they all have right now, that’s what’s going to propel us to 2013 and motivate us to come back and work even harder.”
One key moving forward will be Luck, who reached the playoffs as a rookie.
Luck was 28 for 54 for 288 yards and an interception, but was often under pressure and forced to scramble by a Ravens defense energized by the return of linebacker Ray Lewis from a torn triceps.
“My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned,” the 37-year-old 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. To go the way it did today, I wouldn’t change nothing.”
Lewis, who announced earlier this week he would retire after Baltimore’s playoff run, was playing the final home game of his 17-year career.
“We still had opportunities,” said Luck, who was sacked three times. “We still put ourselves in positions to score and didn’t take advantage of them, and a lot of credit goes to the Baltimore defense. What a great, great unit. I wish we could have capitalized on a couple of those drives, but we didn’t.”
Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who missed 12 Colts games this season while undergoing treatment for leukemia, coached his first playoff game. But offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who had a 9-3 record coaching in Pagano’s absence, missed the game after being hospitalized for an undisclosed illness, leaving play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.
After the game, Pagano said Arians would remain hospitalized in Baltimore overnight for observation and likely rejoin the Colts in Indianapolis on Monday.
“Just precautionary,” Pagano said. “I think every test they’ve done on Bruce came back negative. He’s in good shape. ... He’ll be back with us tomorrow.”
Indianapolis had won five of its final six games to clinch a wild-card berth, and moved the ball during the first half, but had to settle for a pair of field goals by Adam Vinatieri and trailed 10-6 at halftime.
“As good as that defense is, it’s hard to go on sustained drives,” Pagano said. “We moved the ball, we did some things. But we weren’t able to get some chunk plays.”
Luck completed 13 of 23 passes for 143 yards in the first half, and a 15-play drive in the third quarter stalled at the Baltimore 8-yard line, with Vinatieri kicking his third field goal.
Vinatieri pushed a 40-yard field-goal attempt wide right early in the fourth quarter. He was previously 10 of 11 between 40 and 49 yards this season.
“In games like this,” Vinatieri said, “you have to make them all.”
The Ravens followed up Vinatieri’s miss — his first after 18 successful kicks against the Ravens — Baltimore retaliated with a five-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin.
Until that point, even with an offense that couldn’t manage a touchdown, it was still a one-score game.
“It’s always come down to a one-score game, a 10-point deficit, and this team has always been able to overcome that for many weeks,” Pagano said. “Sitting on the sideline and looking in everybody’s eyes, the faith and belief was still there that we were going to get the job done.”
Owner Jim Irsay said the Colts’ future is promising.
“This year was incredible,” he said. “It was special and unique in so many ways. It was one of the most special seasons in Colts history and probably in NFL history. I couldn’t have imagined how this season would have played out. We had a coach fighting for his life, we reorganized, won 11 games and went to the playoffs. ... To say that our future is bright is an understatement.”
Boldin set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown, setting up the showdown with the Broncos. Denver beat Baltimore 34-17 three weeks ago.
“It’s huge for us,” Boldin said. “It’s huge for this city, they’ve supported us this entire year and they expect a lot from us. In return, we want to give it to them.”
Sunday’s victory also enhanced the Ravens’ success rate in opening playoff games. Flacco has won at least one postseason game in all five of his pro seasons, the only quarterback to do it in the Super Bowl era.
Baltimore overcame the first two lost fumbles of the season by Ray Rice, too, as John Harbaugh became the first head coach with wins in his first five playoff campaigns.
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