By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Ray Lewis will ride into retirement as a champion.
Baltimore’s standout middle linebacker began his final night on the football field with a motivational speech to his teammates. He ended it looking upward into a shower of silver streamers and purple confetti after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 Sunday night to win the Super Bowl.
“It’s simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?” Lewis said, clutching the Lombardi Trophy. “It’s no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates. And you looked around this stadium and … Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!”
Standing tall in the middle of a defense that survived a frenzied comeback by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, Lewis put a lovely bow on his 17th NFL season by earning his second Super Bowl ring — 12 years after the first.
When Lewis first led Baltimore to Super Bowl glory, he was a 25-year-old at the height of his game. A terror in the middle of the best defense in the league, Lewis was voted MVP after the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 to earn their first championship.
On Sunday night, Lewis and his defense played a supporting role to Joe Flacco and the offense.
Lewis, 37, had only two solo tackles through the first three quarters and sometimes struggled to cover receivers venturing into his area. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught a 19-yarder on San Francisco’s second series, and tight end Vernon Davis eluded Lewis twice before making second-quarter catches.
Lewis did, however, made two tackles during the 49ers’ final drive. San Francisco had a fourth-and-goal from 5 when Lewis charged in on a blitz. He didn’t get to Kaepernick, but the quarterback’s pass sailed out of the end zone.
After amassing a team-high 44 tackles in Baltimore’s first three playoff wins, Lewis was anything but exceptional against the 49ers. But the Ravens played like champions around him, and now Lewis can saunter into the sunset after putting his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy for a second time.
While working his way back from a torn right triceps that had kept him sidelined since Oct. 14, Lewis told high-ranking team officials that he was going to retire after this season. He shared the news with his teammates and the media on Jan. 2, saying Baltimore’s postseason run would be his “last ride.”
And what a journey it was.
After defeating Indianapolis at home to open the playoffs, the Ravens beat top-seeded Denver on the road and knocked off second-seeded New England. Then, underdogs again in the Super Bowl, Baltimore blew most of a 22-point lead in the second half before mounting one final defensive stand.
Lewis’ old buddy, 34-year-old Ed Reed, contributed a first-half interception. Jacoby Jones scored two touchdowns, and after the second — a 108-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter — he saluted his retiring teammate with a rendition of the “squirrel” dance Lewis made famous.
Days earlier, Lewis was confronted about his use of deer antler spray in his effort to return from the triceps injury. He vehemently denied trying the banned substance, and that sideshow fizzled out quickly enough so that it was not a distraction on Sunday.
Lewis was the second draft pick in Ravens’ history, following Jonathan Ogden in 1996. Ogden, who was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame on Saturday, waved to his former teammate during the pregame coin flip Sunday.
Perhaps one day, Ogden will extend the same greeting to Lewis in Canton, Ohio.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)