Ray Lewis sure doesn't look like an aging linebacker on the brink of retirement.
With 30 tackles in his last two games, the Baltimore Ravens defensive leader appears as if he could play at a high level for several more years.
That's not going to happen. In spite of his standout performance this month and the pleasure he's derived from Baltimore's run to the AFC championship game, Lewis remains adamant he will retire after the Ravens complete their postseason journey.
"No, I can't come back," Lewis said Wednesday. "My kids are calling for Daddy. It's a great reward to see the sacrifice my babies have made for me, and it's time that I sacrificed for them."
The 37-year-old Lewis announced on Jan. 2 that he would retire after Baltimore's playoff run is completed. Since that time, he's provided his teammates with inspiration in the locker room and magnificent play on the field.
After being sidelined for 12 weeks with a torn right triceps, Lewis reclaimed his customary position in the middle of the Baltimore defense two weeks ago. Wearing a cumbersome brace on his right arm, Lewis led the Ravens with 13 tackles in a 24-9 playoff win over Indianapolis.
As an encore, Lewis had a team-high 17 tackles last week in a 38-35 double-overtime victory over Denver.
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.
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."
Brady often struggles against Ravens defense
There's something about the Baltimore Ravens that brings out the worst in Tom Brady. Against most teams, he plays like one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Against the Ravens, he gets outplayed by Joe Flacco.
Start with the Ravens' inspirational, hard-hitting leader, Ray Lewis. Add a talented secondary led by Ed Reed. And throw in a strong defensive line with Haloti Ngata leading the charge.
"They have a lot of playmakers at each level of the defense," Brady said Wednesday before the New England Patriots practiced. "It's not like you beat this team, 50-0. It's always a tight game. There's tight coverage. There's tight throws, tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things. So it's never easy."
Brady is 5-2 in his seven games against the Ravens, not a bad record. But his personal statistics are among the poorest against any of the 31 teams he's faced in his 13-year career.
His 58.6 completion percentage and 74.1 passer rating are the lowest against any opponent. The Ravens are the only team he's thrown more interceptions against (eight) than TDs (seven). They've sacked him 16 times, one of five teams averaging more than two a game against Brady.
The Associated Press