BALTIMORE — During meetings Saturday night, Ray Lewis had one point to make to his teammates. That point was apparently best made in the form of a question.
“The question was very simple” stated Lewis Sunday. “What would you give for the man beside you?”
As it turns out, the Baltimore Ravens LB was on the brink of having his question answered in the form of a career-best performance from a teammate.
RB Ray Rice absolutely went off Sunday, as the Ravens (10-4) held off the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints (10-4) 30-24 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Rice was brilliant on the ground, posting 153 yards (the 3rd most of his short NFL career) and a touchdown. His day on the ground was punctuated by a 50 yard scamper in the 4th quarter, his longest run of the season. The run was particularly significant as it came on the first play after the Saints had tied the game on an almost impossible TD catch by WR Lance Moore from QB Drew Brees. It also put the Ravens in field goal range, and K Billy Cundiff would go on to make a 32 yard kick that would prove to be the game winner.
But that wasn’t all Rice did Sunday.
Rice was also the Ravens’ leading receiver, hauling in five catches for 80 yards. The most significant was a beautiful 17 yard touchdown haul in the 2nd quarter on a rainbow toss from QB Joe Flacco.
The combined 233 yards of total offense marked a career high for the third year back from Rutgers.
Rice’s teammates were particularly impressed by the performance.
“It was great” said Flacco. “Ray came ready to play, big time in the running game. Our offensive line did a great job of creating space on the line of scrimmage. Ray did a great job of finding that room and then creating a little bit of extra yards on his own. Ray did a great job on some of the screens. It was a really good game.”
C Matt Birk was pleased with not only Rice, but also RB Willis McGahee. McGahee tallied 53 yards rushing on seven carries in the victory.
“They got up into the secondary and did some things. That’s what those guys do, that’s why they’re special.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh labeled Rice’s performance as “tremendous”, which might well be the most fitting description possible.
It was a particularly important performance for Rice, who had only one 100 yard rushing performance on the season coming into the game (133 yards in a Week 5 win against the Denver Broncos here in Charm City). The Pro Bowl back said he had a feeling the cold weather (34 degrees at kickoff) would help set him up for a big game.
“The cold weather doesn’t bother me. I’ve been in Rutgers, grew up in New York. It felt like it was 80 degrees out there for me. I was good to go. Late in the year, it’s a mentality thing. It just felt good to know that we said we were going to do something and went out and did it.”
And apparently part of what inspired Rice to put together such an impressive performacne were those words spoken by the future Hall of Fame LB that he looks up to in a “big brother” type of capacity.
“Ray Lewis spoke to the team last night” Rice said after the win. “You’ve got a guy who played 15 years and gave all of his blood, sweat and tears. You know when the time is trickling down late in the season and we’ve got to push for that. He spoke to the team, and I just think everybody heard that message last night.”
When I asked Rice what about Lewis’ speech stuck out to him, he said said it was about “sacrifice.”
“What are we going to sacrifice now until the rest of the season? We had our bumps and bruises, but what is everybody willing to sacrifice for one goal? The one goal is to win a Super Bowl.”
That sacrifice was clearly on display as the Ravens put together a crucial victory over the team that reached that goal just a season ago.
Ray Lewis has made plenty of speeches throughout his 15 year career. It would be hard to ever point out one that had more significance than others. Yet somehow the message hasn’t stopped resonating with teammates. He said the speech he made Saturday night came “straight from (his) heart.”
“Me spending a lot of time with God before I came to the meeting, and he just kept putting things on my heart. When I just came, it was just about one thing; sacrifice. I’ve been in this business 15 years, and I’ve seen some good teams and I’ve seen some OK teams, but what we have right now, the question was very simple. What would you give for the man beside you? I don’t care what the score is here and there; if we come out of here with the win, we became a better team.”
There will be a time when the Ravens won’t have Ray Lewis on the football field. The loss the Ravens will suffer on the football field without Lewis will be significant. But the loss of the team’s heart, soul and spiritual leadership could well be just as significant.
Ray Rice will likely post 233 yards of offense many more times in his career. Yet it was Sunday when his team needed yard to move past a two week stretch that included a heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and a near collapse in a win at the Houston Texans.
To summon up that performance Sunday, Rice believed he needed to hear what Lewis had to say.
Ravens fans can simply hope that Lewis will have many more opportunities to offer such inspiration.
NOTES: Hear from Rice, Lewis, Harbaugh, Flacco, S Ed Reed, CB Chris Carr, LB Terrell Suggs and DL Cory Redding following the win in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……LB Tavares Gooden is scheduled to join Drew Forrester Monday at 9:30am on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST……WR David Reed left the game in the first half with a concussion, he is considered day-to-day moving forward……WR Donte’ Stallworth was inactive for the first time since returning from a broken foot suffered in the preseason. Harbaugh told me after the game that Stallworth was not deactivated due to injury or illness, a Ravens official confirmed the team chose to keep CB Cary Williams active instead of Stallworth due to how much New Orleans was expected to throw……The Ravens will meet together at the 1 Winning Drive facility in Owings Mills Monday, Harbaugh will hold his weekly press conference Monday afternoon