Ravens regular-season moment No. 12: “Almost as if he knew what was coming”

June 04, 2020 | Luke Jones

Check out the No. 13 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

We forget how close Ray Lewis came to leaving the Ravens.

After bristling at the notion of accepting a hometown discount and much chatter about his interest in joining the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis became a free agent for the first time in his career in late February 2009. However, when outside interest proved not to meet his financial demands, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year eventually re-signed with the Ravens, who were coming off an AFC Championship appearance in the first year of the John Harbaugh era.

Entering his 14th season and already with 10 Pro Bowl selections under his belt, Lewis was eager to prove he still had plenty of good football left at age 34. The San Diego Chargers would learn that the hard way in Week 2 of the 2009 season.

Coming off its third straight AFC West division title, San Diego was expected to be one of the top contenders in the conference, ultimately going 13-3 that year. Meanwhile, the Ravens had bested Kansas City in the season opener and now had a cross-country trip to Qualcomm Stadium to take on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

Despite playing without former league MVP and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers would move the ball throughout the game as backup Darren Sproles had an 81-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and an impressive 278 all-purpose yards. But the Baltimore defense under new coordinator Greg Mattison practiced the art of bending without breaking by making four red-zone stops — including three inside the 10-yard line — to combat the 474 yards allowed.

Thanks largely to two Willis McGahee touchdown runs and two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, the Ravens led 31-26 after Steve Hauschka tacked on a critical 33-yard field goal with 2:54 remaining. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t done as he completed a 38-yard pass to Vincent Jackson to put San Diego in Ravens territory just before the two-minute warning.

The Chargers moved into the red zone over the next several plays to set up a fourth-and-2 from the 15 with just 37 remaining. What happened next would go down as one of the finest plays of Lewis’ Hall of Fame career.

Having already piled up a game-high 11 tackles — two for a loss — as well as a forced fumble, Lewis had been disruptive with several blitzes throughout the game. His reputation for film study was already legendary by this point, but Lewis had missed the tackle on the same inside run play to Sproles earlier, prompting the veteran middle linebacker to gamble and shoot the gap to try to slam the door on the Chargers once and for all.

As the legendary Dick Enberg described it on the CBS telecast, “Almost as if he knew what was coming.”

The 5-yard loss and fifth red-zone stuff of the afternoon turned the ball back to the Ravens as Flacco took the final knee.

Lewis had bigger moments in the postseason over his 17-year career, of course, but no play may have better displayed both his brilliance and ferocity on the football field. And Baltimore was sure glad he had stayed put.

“I played with John Elway and Terrell Davis, and that’s up there with anything I’ve seen them do,” Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said after the 31-26 win. “Just the magnitude of the play. It’s fourth down and game to go. It’s the kind of stuff that you write in ‘Remember the Titans.’

“It doesn’t happen in real life. But today it did. It couldn’t have happened to anybody else but him.”