It was bound to happen. Father Time catches up with everyone. We saw it Sunday when Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis watched from the bench with the game on the line.
Lewis stood on the sideline during the final minutes of Baltimore’s 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He was taken out due to a triceps injury. He may have also been benched, because of his recent play and for being a liability in pass coverage. The Cowboys had to throw in order to come back and at 37 Lewis just doesn’t have the speed and stamina for a two minute drill.
No one should be surprised at seeing Lewis on the bench. After 17 years in the NFL he is no longer the best linebacker and defender in the league. Lewis has not been the best since around 2005 or 2006. He has gotten it done the last five years on instinct and the support of great teammates such as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed. Though still one of the leaders of a very good Ravens defense, Lewis was not the best player.
Now he is also the oldest and slowest. His mind knows what is going to happen before a play even starts. The legs just can’t get him to the ball consistently. There are times when he makes a big hit like the one against Dallas running back Phillip Tanner Sunday. However, these hits only happen when the play comes right at Lewis or a teammate slows the runner down.
In the Ravens last two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cowboys they have been gashed for over 200 yards rushing. This had never happened in the team’s history. Almost all of the yards came between the tackles. One hundred yards on the ground in a game against Baltimore is unheard of. Two hundred yards just does not happen.
It has happened, because teams know Lewis can not make the plays anymore. They know that he can be blocked. They know that he is not quick enough to stay with a runner that has nimble feet. They know that he can’t fill the hole and tackle consistently anymore.
One wonders if Lewis knows this too. He is a man with great pride. This means that Lewis probably does. He does not seem like the type to hang on, but already has. One would think that if Baltimore wins the Super Bowl Lewis will call it quits. However, if his triceps injury puts him out for the season he might come back for another year.
If the last two games are any indication, Lewis should retire. If he does not, we may see more scenes like Sunday when number 52 is on the sideline in crunch time. Somehow the words Ray Lewis, sideline and crunch time don’t sound right together.
If Lewis does not heed the warnings of Father Time soon we may see the words retired or released by his name at the end of 2012.