For 17 years, Ray Lewis has been the face of NFL toughness and the face of his team, the Baltimore Ravens.
For now, that face won’t be taking the field.
In the Ravens’ week six game against the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis suffered a brutal triceps injury and was subsequently declared out for the season. While Lewis did confide in teammates that he would assuredly return for a potential postseason run, the Ravens must assume that the road to a Super Bowl will have to be traveled without their leader.
Seeing Lewis go down made me sad. This is a man who has defied reality by playing at the very highest level, at one of the most physical positions (linebacker), for an unheard-of period of time. This is a man who faced torturous adversity (when he was accused of a murder he did not commit in 2000) and handled it with utmost class. This is a man whose enthusiasm, energy and will to win have inspired millions for almost two decades.
Yet with one awkward landing, it could all be over.
Lewis already thought about retiring after last season. Now, after showing some signs of age and enduring a horrendous injury, the Ravens players, organization and fans are all facing the sad possibility that number 52 has played his last snap.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, the show must go on. Lewis can no longer be with them on the field and other leaders will need to step up. The 43-13 drubbing the team took from the Houston Texans last weekend certainly did not get the post-Lewis season off to a good start.
We all watched the New York Yankees crumble just a couple weeks ago when Derek Jeter went down with a broken ankle. Understandably, it’s very difficult to move on from a loss of that magnitude and focus on winning games immediately. Unlike the Yankees (who were in the middle of a playoff run when Jeter got injured), the Ravens have a solid record (5-2) to use as a “cushion.”
If anyone could return from a torn triceps injury in less than three months, it’s Lewis. Realistically speaking, it is an injury that requires a minimum of four months recovery. Despite Lewis’ claim that he will return for the postseason in January, chances are he won’t.
The underachieving Ravens defense must find a way to carry on and up their game behind great players like Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. More importantly, someone on the defense needs to step up and assert himself as the “replacement” leader.
Championship teams respond head-on and positively to adversity. Losing the most valuable player on the team has created the biggest problem the Ravens have ever had. Their roster is deep, though, and the next nine games represent a chance for the Ravens to show just how good and resilient they are.
There comes a point where the great rise and the weak fall. The Ravens may not be far from that point. They might be missing their greatest asset, but their ultimate goal remains unchanged.
If they are truly capable of winning a Super Bowl, their greatness will reveal itself soon enough.