When Ray Lewis announced that these playoffs would be the final games of his NFL career, it added an obvious extra dimension to any playoff game the Baltimore Ravens would be involved in. That is because Lewis has become the face of that franchise over the course of his career due to his intensity, his longevity, and his ability to inspire his teammates. That ability to inspire has been noticeably effective with the looming retirement of the team’s spiritual leader. And so far, it’s worked out really well for the Ravens, who are now one win away from the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
The Ravens’ two playoff games have been the only games that Lewis has played in since October. A triceps injury sidelined Lewis for the majority of the season and may have been a major factor in Lewis deciding that his time was finally up. Without Lewis and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ defense has appeared at times to be playing at its worst since the 1990’s. With Lewis & Suggs, a shot of adrenaline has been given to the Ravens’ defense and it resulted in their best game as a unit in a long time: their Wild Card round win over the Indianapolis Colts. And while the play wasn’t quite as good this past weekend against the Denver Broncos, it was a big defensive play that helped set up the Raven’s game-winning field-goal in the second overtime.
Against the Colts, Lewis recorded 13 tackles, nine of them solo, and one pass deflection in the win. Against the Broncos, Lewis had 17 tackles with 10 of them solo.
The numbers themselves are impressive enough for a guy who hasn’t played for three months and that these performances came in playoff games. But it’s also the moments in these games that Lewis will be attached to forever. In the win over the Colts it was Lewis being in the backfield for the Ravens’ final offensive play despite being a defensive player. For him to be on the field for the final play of his final home game was an easy feel-good moment and the right thing to do for someone who has done so much for the franchise. This past Saturday, it was Lewis on hands & knees with his face in the field moments after the Ravens’ win, coming to grips with his team having just pulled off a big upset as well as his career having been extended for at least one more game.
There is no man in pro football with greater power to inspire than Lewis. Just his presence can be enough to get a teammate or someone nearby inspired or at least in a more intensified state of mind than they had been a moment previous. He has that gift. He knows it, and he’s used it. He’s used it throughout his career, and the Ravens’ continued presence among the perennial playoff teams in the NFL must be credited in some way to the one constant part of the Ravens’ roster being able to use this ability year after year no matter how many players are new and how many are returning.