Lewis flew around the field against the Texans, and he missed some tackles, but he also made quite a few, including a key stop in the fourth quarter on a screen pass. Reed had a bit of an uneven game as well. He made a great tackle in the first half on a third down to force a punt, but he also couldn't reel in two interceptions that five years ago he would have easily snagged.
Every time the ball was in the air, however, Reed ignored the potential for injury or pain and sold out his body trying to intercept a T.J. Yates pass. And in the final minutes, when the team desperately needed him to make a play to bail out the offense, he snagged a clutch interception at the goal line and held onto the ball even though his ankle got violently twisted when he fell.
He hobbled off the field, with Ray Lewis of all people helping him get to the sidelines, and by the time he reached the locker room, he'd already declared himself fit to play next week against the Patriots.
"The confidence that we have in each other, I think, is more overwhelming than you can ever imagine," Lewis said of Reed, when asked about the bond they share.
Defensive artistry has always been somewhat difficult for football fans to appreciate and embrace. It's not as obviously beautiful as a Tom Brady spiral, or a Calvin Johnson fingertip touchdown catch. There is a reason the league has changed the rules, in recent years, to emphasize offense. It's easier for fans to process, to get excited about. But in Baltimore, defensive wizardry is kind of all we really know. I suppose it's what we've been destined to watch for the last 16 years, even though great defense and mediocre offense sometimes feels less like a blessing and more like a curse. I was thinking a lot about all this today as I walked to the stadium.
Just before the player introductions, I slipped out of the press box, ducked through the concourse and walked into the stands. It's something I haven't done in a long time, but I wanted to do it Sunday. The pressbox can feel so sterile sometimes. It's like watching a football game in a classroom, and sometimes it's good to get outside again away from the laptop.
There are a lot of people in other cities who can't stand Ray Lewis' pre-game dance. And on some level, I guess I understand why they feel that way. I've gone back and forth over the years on whether I like one player singling himself out like that. But I wanted to see Ed and Ray run out of the tunnel together, back-to-back, just in case this was the last time it ever happened. I wanted to take a second to absorb, one more time, the connection they both have with this city.
When they finally busted through the smoke and fireworks, the roar was so enormous, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. I don't know what either of them was thinking in that moment. Maybe they weren't thinking about anything in particular, other than the Texans. Maybe they have no intention of retiring any time soon. But in that moment, I think I know how most of the Ravens fans in that stadium -- and many of them watching at home -- felt.
If this is the final charge, all you can do is enjoy it. All we can do is soak up whatever time there is left.
2. The offensive line has to play better next week if the Ravens are going to advance to the Super Bowl.
I'm a little burned out on the weekly Joe Flacco arguments, to be frank, and I think readers are, too. I feel like the past two weeks have been Flacco overkill. God bless my friends who work in talk radio because it continues to fill the airwaves and drive ratings, but I think the discussion requires a little more nuance at this point, a surgeon's touch if you will, and most people can't resist using a hammer instead. ("JOE IS ELITE!!!" or "NO, HE SUCKS!") As soon as Flacco cracked a joke last week about not getting any credit when the Ravens win, and getting ripped for throwing the ball every time they lose, I knew this town was going to get a serious case of the vapors. Arguing over Flacco has become about as fun as arguing with a door. We need a little break, at least in this column.
Instead, let's talk about the offensive line, which got bullied and bludgeoned on Sunday. I don't know what happened, but they had a really difficult time picking up stunts, and they got whipped in short yardage. Even Marshal Yanda, arguably the most reliable Raven at any position this year, didn't have a very good day. J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed are rookies, and they combined for five sacks, 20 tackles, four tackles for loss, and five quarterback pressures on Sunday. (Guess how many sacks and quarterback pressures Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata combined for? One, a pressure by Ngata.)