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Ray Lewis: Fear factor still there

01.07.10 at 4:37 pm ET
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Whether or not Ray Lewis has lost a step isn’t the issue. The heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens is still an unmistakable force on the field.

Just ask Patriots left tackle Matt Light.

“Ray is obviously a huge playmaker,” Light said. “I think he’s somebody you really have to account for in the running game. He’s always flying around, making big plays and hitting the gap and just an instinctive player in his own right. He’s been doing it for a long time.”

“I think, for us, in the running it’s going to be huge to get a hat on him. In the passing game, obviously, he’s going to be out there and he’s kind of  another guy they rely on to make big plays.”

In short, Light says, “Know where he’s at, know what he’s doing.” And if you don’t, you can be separated from your helmet like Tennessee fullback Ahmard Hall was in last year’s playoffs.

Every time the linebacker takes the field, huddling up his team before each game, everyone in the stadium knows what he and the Baltimore Ravens are about.

Sure their defense may not be what it was in 2000 when they won Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants. Sure they don’t have names like Peter Boulware, Bart Scott, Rod Woodson and Adalius Thomas.

But they still have No. 52 in the middle as the heart and soul of their defense. And while the Ravens are an offensive bunch, Lewis knows that Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium will come down to one defensive principle – who wants to stop the other team more.

On Oct. 4 at Gillette Stadium, it was the Patriots who found that way at the end of the game, albeit with a little help from Baltimore. Mark Clayton dropped a sure first-down catch inside the Pats’ 10 with :28 remaining on fourth down to seal New England’s 27-21 win.

That day, the Patriots held the ball for 34 minutes, 56 seconds. While Baltimore had it only 25 minutes. The Ravens couldn’t find a way to get the Patriots off the field. Lewis said the Ravens D is better.

“Well, I think we’re much different,” Lewis said. “I think any and every team is kind of different as the season goes on. I think we just kind of, in the end of the year, you’re always trying to put things together.”

This defense has undergone many changes and two head coaches since Lewis led the charge toward Super Bowl XXXV and a win over the Giants. Brian Billick is out as head coach and John Harbaugh is in.

The two defensive coordinators who left their mark in Baltimore are squaring off on Saturday in Cincinnati as Marvin Lewis is coaching the Bengals and Rex Ryan is in charge of the Jets.

It’s now Greg Mattison’s defense.

“I’ve kind of been answering this question all year, they’re the same philosophies,” Lewis said. “Coach Mattison, of course, was under Rex [Ryan]. Rex was under Marvin. It’s the same concepts and things like that. Of course, it just depends how Coach Mattison likes to call his game plan and how Rex called his game plan. It’s going be a little bit different by the way they structure what they want to do, but the bottom line is we still have our same defensive pack.

The Ravens have lost their share of close games this season. In three consecutive weeks early in the season, there was a six-point loss to the Pats, a three-point loss to the Bengals and the heart-breaking 33-31 loss at Minnesota. There was a 17-15 loss to the then-undefeated Colts at home in November. And, most recently 23-20 to Pittsburgh in the next-to-last weekend of the season.

“I think they were aggravating when they were happening,” he said. “Yeah, they’re always aggravating when they’re happening because whether it’s the Colts, whether it’s a catch, whether it’s a field goal, whatever it is. It’s not aggravating now, it’s more of a calmness, knowing that no matter what we go into, we have a real chance to win the football game and we have an opportunity to be in every game that’s close.

“We’ve played the Patriots. We’ve played the Colts. We’ve played the Vikings. Everyone was a close game, so for us understanding that we had to come back and correct the small things because it’s the small things that would make us win those close games.

The Ravens would like to finish off the decade the way they started it but that will be tough as a No. 6 seed. And it’s also probably closer to the end for some of those players like yourself and Ed Reed than it is the beginning. But don’t tell Lewis the window is closing or he’s likely to slam it down on your hands.

“I totally disagree,” Lewis said of that thinking. “I think it’s one simple thing – winning means a lot, the numbers don’t. We’re still the No. 2 or No. 3 defense in the league, no matter how we started. You look around the league and I hear you guys talk about, ‘You know, you don’t have a lot of time left.’ Hey, Brett Favre is probably playing better than any rookie quarterback or any max-year quarterback who’s signed for all of his money. Charles Woodson is probably playing the best football played out of every cornerback in the National Football League.

“You look at all of these old veterans who are the playing the game the way the game is played. I always tell people that you can talk about time winding down, but if you look at championships and you look at the most consistent people, it follows wisdom. You look back, you look at the Brian Dawkins, probably one of the best safeties in the game at 35, 36 years old. It doesn’t have anything to do with winding down. Rod Woodson was 36 when he was playing his best football… you realize you only get better as you get older –  barring injury, injury is one thing. But that window only closes when you say that you’re done. If something happens tragically that slows you down, that’s something different. Over the years, I’ve been watching and studying football, the people who are having the most success are the ones that have been in the league a long time and have been very consistent,” Lewis said.

The Ravens have had one Super Bowl appearance in this decade and went to the AFC Championship game last year and lost to eventual champ Pittsburgh on the road.

“Guess what? We are back in it again for another opportunity to go back and all you can ask for is an opportunity, and that what we want, just an opportunity,” Lewis concluded. “Bottom line is if you can get that opportunity, grab the moment man, don’t let everybody push you away with ‘There’s so much pressure. What if this, what if that?’ Forget about the what ifs and just go have fun and play football and that’s what we’re focusing on and wherever we end up, that’s where we end up.”

Read More: NFL Playoffs, Patriots, Ravens, Ray Lewis
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