It almost wouldn't have been appropriate for Ray Lewis' storied career to end any other way.
With the Baltimore Ravens clinging to a 34-29 lead and 2:39 remaining in Super Bowl XLVII, the San Francisco 49ers had a first-and-goal at the Ravens' 7-yard line. Baltimore's defense was banged up and clearly winded, having allowed 466 total yards to that point in the game.
After San Francisco's LaMichael James rushed for 2 yards on first down, the Ravens received a quick breather with the two-minute warning. Courtesy of tight coverage -- and some questionable play-calling -- 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw three consecutive incomplete passes intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
A few minutes later, the Ravens were officially world champions.
"How else would the game come down?" Lewis said. "Put us with our backs against the wall, and every man looked at each other and said, 'If they don't get in, we'll win.'
"Who else does that but a team that's been battle-tested? A team that doesn't waver no matter what situation it's in. We did it. That's what the Ravens are, man."
The Ravens' once-vaunted defense certainly wavered, especially as the 49ers reeled off 17 consecutive points in the second half. San Francisco averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and Kaepernick threw for 302 yards, but Baltimore buckled down on a key two-point conversation and again at the end of the game.
"The final series of Ray Lewis' career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have said many times after many of these games, 'It was not perfect, it was not pretty, but it was us.' That is who we are."
Lewis spent the past two seasons relying heavily on bike training to stay in shape to help reduce the pounding on his legs. However, it was clear time was catching up to the future Hall of Fame linebacker even before he suffered a torn triceps on Oct. 14. The Ravens' run defense was beginning to sag, and there were whispers that the end of the 17-year veteran's career was close.
He convinced general manager Ozzie Newsome not to place him on season-ending injured reserve, and he promised he would be able to return to help the Ravens. And that he did, resuming practice in December and returning to the field for the team's playoff opener at home against the Indianapolis Colts.
Lewis announced before the playoffs that he would retire after the season. It was his "last ride," a nice metaphor to his training and the rallying cry for the three-game winning streak that brought the Ravens to New Orleans.
Lewis wasn't perfect against the 49ers -- far from it. He was often making tackles downfield and a step late in coverage, but part of his Hall of Fame resume is Lewis' legendary leadership.
"The cool thing about Ray is that it means a lot to win it for him just because -- not only did he want to win it for himself, but the bigger thing was that he wanted all of us to know what it is like to win this game," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "So the fact that he has that outlook on it just made it very special for this to come true."
Lewis took running back Ray Rice under his wing when Rice entered the league in 2008, and the two have been close friends since.
"After the season is over and after we do all our stuff, next year the locker room is going to be different," Rice said. "This is the one thing that's not going to separate us for life. We'll forever be champions because we won the Super Bowl."
Whether that locker room in 2013 includes 11-year veteran Ed Reed remains to be seen. He's scheduled to be a free agent, and he contemplated retirement last offseason. Reed maintained even after the victory Sunday that he intends to play next season.
"I am enjoying this right now," Reed said. "I plan on doing it. I love football. So long as I am healthy in the offseason and everything is good and my son if he doesn't say, 'Dad you gotta come home,' I plan on coming back."
"I am enjoying this right now as long as I can."
Reed returned to the game after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter, and he was rewarded with his first Super Bowl title. He arrived a year after Lewis won his first.
"I told him he's getting everything I have tonight," Reed said. "We gave him everything. Defense. Goal line. San Francisco has a great team, and we win on defense on the goal line. It is the way it had to be for Ray. It was so right."
Ray Lewis' last ride has one final stop -- delivering the Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore.
"I do everything in retirement," Lewis said. "Everything around me is my kids. It is the most ultimate feeling ever. This is the way you do it. No other way to go out and end a career. This is how you do it."