BALTIMORE — The Ravens clinched their second straight AFC North division title by way of a 33-14 win over the New York Giants to make their decision to hold back linebacker Ray Lewis until the playoffs that much easier.
The 37-year-old linebacker must be placed on the 53-man roster this week after his 21-day window for practice concludes but will not play in the regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We will not look at him again for this week. We’ll look at him at the playoffs,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s an injury that is a 12- to 16-week injury. If you do the math going back, we thought there was a chance. He is progressing really well. I’m not saying he couldn’t have played the last couple of weeks, but it would’ve been risky to re-injure it. The fact that there was some patience on Ray’s part and our part, it turned out well.”
Lewis returned to the practice field on Dec. 5 and is still less than 10 weeks removed from surgery to repair the torn triceps in his right arm. He was eligible to return against Denver in Week 15, but the Ravens and Lewis have exercised caution as he continues to rebuild the strength in his right upper arm.
However, that patience has been challenging with the 13-time Pro Bowl selection itching to return to the field
“It’s hard. He wants to play,” Harbaugh said. “Nobody wants to play more than Ray, but Ray sees it for what it is, and he sees the big picture.”
In Lewis’ absence, the Ravens have benefited from the emergence of Dannell Ellerbe, who has become one of the their best defensive players this season. The fourth-year linebacker returned to action on Sunday after missing the last three games with an ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has also used a combination of former practice squad members Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan as well as special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo at the inside linebacker spots to counter the long-term absence of Lewis and the season-ending neck injury suffered by Jameel McClain on Dec. 9.
Ellerbe finished with five tackles on Sunday while Ayanbadejo collected one of the Ravens’ three sacks against Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
“We would much rather be here with options and already securing the division than going into the next game trying to win the division,” Ayanbadejo said. “It’s a position thing and whatever happens, the coaches will come up with a great scheme and the players will go out there and try to execute it and the ones who are not executing it will be chilling on the sidelines cheering like [Lewis] does.”
The Ravens remain optimistic that Lewis will be ready to go for the first round of the playoffs when the Ravens host either the Indianapolis Colts or the Cincinnati Bengals, but Harbaugh wouldn’t speak in certain terms when asked if there was a possibility that the 17th-year linebacker wouldn’t be ready for the start of the postseason.
However, it’s difficult to envision the Ravens being able to keep Lewis on the sideline with the outcome of a playoff game hanging in the balance.
“There’s always a chance,” Harbaugh said. “We can’t say right now for sure.”
Boldin exits early
Starting wide receiver Anquan Boldin left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. However, Harbaugh said the Ravens suffered no new injuries of significance.
Boldin caught seven passes for 93 yards to lead all Ravens receivers.
“Everything we had was minor,” Harbaugh said. “If that changes tomorrow, we’ll let you know, but right now everything looks like it’s minor.”
If the shoulder injury lingers deep into the week, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle Boldin’s status as well as other banged-up players such as safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshal Yanda, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as they’ve already locked up the division title but still have a chance to earn the No. 3 seed if they beat Cincinnati and New England loses to the Miami Dolphins.
It’s an unlikely scenario with the Patriots playing in Foxborough, but stranger things have happened this season in the NFL.
“We’re going to try and win the game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thing we’re going to do. That’s what we do, and we’re going to try to win the game. We’re also going to try and make sure we are as healthy as we can be going into the playoffs. So, I think we’ll merge those two considerations.”