With Lewis leading the way, Baltimore (12-6) will head to New England (13-4) this Sunday night for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
“He definitely can play multiple more years, but I think he understands that it’s time to move on,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “It’s just great to see him play at a level that I don’t think a lot of linebackers can be doing now. I’m just humbled and definitely lucky, I guess, to play with someone like that.”
Lewis can’t cover a fleet running back or tight end in the same fashion as years ago, but he compensates for that shortcoming with extensive film study and by taking the most advantageous pursuit route. And if there’s a tackle to be made, more often than not Lewis is going to be the one to put that player on the ground.
That, more than his motivational speeches, are what makes him so valuable to the Ravens.
“Ray’s played well. That’s the most important thing. He still can play,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s been playing his heart out for 17 years. He’s a top linebacker in the game right now. He’s made a difference for us.”
Lewis has no desire to hang around the NFL until some coach has no choice but to cut him, and he isn’t going to pull a Brett Favre, who followed a magnificent career in Green Bay with forgettable stints with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.
In the future, when someone thinks of Ray Lewis’ career in the NFL, they’ll recall a 13-time Pro Bowl star who played only for the Ravens and with unyielding energy and resolve.
“He’s changed the game,” Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater said. “I think he’s been kind of a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation type player. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he’s accomplished in his career. As a fan of the game, and I fancy myself a historian of the game also, so (I have) all the respect in the world for him.”