The Ravens came awfully close to reaching the Super Bowl in 2011, but in the end, a few crucial mistakes cost them a trip to the big game. This postseason, they’ll have some extra motivation that could get them over the hump, though.
Ray Lewis on Wednesday announced his plan to retire from the NFL, and the decision to get the news out now was certainly not intended to distract his team, but rather to serve as inspiration — something he’s already learned to master.
The Ravens have made seven trips to the playoffs and two trips to the AFC Championship Game since their Super Bowl victory back in 2000, yet even with rosters chock-full of talent, they haven’t returned to the big game. Lewis’ decision could be just the sort of motivation this Baltimore team needs to get to New Orleans and send its leader out on top.
Before Lewis went down with a torn triceps muscle on Oct. 14, forcing him to miss the final 10 games of the season, the Ravens were an impressive 5-1 and near the top of the standings in the AFC. Without Lewis on the field, though, Baltimore went just 5-5 down the stretch and barely eked out the AFC North division crown.
Now that Lewis is back in the fold alongside 2011’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, the Ravens are finally healthy and should be ready to compete for a championship. Lewis doesn’t just make everyone around him on defense better, but he also has an impact on the offensive players through his motivational words and actions, both on and off the field.
Lewis has been a pillar of the Ravens franchise since its move from Cleveland back in 1996. His retirement marks the end of an era in Baltimore and in franchise history, but he’s at least given his teammates a little added motivation to work a little harder, play a little stronger and find that extra drive deep inside to get the job done.
The Ravens still have flaws, just like every other team left in the NFL playoff picture, but they also have the added element of extra inspiration behind them. The Colts have a similar sentiment with head coach Chuck Pagano‘s return from leukemia, and both teams should be considered dangerous because of that extra component.
Football is truly a game built on momentum, and Lewis’ retirement could provide all the momentum the Ravens need to return to the Super Bowl — and who knows, maybe even win it.
Pick Six — The six biggest trendsetters of the past week in the NFL
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Up — He didn’t catch Eric Dickerson, finishing just nine yards shy of the coveted rushing record, but he did run the Vikings back into the playoffs, which is just fine with the fans up in Minneapolis.
- David Akers, K, San Francisco 49ers: Down — The 49ers are so uncomfortable with Akers’ performance heading into the postseason that they even brought in last year’s playoff goat, Billy Cundiff, to compete with him. If that’s not a slap in the face, then I don’t know what is.
- Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears head coach: Down — The Bears won their must-win game against the Lions, but the Vikings’ win still saw Lovie get the old heave-ho. He should get another shot elsewhere — Buffalo, maybe? — but for now he’s got to be down in the dumps, just like he is in our rankings.
- Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon Ducks: Up — This guy’s stock has already exploded through the ceiling. He has interviews lined up in Buffalo, Cleveland and Philly, and should have his picking of the pie. The cherry on top is that he’ll escape the coming sanctions toward Oregon, much like Pete Carroll did at USC. You sly dog, you.
- Houston Texans: Down — All the Texans had to do was win and they would be resting comfortably with a bye week. Instead, they’ve got a showdown with the red-hot Bengals on Saturday. Houston finished the season on a 1-3 swing and is looking likely to get upset if Matt Schaub and Co. don’t get their act together.
- Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: Down — His 200-plus yards against the Cowboys was impressive, so he’s not trending down for his performance. Instead, the rookie running back is making just $390,000 in 2012 and is slated to make an average of $550,000 the next two seasons — before he can even negotiate a new contract. We’re talking about the NFL’s second-leading rusher in 2012, and he can’t even get a decent wage. Ouch.