Lewis, veteran Ravens embrace "last ride"

Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- Ray Lewis' "last ride" has been the Baltimore Ravens' calling card during their three-game playoff run to New Orleans. Win or lose, he will retire Sunday after 17 NFL seasons, but he's hardly the only key player on a veteran team relishing the Super Bowl XLVII experience.
Safety Ed Reed is in his 11th season, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is in his 10th and center Matt Birk is in his 15th.
Reed said he wants to keep playing, but his contract expires after the season and there is no certainty he will return to the Ravens -- or the NFL -- for the 2013 season.
"It's not just about Ray Lewis, it's about this team," said Reed, who "retired" last offseason when he got away from the game and didn't have any communication with the coaching staff. "I want to play this game as long as I can.
"I don't want to retire. I'm not even thinking about it at this point."
Birk has started every game since signing with the Ravens four years ago. Despite his ironman presence in the pivot, he is 36 and has struggled against bull-rushes at times this season.
He signed a three-year extension over the offseason, but even Birk isn't certain he will return next season, putting extra incentive on winning the Super Bowl.
"You can have too much emotion ... you have to manage that," Birk said.
One thing is for certain, the Ravens will have a significantly different makeup when they return for minicamps in May. The run to the Super Bowl, however, has helped prepare many of the younger players to help fill the void Lewis -- and others -- will leave behind.
"Being along with Ray and Ed, you grow up wanting to be those guys playing backyard football," said rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. "I say that all the time, but just the leadership here, to go from Alabama to the leadership here, there is not too much difference. Me being a young guy, I just bought into it and we are here in the Super Bowl now."

--Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's status as an "elite" quarterback has long been a popular debate. He helped quiet many of his critics by throwing eight touchdowns against no interceptions during Baltimore's three playoff victories.
"I think there is definitely a part of all of us that hear things and when somebody doubts what you want to do, you definitely go show them that they may be wrong," he said. "I think for the most part we play for each other and that stuff is kind of a secondary issue."
Flacco has always had the respect of his teammates. Suggs even had fun with his quarterback's stoic demeanor sitting at the podium next to him Tuesday and having reporters watch Flacco field a few questions without ever changing his expression.
"Authentic" is the word Birk used to describe Flacco.
"Competitive" was the adjective chosen by right guard Marshal Yanda.
"I don't think he's doing anything different. I just don't think people were giving him the respect that he was due early on in the season," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin. "I think he's played great all year, but I think just the stage that we've been on the last couple of weeks has magnified who Joe is, and I'm glad people get a chance to see him for exactly who he is."
With reports surfacing that Flacco could be seeking $20 million over the offseason, he has good timing to enjoy the best stretch of football during his career.
"Well, Joe and I have a good understanding of where his contract is," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "People fail to realize that he was a dropped pass away from getting to the Super Bowl last year. So, what he did was just back up to what he did a year ago. He's doing a great job. He has great chemistry with Jim Caldwell. Hopefully, as long as I'm the general manager in Baltimore, he's the quarterback in Baltimore."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The Weather Channel is here? What's the forecast here in the dome on Sunday? Are you guys going to be dead-on with that?" - Birk, when asked a question by a Weather Channel correspondent.

QUOTE TO NOTE II: "I don't know about high maintenance, but (Bernard) Pollard is kind of an OCD type of guy. He gets worried and kind of freaks out. You've got to make sure that you're doing the right things or he'll freak out on you." - Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.

QUOTE TO NOTE III: "Ball So Hard University. I will go there first; go to my alma mater. Then I will go to Hogwarts. We stop at Hogwarts and then I will take my lovely family to the lost city of Atlantis." - Suggs, on his vacation plans should the Ravens win Sunday.

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