Even in Retirement Ray Lewis’ Timing is Spot On!

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During the final defensive snap of Super Bowl XLVII, my eyes were glued on only one man – #52 Ray Lewis.

It would be the last play of a storied 17-year NFL career, and was a bittersweet moment for all Baltimore Ravens’ fans. The Lombardi was almost in our team’s possession, yet a legacy was about to come to an end. While we’d all love to see Ray Lewis continue to play and inspire both the team and fans on Sundays, Ray’s last ride couldn’t have ended at a better time.

Since the Ravens’ inception in 1996, Baltimore could always rely on an above-average performance from the middle linebacker position. Ray Lewis redefined the position and excelled there for his entire career despite battling through injury and hardships. While Lewis’s play did start to decline over the last few years, his knowledge and wisdom were enough to give him an edge over nearly every player on the football field.

After suffering a triceps injury in week six of the 2012 season, it was reported that Ray Lewis would be out for the season and many expected him to retire. Despite the severity of the injury, Lewis told the Ravens’ staff to leave him off of injured reserve as he would return later that season. Living up to his word, #52 returned just in time for the playoffs, providing his team with an emotional wave that motivated them throughout their spectacular playoff run that culminated with a Super Bowl victory.

Although Ray Lewis appeared to have a large impact on the stat sheet with 51 combined postseason tackles, the future Hall-of-Famer was much more of a liability that we’d like to admit. It appeared that injuries and age had finally gotten the better of the seemingly ageless wonder as Ray Lewis became the biggest weakness of the Ravens’ defense.

Ray Lewis hurt the Ravens the most when it came to covering opposing tight ends and slot receivers. Prior to the beginning of the season, Lewis announced that he shed some weight in order to stay quick and keep up in pass coverage. However, this proved to be a big mistake as Ray was still unable to cover receivers and was now a bigger liability in the running game due to his lighter frame.

All of these problems were made apparent during the Super Bowl as Ray Lewis missed several tackles on running backs in the hole, and was abused by 49ers’ tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree. NFL Turning Point on NBC Sports Network and Sound FX on NFL Network, shows that feature sound bites from players and coaches on the field, revealed how much of a weakness Ray Lewis had become for the Ravens’ defense.

“We can’t let Ray be matched up on 85 or 15 all day when we’re playing quarters,” John Harbaugh said over his headset.

It was made clear that the 49ers were targeting Ray Lewis as quarterback Colin Kaepernick frequently targeted backside crossing routes that forced Lewis to cover either Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree.

After one catch, Vernon Davis got in the face of Ray Lewis and yelled, “It’s gonna be a long day for you!” Lewis responded by firmly shoving Davis away as other Ravens pushed Davis back to his huddle. On the side line, Vernon Davis was talking to one of his coaches about Ray Lewis. “He can’t match up. I don’t care what route I got.”

While they did occasionally take advantage of this mismatch, the 49ers surprisingly continued to stick with the non-existent running game and looked to throw the ball outside despite the huge gap in the middle of the field. The 49ers’ play calling was questioned by many after the game and there’s reason to believe that the game would have been closer in the beginning, had they kept going over the middle.

While it’s a bit troubling to think that we’ll never see Ray Lewis on the field again, it was definitely the right decision for him to retire this season.

The time has come when Ray’s knowledge of the game and motivation just aren’t enough to make up for his decaying performance on the field.

Luckily for both Ray Lewis and Ravens’ fans, we got to witness him leaving the game in proper fashion – with the Lombardi trophy in his hands.

13 Raves on “Even in Retirement Ray Lewis’ Timing is Spot On!

  1. JOHN on said:

    Without Ray Lewis the ravens wouldn’t have got near the Super Bowl this year. You know of any other athletes in the NFL or all of sports that played as long as Ray did at his level. I hate to tell you this you “Nit-Wit” but he was 37 yrs old playing with men that were just little kids when he cam in the NFL. With out Ray Lewis the Ravens would be just another average team in the NFL .

    • Riley Babcock on said:

      Thanks for reading but I think you misunderstood the main point of the article. Ray Lewis is, in my opinion, the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game and you are right in saying that they wouldn’t have gotten to the Super Bowl without him. However, after analyzing every play that the Ravens had in the postseason, it didn’t take an expert to realize that his age and injuries have gotten the best of him. It was a hard fact to accept as I grew up watching Ray Lewis play at an extremely high level, but it is still a fact. While I would love to see Ray play another 17 years, that’s simply unrealistic. Ray’s decision to retire at the end of this season was the right one as he physically can’t continue to play at the level that fans expect him to.

    • Tony LombardiTony Lombardi on said:

      John, seriously? It’s ok to have contrasting opinions and Riley is obviously a fan of Ray’s who wouldn’t argue that his contributions to the team were massive. But calling him a “nit-wit” is hardly justified. I think he’s done a great job of checking his fandom at the door to deliver an objective piece. Maybe if you did the same you might find the value in the blog.

  2. Matt on said:

    I Appreciate the honest assessment. I was wondering early in the game, as they abused Ray across the middle, how Harbaugh would adjust. It looked like they used Ellerbe to jam guys on occasion, but the 49ers decision to try other options probably helped most.

    • Riley Babcock on said:

      Thanks for reading Mike, but I’m sorry you feel that way. I re-watched every play in the Super Bowl 11 times (1 for each player) and the poor performance by Ray Lewis was extremely evident and a main factor for the 49ers’ offensive success. While it was hard for me to come to terms with, the tape doesn’t lie and I’d be kidding myself if I sat here and pretended like he played a great game. The truth hurts sometimes and it needed to be said.

  3. patrick on said:

    Great article Riley. Don’t take some of the comments from the homers too personal–you dared questioning a demigod. I love Ray to death but he did not have a good Super Bowl, and it is definitely time for him to retire. I’m just wondering how long you’ve had the privilege to watch Ray, for your picture does not make you look too old. From someone who’s been watching from day one in 1996, I got the impression that Ray’s play began to decline back in 2005. In spite of this, and this speaks to how great he was, he was still the best ILB for the Ravens until this year.

  4. AK on said:

    You wrote another wonderful article, Riley. As a reporter or analyst, it is imperative that you write the story that unfolds before you, not a preconceived construct full of wishful thinking. So, don’t let the haters get you down.

    The story of Ray in Super Bowl, from an X-and-O perspective, was one that cast him as a liability in pass coverage. He was only mildly more effective in run support, as the speed and misdirection of the 49ers often left him caught in the wash. I do think he played inspired games against the Colts and Denver, and his role as emotional bedrock of the team certainly helped steady us through all our adversity.

    There is still a story left untold about Ray and this playoff run. The groundwork he laid as a leader and mentor over the years since our last Super Bowl gave us the edge needed to be champions. He started with Reed, Suggs, and Ngata, and carried it through to the generation of Ellerbe, Art Jones, Jimmy Smith, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, and Flacco. Ray’s first championship was about him being the centerpiece of the world’s best defense. He, at the time, was the best football player on the planet. This time it was the players around Ray, that he helped to raise and mold as professionals, that ultimately carried him to the promised land.

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