John Harbaugh confirmed that both linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb will miss the remainder of the season, although the Baltimore Ravens head coach did his best to make Monday’s grim announcement feel like a normal news conference rather than a wake.
“There have been many, many times our defense carried a heavy, heavy burden over the years,” Harbaugh said. “For our offense . . . and our special teams to carry some of that burden is a great thing. I’m quite sure (the defense) is going to be doing the same through the course of the season. I have a lot of confidence in those guys. We are going to play really good defense.”
The injuries suffered in Sunday’s 31-29 win over the Cowboys aren’t just a blow to the depth of one of the top defenses in the NFL for more than a decade. At 37, Lewis, whose torn triceps likely will require surgery, may have played his final NFL game. This is Webb’s second torn ACL, although to a different knee.
“These are guys who put so much effort, heart and soul into what they do,” Harbaugh said. “Lardarius was distraught; I could see it when I walked on the field in his face. He kind of knew because he’s been through it before. He was beside himself.
“Ray, in the locker room afterward, didn’t know (the extent of the injury), but was worried about it. He said some things about his faith in providence and going to back to his faith. When you face adversity and you look at his situation, what he’s accomplished and what he hoped to accomplish — he’s going to have to accomplish those things in a different way. My heart goes out to those guys.”
The players weren’t available to the media on Monday and Harbaugh didn’t want to speculate on whether Lewis would indeed be done after 17 seasons. Lewis’ career highlights include 13 Pro Bowl invites, seven All-Pro selections and a victory in Super Bowl XXXV.
“I’m not going to make any comment on that,” Harbaugh said of Lewis’ future. “That’s for Ray to speak on. I admire Ray Lewis. I have said that many times. Anybody who knows him feels that way about him. I look forward to see what he says about that.”
Filling the hole personnel-wise is pretty straightforward. Fourth-year pro Dannell Ellerbe will fill in for Lewis at inside linebacker, which was the case last season when Lewis missed four games with a toe injury. (The Ravens went 4-0.)
Jimmy Smith, who is in his second year out of Colorado, will take over for Webb at corner.
“They are very good football players,” Harbaugh said. “I feel good about those two players, Jimmy and Dannell. They’ll do well. I’m very confident in those guys.”
And the Ravens should be getting Terrell Suggs back sometime over the next few weeks. The Ravens will activate the outside linebacker, who tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball during the offseason, from the non-football injury this week, according to The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. While he can resume practicing, he’s not expected to return until November.
A more immediate concern for the Ravens is the pathetic tackling against the Cowboys. The Ravens allowed a franchise-worst 227 yards rushing on Sunday. Baltimore (5-1), sitting atop the AFC North, two games ahead of Cincinnati, travels to Houston to face the Texans (5-1) on Sunday.
“It’s all correctable,” Harbaugh said.
Much of the onus could fall on quarterback Joe Flacco, who is seeking a contract extension and has had no problems touting his abilities. With Lewis out, this could very well become Flacco’s team.
“I feel great about our chances to fill in (the leadership void),” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we’ve been able to do in the past. That’s what you have to be able to do. That’s something to define what we’ll be able to accomplish this year. That’s something we are going to need from a leadership and player standpoint.”