The Baltimore Ravens were here a year ago, preparing for an AFC divisional playoff game. The result was a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers after a wild-card victory and a feeling that time, precious time, was growing short if they were to ever win another Super Bowl during the Ray Lewis era.
This year, the wild-card winner, the Houston Texans, will come to them in a divisional playoff at 1 p.m. EST Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens, rested after a first-round bye, are determined to get to the AFC title game — with no one more focused than Lewis.
Lewis, 36, is in his 16th season and follows a strict workout and dietary regimen that has kept him ready for just this moment. But how much beyond it he can and will play are the questions hovering over him and the vaunted Ravens defense.
“If people think I'm slow let me say this,” he told CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman. ”Sideline to sideline there still isn't a 'backer in this business that can beat me. Sideline to sideline. Not one. I challenge you to find one.
“There are fast guys in this league but it's also not just about the speed. Young guys make a lot of money at the combine from running the 40 [-yard dash]. But then you put on the film and they don't play with heart.”
Lewis missed four games with a toe injury that ended his consecutive-starts streak at 57 games this season and now is reasonably close to form. But, if the Ravens were to win a Super Bowl, might he hang it up? “I don't know when it will all be over for me,” he says. “People want to use my age against me. They say I'm too old. People fear getting old. I don't fear that because now I have wisdom and a tough body to go with that wisdom.
“I don't ever want to be 24-year-old Ray Lewis again. I made too many bad choices. Now I have the maturity and I take care of my body.”
Lewis led the team with 95 tackles, in spite of that toe and the Ravens had the league’s third-ranked defense, allowing 288.9 yards per game. The Texans, though, were ranked second, allowing 285.7 under Wade Phillips. “I can't let him retire,” Terrell Suggs said. “We don't even want him to come off the field. ... He's still outplaying guys in their 20s. When it's time to walk away, he'll know. But it's still not his time.”
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