OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ painful toe injury is expected to sideline him for a pivotal AFC North clash against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, and perhaps additional games depending on how quickly he heals.
Lewis, 36, visited a South Florida specialist for a second medical opinion that confirmed the damage to his toe suffered during a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Carroll County Times first reported Thursday night. He could miss anywhere from one to four games with Lewis now aiming toward next week’s Thanksgiving game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Although the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn’t practice for three consecutive days, the Ravens haven’t officially ruled him out. They officially listed him as questionable, which denotes a 50-percent chance of availability. That’s considered overly optimistic, though.
Citing Lewis’ legendary toughness and tolerance for pain, Ravens coach John Harbaugh attempted to put a brave face on the situation.
“Ray is Ray, you know? You can’t count Ray out,” Harbaugh said. “There could be reports out there and you guys could turn over some rocks and figure it out and ask and think you’ve got something and you might have something, but you might not.
“We’re talking about Ray. We’ll find out on Sunday, really. So, Ray may go, he may not go. The Bengals, they’ll have to prepare for him either way. So, it doesn’t matter.”
Lewis is in a 57-consecutive game streak that dates back to the end of the 2007 regular season.
And Harbaugh emphasized that the 12-time Pro Bowl selection isn’t facing a career-threatening injury.
“The injury is not any kind of a serious, serious thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s something he could play with, possibly, but we’re very confident in our linebackers. And we’re confident in our defense. We have a really good defense, and we’ll play well.”
A 12-time Pro Bowl selection who has escaped serious injuries for the majority of his career, dealing with hamstring and hand injuries in the past, Lewis injured his shoulder earlier this season and missed only a handful of plays.
“Ray has had shoulders dislocated, and he’s done 35 pushups on the sideline to prove that he can go,” Harbaugh said. He’s had hamstrings that he’s torn off the bone because he went ahead and went when he shouldn’t have. I’ve been updated on some of his history. That’s Ray Lewis.”
Lewis didn’t conduct interviews Friday after returning from his flight to Florida.
With Lewis not expected to play, former undrafted free agent Dannell Ellerbe is preparing to start at middle linebacker opposite inside linebacker Jameel McClain.
"I’m always ready," Ellerbe said. "I had a good week of practice. I feel ready to go. I took a lot of reps. It didn’t feel strange. I’m just happy to get back out there. I just go out there and show what I’ve always been showing that I’m able to play in the league and play for the Ravens.
"I really don’t feel no pressure. I’m just trying to go out there have fun with it. It’s some big shoes to fill. I just want to go out there and have fun and help the team.”
Lewis leads the Ravens with 68 tackles, also recording two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Ellerbe has started four career games, posting 87 tackles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. He has dealt with inconsistency and conditioning issues in the past, though.
“He’s progressed well,” Harbaugh said. “It’s another situation where we’re just going to have to see how it goes. You just don’t know. Hamstrings are very tricky.”
Besides McClain and Ellerbe, the Ravens also have Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo to operate at inside linebacker.
Ellerbe is just returning from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for five of six games, but was upgraded to full participation in practice the past two practices.
Ellerbe is officially questionable on the injury report. However, he’s regarded as healthy enough to play.
And he’s well aware of whom he’s stepping in for.
“You can’t replace Ray Lewis, he’s the best that ever played the game,” Ellerbe said. “You can go out there, try to imitate, try to do your best, try to make plays and try to have fun. He’s still going to be there on the sidelines. So, we’re still going to have his help and his leadership.”
The Ravens know it will take a collective effort to replace Lewis, who’s the equivalent of a one-man gang on defense with his knowledge of the game and hitting ability.
“He’s our spiritual leader, our emotional leader, so the young guys are going to have to step up and they’re ready to do that,” Ayanbadejo said. “Hopefully, there won’t be a letdown on Sunday if Ray’s not playing. They’ll fill in his place, and we won’t miss a beat.”