As the Ravens celebrated their dramatic victory in San Diego on Sunday, reliving Ray Lewis'(notes) game-ending stop in the cramped visitors' locker room at Qualcomm Stadium, it occurred to me that it had also been a landmark afternoon for a man near and dear to their hearts.
While watching Terrell Suggs(notes) put the finishing touches on his postgame outfit – a gaudy gold, jewel-encrusted Star of David medallion that was the Pro Bowl pass rusher's apparent acknowledgment of Rosh Hashanah – I asked if he was happy for Rex Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who earlier Sunday had coached the Jets to a 16-9 upset of the Patriots.
Ravens teammates converge around Lewis (52) following Sunday's win over the Chargers.
(Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire)
"That's dead to us, man," Lewis said, shaking his head for emphasis. "That's lastyear. We're all about the here and now."
It seemed like an extreme reaction, but upon reflection I understood Lewis' point: Each year in the NFL is its own, separate entity, and the people who truly get that have a huge advantage over those who don't. The '08 Ravens, for example, rode a rookie coach (John Harbaugh) and a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco(notes)) to a stunning AFC championship game appearance, and now their 10-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker is thinking even bigger.
I guarantee Lewis wasn't amused late last month when, after a preseason game between the Ravens and Jets, New York linebacker Bart Scott(notes) – a former teammate who'd been wooed away in free agency – told reporters that Ryan "was the head coach of that football team last year, whether you guys know it or not."
On a chilly Monday night last December, I sat in a suburban Baltimore bar with Lewis and got a clear indication of his views on leadership. Discussing the notion that he had to adjust to the no-nonsense Harbaugh after years of enjoying ample locker-room latitude under Brian Billick, Lewis laughed and said, "Let me tell you something: He had to adjust to me."
He later told a story from the 2000 season about having literally taken Billick's head in his hands and convincing him to swallow his pride and "do it my way" – a formula which led to the franchise's lone Super Bowl championship.
"The bottom line is this," Lewis said. "Players make plays. Coaches make decisions."
So I suppose I can comprehend why Lewis, after having just made perhaps the most significant individual play of the young season, wasn't eager to shift the focus to the feats of his former defensive coordinator.
In the here and now, the Jets are one of the teams competing with the Ravens for a possible AFC postseason run – and, less important, for positioning in our weekly top-to-bottom trip through the NFL, inquisition-style.
I can't tell you who'll prevail come February, but right now our list begins with the Ravens, who've allowed Flacco to trade in his learner's permit for a real driver's license and now seem to possess the offensive horsepower to take some of the burden off of Lewis and his defensive mates.
So say hello to our new No. 1 – or, as Suggs said just before leaving the locker room Sunday with his conspicuous bling, "Shalom."
1. Baltimore Ravens: With the punchless Browns coming to town on Sunday, will these guys have shutout fever or what?
4. New York Jets: Yo, Ryan – the next time Bill Belichick gives you one of his patented blow-off postgame handshakes, will you kindly wrap him in a bear hug and hold on for, like, 15 minutes?
6. Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Ben Roethlisberger(notes) stay perfect in Ohio on Sunday, or will Carson Palmer(notes) and the Bengals finally stand tall against their division rivals the way they'd hoped to in the '05 playoffs?
9. New England Patriots: What's more imbalanced: a bar full of Pats fans after a hard-fought loss to the Jets or Belichick's offense?
13. Green Bay Packers: Did the Pack really allow the Bengals to eventually pick up a first down after facing a third-and-34 – and was that the worst thing we've seen from the green-and-gold since the infamous fourth-and-26?
15. Arizona Cardinals: Did Todd Haley sneak back to the desert to scream at the Cardinals' offensive players last week, or did Ken Whisenhunt's threat to bench people who commit penalties do the trick?
16. Minnesota Vikings: Aside from the fact that they've played two decent halves in two games against two atrocious teams, how can I possibly disrespect the Vikings by ranking them this low?
17. Tennessee Titans: How can such a terrific secondary look so helpless – and is it fair to say new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil needs to figure that out very, very quickly?
19. Houston Texans: If Sunday's victory at Tennessee was the biggest win in franchise history, as decreed by owner Bob McNair, how rotten is this franchise's history?
20. Miami Dolphins: Does Tony Sparano think there are five quarters, or is he just not that into hurrying with the game on the line?
22. Carolina Panthers: When Julius Peppers(notes) declared last February that he didn't want to play for the Panthers, who knew he'd stick to the plan even after accepting his franchise tender from the team?
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Does the fact that Scott Pioli is already being referred to as "Ego-li" by Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock suggest that the Chiefs' freshly hired general manager failed to understand the media-relations dynamic of his new city?
31. St. Louis Rams: After Steve Spagnuolo made reporters wait 25 minutes for his news conference following a dreadfully boring 9-7 defeat to the Redskins, how classic would it have been if none of them bothered to show up?