The story line couldn’t be any better for one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the NFL.
First, Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens got the chance to match up against No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, showing him firsthand that the postseason is a different animal than regular-season football.
Next, charged with defeating the legendary Peyton Manning, himself on a mission to prove he has recovered from neck surgery and can carry a new team to a Super Bowl, Lewis led his Ravens to the conference championship.
Next weekend, in what very well might be his final game in the NFL, Lewis will either have his sweetest victory and lead his team to the championship game, or a repeat of one of the most bitter defeats in team history at the hands of the New England Patriots.
Baltimore began this postseason with a 24-9 victory against the upstart Colts in the Wild Card Round. Lewis provided a boost in his first game back from a torn triceps muscles since Week 6 by recording 13 tackles, proving he provides more than just motivation to his teammates.
But these playoffs were long in the making. After devastating losses at the hands of Peyton Manning in the 2006 and 2009 postseason, Ray Lewis and his Ravens were finally able to overcome Manning in a truly epic battle. Lewis showed that even though he may be getting older, he’s still got something left in the tank; the veteran linebacker recorded an astounding 17 tackles in the fourth longest game in NFL history.
Lewis wasn’t the only Raven to fly high in the historic matchup. Baltimore's offense showed that they may finally have the ability to thrive in a post-Lewis world. Aided by a 70-yard bomb downfield, Joe Flacco threw for 331 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and is having a momentous postseason in his contract year. With Flacco performing the way he is, the Ravens will not need to rely as much on a defense worn down from such a lengthy and hard-fought game.
Ray Lewis announced that he will be retiring at the end of the Ravens’ playoff run this season. The two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year will be concluding a 17-year career in Maryland, which has already seen one Super Bowl victory back in 2000.
Although the team’s postseason has been thus far the stuff of legend, a Ravens Super Bowl victory is far from locked up. The Ravens now have a chance to face off against the fearsome Tom Brady and his Patriots in order to avenge last year’s bitter 23-20 defeat in the AFC Championship.
The Patriots are again coming off a big win in the divisional round, after effortlessly knocking off the Texans 41-28. However, with no Rob Gronkowski, the Ravens' chances of defeating the Pats and continuing Lewis’ mythic ride increase exponentially.
The name of the game for the Ravens this postseason is revenge, but the road for this legendary linebacker to lead his team to the title is still long and uncertain. Lewis is taking the hardest path possible to finish things up, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.