Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis motions to the crowd during the… (Rob Carr, Getty Images )
Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis did not make it through his 17th season, but he will play in No. 18 next year.
The Ravens announced that Lewis tore his triceps in his right arm in Sunday's game against Dallas ending what had been his worst season, but he won't retire.
Warriors like Lewis don't go out because of injuries. They go out on their own terms and time, and Lewis still believes he can play at a high level in the NFL.
If the Ravens had won a Super Bowl last season then maybe Lewis might have called it quits, but he won't now because he has something to prove. Another game is on because the same desire and competitiveness that made him the best middle linebacker to ever play the game will drive him back to the playing field.
For all practical reasons, Lewis should retire because there is nothing else to prove. He can no longer run sideline to sideline and make tackles, which was his trademark throughout his illustrious career.
He had become a liability on passing situations and the power and strength in his shoulders had deteriorated to the point where he couldn't shed blocks any more. Lewis survived on instincts and savvy being able to slip blockers and not have any wasted movements.
But even that started to fade in 2012. Combined with a young defensive line that could no longer protect him and allow him to roam the middle, Lewis became an easy target for offensive linemen. Kansas City ran for 214 yards on Oct. 7 and the Cowboys ran for 227 on Sunday.
And that's when Lewis went down.
The team's announcement Monday about Lewis being finished for the season was just a formality. When he didn't play in the Cowboys last two offensive series you knew the injury had to be serious.
Ray Lewis seldom comes out of games. Ray Lewis never stops playing, and he never quits.
Unfortunately for Lewis, he has become a victim of his own success. Every great linebacker is compared to him these days because Lewis set the standard. Even the current Lewis is compared to the younger Lewis and he falls short.
On a day when his season ended, the injury to cornerback Lardarius Webb was more significant to the Ravens than the loss of Lewis.
The Ravens will be fine with fourth-year player Dannell Ellerbe as Lewis' replacement. Ellerbe has had a spotty career and shown great potential, but his off the field antics of being late for meetings, games and flights often put him in Harbaugh's doghouse.
This year, though, has been different. Despite playing on basically passing situations, Ellerbe has performed well and is one of the team's top tacklers.
This is a great opportunity for Ellerbe as well as the team because they both want to show that they can play well consistently without Lewis. They've done it before and they will do it again.
But Lewis' leadership will be missed. He has the ears and eyes of the young players. They admire him for his work ethic. Whenever the Ravens have struggled, Lewis has always been the force and face of this organization, bigger than former owner Art Modell and larger than head coaches Ted Marchibroda, Brian Billick and John Harbaugh.
Lewis' crash this season was foreseeable. When he reported to training camp 20 pounds lighter than his normal playing weight of 260 pounds, the question became not if he was going to wear down, but when?
Dropping weight may have made him quicker, but definitely not faster and stronger. He became a light, stationary target for some offensive linemen who had waited for years to get good shots on him.
Lewis knew he had lost a step or two through the years, but he would never admit it publicly. Too much pride. Regardless of his dwindling skill set, Lewis always played with passion and that helped him survive the last couple of seasons.
Ray Lewis still loves his fellow players and the game. He loves being in the locker room. He likes the packed stadiums and their bright lights along with the red light that shines when a camera is on.
Those things define him as a player, but not as a man. Behind the scenes and away from the limelight, Lewis has worked more miracles working with the sick and poor than on any football field.
When he retires, he will become a great goodwill ambassador for The Lord.
But it's not time yet.
Lewis has three years left on a contract worth about $7.3 million, $5.4 million and $6.5 million. Money, though, isn't the driving force. He wants to win another Super Bowl title to cement his legacy.
The Ravens have made it clear, at least publicly, that they will not influence Lewis one way or another about retiring. They don't want to take on the icon.
That status is what will drive Lewis to return next season. Legends don't die because of injuries. John Unitas didn't go out that way, and neither did Joe Montana.
Ray Lewis won't either.
No. 52 will return for No. 18. It's now become personal and his spirit won't allow his career to end this way.