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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since it remains unclear when two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis will return from an aching back, former practice squad member Dennis Haley is the Baltimore Ravens’ primary option at middle linebacker.
Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated Monday that it’s uncertain when Lewis will recover from a severely bruised back incurred in a collision with safety Ed Reed on Nov. 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but didn’t rule Lewis out for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Swelling, soreness and a lack of mobility kept Lewis out of a 27-26 win over the Tennessee Titans after missing an entire week of practice.
“They’ve got to break that pool of blood that’s moving around his back and down in whatever way they can,” Billick said. “As I understand it, once that’s released, then he should be fine. Until then, it’s very stiff and sore. We’ll have to see Wednesday how far along it’s come.”
However, Lewis isn’t the only injury concern at linebacker. Mike Smith, Lewis’ replacement, was in for just five plays Sunday before he partially dislocated his shoulder, an injury that could keep him sidelined for several weeks.
“Mike’s shoulder will take a while,” Billick said. “He’s clearly the most serious of the injuries.”
Haley registered nine tackles, the second-most on the team while holding down a special-teams role. After spending the majority of the season on the practice squad, it was an eye-opening debut that drew praise.
“I compliment him for that,” Billick said. “He really played quite well.”
The Ravens don’t have many other choices at middle linebacker, but have been working reserve outside linebacker Jarret Johnson inside. So, Haley would make his first career NFL start if Lewis misses his second game in a row.
“Right now, that’s kind of the only option,” Billick said.
Billick said that running back Musa Smith, who suffered what he called a “shock to the spinal system," that forced him to be carted off the field, is moving around normally and could be available against Atlanta. X-rays were ruled negative.
“My confidence was to see him move his head around right away,” Billick said. “He got on the plane and I said, ‘Musa, at least limp or something because you look fine.’ It was a very scary moment, but he appears ready to go.”
LOSS OF POISE: The Ravens were flagged for four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one on Billick for arguing with officials and another on cornerback Chris McAlister for delivering a head-butt that resembled a pro wrestling maneuver.
“It’s an emotional game, I kind of lost my cool in case you all didn’t notice,” Billick said. “You have to make sure you don’t cross that line. The thing I liked about it is he kind of reeled himself back in.”
COVERAGE BREAKDOWN: Although he didn’t allow a touchdown, cornerback Samari Rolle had his issues matching the footwork of wide receiver Drew Bennett.  Bennett caught six passes for 115 yards and spun Rolle completely around on a few crisp routes.
“Drew knows me and knows how I cover,” Rolle said of his former teammate. “He made some good moves and has a way of getting himself open and making the catch. But the bottom line is we won the game.” 

CLUTCH HOLD: Rookie punter Sam Koch had one of the more unrecognized and critical plays that impacted the outcome.  Koch corralled long snapper Matt Katula’s uncharacteristically high, errant snap and got it placed for kicker Matt Stover’s game-deciding extra point following Steve McNair’s touchdown pass to Derrick Mason.

“Sam continues to be a real professional in that area,” Billick said. “How big would it be for us to have a simple PAT and for it not to happen? Sam did a great job."
QUICK HITS: Rookie wide receiver Demetrius Williams posted career-highs with four receptions for 75 yards with three of his catches producing first downs. … Nickel back Corey Ivy suffered a concussion, but returned as did tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas (thumb). … Backup quarterback Kyle Boller pretended to be mobile Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young against the Ravens’ defense in practice last week. This week, he’ll be impersonating Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. “It was nice warmup playing Vince Young because he and Michael Vick truly have unique abilities for this game,” Billick said.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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