Entering its 19th season, the Ravens organization has established a high standard. It expects to win, in the regular season and in the postseason, and it has done just that.
Since 1996, Baltimore’s overall record is 172-136-1 (55.7% winning percentage).
Besides Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Byrne and a few others, Ray Lewis was the only remaining original Raven until he retired in February 2013.
Jonathan Ogden (12 years) and Matt Stover (13 years) were original Ravens too and played major roles in helping Baltimore win its first Super Bowl since 1970, but the player who seemed to answer the call and stand up front the most when adversity arose was Lewis.
His stats rank him among the very best to ever play football.
2,055 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 31 interceptions and 20 fumble recoveries are likely enough to get Lewis into the Hall of Fame alone.
Even still, he won two NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2000, 2003) and two Super Bowl championships (2000–MVP, 2012).
Who does that?
His leadership was his best attribute, though, and it paved his way to Canton, OH.
Lewis also helped lay the red carpet for many of his teammates to Honolulu, HI for Pro Bowls and to lucrative deals with other teams.
If not Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White or Deion Sanders, a case could certainly be made that Lewis was the best defender in the history of football.
Knowing how his influence dictated how the game was played by teammates and opponents, it’s no surprise that in Baltimore’s first season without “The General,” they struggled mightily, ending up with a less-than-satisfying 8-8 record.
For the first time in six seasons, the Ravens watched the playoffs from home.
Another lock to enter the Hall of Fame who left the Ravens when Lewis did was Ed Reed. When they walked off the field as Ravens for the last time, neither was playing at the level they had established for themselves, but Lewis was the unquestioned leader of the team. The Ravens had won a title before Reed came to town.
That isn’t a knock on Reed. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, my favorite Raven of all-time and my choice as the greatest safety ever. However, Lewis meant more to the Ravens.
When a team loses not only one of its charter members but an all-time great, it’s natural to wonder what life will be like when that player is gone.
What if the Ravens have another down year? What if they end up missing the playoffs again this year? Who will be the guy to focus the team and lead the them back to winning football?
It’s impractical to think that the Ravens will never have a winning season again, but until they do, Lewis’ absence could loom large.