There is absolutely no reason Ravens Mike linebacker Ray Lewis should even think about suiting up against the NFL’s worst team, as the 0-12 Indianapolis Colts visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With Lewis battling turf toe, the Ravens went an impressive 3-0, having defeated two quality playoff-caliber opponents in the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals at home, and then running all over the AFC North doormat Cleveland Browns on the road Sunday.
What we learned over that critical three-game stretch is that young inside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and Brendan Ayanbadejo, have stepped up admirably, holding the Baltimore inside linebacker tradition in the same high esteem it has been in for 16 years. Their speed, quickness and Ray-inspired passion made them stand out as solid defenders and capable replacements for the incomparable Ray Lewis.
Lewis, the mentor for these young undrafted linebackers Ellerbe and McClain, has been a steady, passionate presence on the sidelines. He inspires these youngsters to play up to the future Hall of Famer’s expectations. Both of those young men have played at a very high level—so well, in fact, that no one is calling for No. 52 to rush back to the huddle. They don’t want to let him down and it shows on the field.
The depth that Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome achieved with this squad is a thing of pure mastery. The Ravens have the unique “next man up” talent-driven luxury to rest Lewis properly. With a playoff run and another Super Bowl in his crosshairs, Lewis knows he isn’t going to get many more shots at the big one. While his warrior heart is trying to get back into the game, his body and mind are telling him to get ready for the playoffs, which should run through Baltimore this year.
While Lewis rests his injured toe, the Ravens rest atop the AFC North, having won all four of their division games—two against Pittsburgh, one against Cleveland and one against Cincinnati. The sweep against Pittsburgh gives Baltimore the tiebreaker leading down the home stretch, so why risk losing your heart and soul by having him reinjure his toe against the lowly, Peyton Manning-less Colts?
This decision should be a no-brainer for the executives and the coaches at The Castle in Owings Mills, but you can bet that Lewis has been pleading to get back on the field. That’s how he’s made. He always wants to play, hurt or not. Coaches and executives should not be sucked in by the close 31-24 score this past Sunday when the New England Patriots slipped by the Colts. New England doesn’t have the defense the Ravens have, so this is not a time to panic and have Ray suit up.
Coach John Harbaugh must walk up to his team leader and tell him his leadership will have to come strictly from the sidelines, in the locker room and in team meetings at least until the Sunday night (barring a flex) December 18 game in San Diego—perhaps longer, depending on doctors’ orders.
No one doubts Lewis’s passion to play or his desire to win another ring. But trusting the next man up and thinking “big picture” and long-term will serve this organization best. Ray will get a shot at Indianapolis, but not the Colts and not in December. If he properly allows his toe to heal and helps other linebackers succeed on the field, No. 52 will be able to plan a trip to Indianapolis on February 5, 2012—Super Bowl Sunday.