The Baltimore Ravens have been known for their defense since their franchise was founded. Some wondered if this unit was the greatest of all-time when Baltimore won the Super Bowl following the 2000 NFL season and that’s still up for debate. However, the Ravens’ defense has done something in 2012 that hasn’t been done since Ray Lewis was named the Super Bowl MVP over a decade ago.
In the 2012 NFL season, the Ravens’ defense was on the field for 1,342 plays, which is more than any other unit in a single season since Baltimore’s first Super Bowl in at the turn of the century. In 2001, the Ravens’ defense ranked second in the NFL, allowing 277.9 yards per game. That unit ranked 17th in the NFL this year, giving up 350.9 yards per game. Those raw numbers make one wonder how Baltimore is playing in the HarBowl this year, but the game has changed a lot since 2001.
The one thing that hasn’t changed for Baltimore since then is Lewis, who is still the anchor of the league’s most respected defense at age 37, in a year in which he missed nine games with a torn triceps muscle. He worked extremely hard with his rehab and made it back in time for the playoffs, during which he leads all players with 44 tackles.
You see, the Ravens’ defense may give up 75 more yards per game now than it did a decade ago, but they still do one thing well: step up when it matters most. In the AFC Championship game, the Ravens shut out the New England Patriots‘ top-ranked NFL offense in the second half to help ensure a comeback victory. A 17th-ranked defense that could accomplish that feat on that stage has something that stats don’t show–incredible heart.
That unrecorded factor is the reason why Baltimore is playing in the Super Bowl despite having played more defensive snaps than any other team in a decade. A team playing in the Big Game should at least be in the bottom half of the league in number of defensive snaps played, so if this season by the Ravens teaches us anything, it’s that a player like Lewis can literally lift an entire team with his leadership. Love or hate the guy, you have to respect him as a football player. The best part? His story isn’t over yet.