Lewis plays new role in Ravens' win
Life without Ray Lewis wasn’t pleasant and it can soon be longer than just a game or two.
The Lewis-less Baltimore Ravens defense allowed 198 yards and seven more points than they had averaged entering play Sunday — against a Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback, albeit a very talented one, no less. In the end an overturned touchdown call and a late defensive stand allowed the Ravens to earn a 31-24 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
But what happens when Lewis, 36, isn’t a factor not due to turf toe but retirement?
“Ray is older. I mean, he’s year-to-year right now,” said Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was a freshman in high school when Lewis led to the Ravens to the 2000 title. “It’s obvious. He’s the greatest linebacker ever to play the game. He’s been here so many years. We know there’s going to be a future (without Lewis). We’ve got the guys.”
Lewis, who suffered the injury against the Seattle Seahawks last week, did his best to keep himself involved, including leading the defense with some dance moves during a third-quarter TV timeout. It’s not clear whether Lewis will be healthy enough to return Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“He was there,” veteran Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We didn’t want to make a mental error because when we came to the sideline we were still going to hear from our general. He was very much out there as he always is.”
Lewis, a 16-season NFL vet, has played in 85 percent of the Ravens games since 1996, coincidently the first year after the franchise formerly known as the Cleveland Browns moved here. This was the first game fourth-year Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t have Lewis in uniform, a streak of 57 games.
“He was good on the sideline,” Harbaugh smirked. “He was coaching them up.”
Lewis was in an all-black warm-up suit, often with a white towel wrapped around his neck. It was hardly as intimidating as the padded up Lewis in face paint — and the Ravens defense overall wasn’t as scary either.
The Ravens allowed the Bengals to gain 483 yards, the most yards the Ravens have allowed since their overtime victory over Houston on Dec. 13, 2010. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton had a 373-yard effort through the air, although the Ravens did net three interceptions.
“It’s huge,” said 10-year Ravens veteran cornerback Ed Reed, who had one of those three picks. “To get things going and stop them when they were driving, those plays are always huge.”
The Ravens also got the nod on a fourth-quarter replay after it appeared Bengals receiver Jermaine Gresham had hauled a 9-yard touchdown pass from Dalton in with six minutes left in regulation. Replays showed that he had both feet in bounds as he crossed into the end zone, but the ball wiggled some as he went to the ground.
“The ball touched the ground and his hands came off the ball (about an inch)," referee Ron Winter said. “When he goes to the ground, he can’t have the ball touch the ground.”
The touchdown call was overturned and the Bengals settled for a 27-yard Mike Nugent field goal for the game’s final margin.
The Ravens allowed their longest touchdown on the season on a 49-yard Andre Caldwell reception in the fourth quarter, one of three plays of 40 or more yards Baltimore allowed on the afternoon.
Lewis, a 12-time Pro Bowl invitee, has the most career tackles (2,559), fumble recoveries (19) and is second in interceptions (31) in franchise history, a resume that will ensure entry to into the Hall of Fame whenever he chooses to shut it down. He may have lost a step, but the intensity (and the face paint, at least when he’s in the game) are still there.
The Ravens — and the NFL — are still better with Ray Lewis, even if Harbaugh tried best not to notice Lewis was out for a few hours.
“Once the game got started, I would say no (Lewis’ absence wasn’t strange),” Harbaugh said. “You play with the guys you have. I looked down and saw him in a sweat suit and he’s down there (in his coaching posture). We like him out there better.”