Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis' painful toe injury is expected to sideline him for a pivotal AFC North clash against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, and perhaps additional games depending on how quickly he heals.
Lewis, 36, visited a South Florida specialist for a second medical opinion that confirmed the damage to his toe suffered during a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Times first reported Thursday night. He could miss anywhere from one to four games with Lewis now aiming toward next week's Thanksgiving game against the Ssn Francisco 49ers.
Although the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn't practice for three consecutive days, the Ravens haven't officially ruled him out. They officially listed him as questionable, which denotes a 50-percent chance of availability. That's considered overly optimistic, though.
Citing Lewis' legendary toughness and tolerance for pain, Ravens coach John Harbaugh attempted to put a brave face on the situation.
"Ray is Ray, you know? You can't count Ray out," Harbaugh said. "There could be reports out there and you guys could turn over some rocks and figure it out and ask and think you've got something and you might have something, but you might not.
"We're talking about Ray. We'll find out on Sunday, really. So, Ray may go, he may not go. The Bengals, they'll have to prepare for him either way. So, it doesn't matter."
Lewis is in a 57-consecutive game streak that dates back to the end of the 2007 regular season.
And Harbaugh emphasized that the 12-time Pro Bowl selection isn't facing a career-threatening injury.
"The injury is not any kind of a serious, serious thing," Harbaugh said. "I think it's something he could play with, possibly, but we're very confident in our linebackers. And we're confident in our defense. We have a really good defense, and we'll play well."
A 12-time Pro Bowl selection who has escaped serious injuries for the majority of his career, dealing with hamstring and hand injuries in the past, Lewis injured his shoulder earlier this season and missed only a handful of plays.
"Ray has had shoulders dislocated, and he's done 35 pushups on the sideline to prove that he can go," Harbaugh said. He's had hamstrings that he's torn off the bone because he went ahead and went when he shouldn't have. I've been updated on some of his history. That's Ray Lewis."
Lewis didn't conduct interviews Friday after returning from his flight to Florida.
With Lewis not expected to play, former undrafted free agent Dannell Ellerbe is preparing to start at middle linebacker opposite inside linebacker Jameel McClain.
"I'm always ready," Ellerbe said. "I had a good week of practice. I feel ready to go. I took a lot of reps. It didn't feel strange. I'm just happy to get back out there. I just go out there and show what I've always been showing that I'm able to play in the league and play for the Ravens.
"I really don't feel no pressure. I'm just trying to go out there have fun with it. It's some big shoes to fill. I just want to go out there and have fun and help the team."
Lewis leads the Ravens with 68 tackles, also recording two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Ellerbe has started four career games, posting 87 tackles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. He has dealt with inconsistency and conditioning issues in the past, though.
"He's progressed well," Harbaugh said. "It's another situation where we're just going to have to see how it goes. You just don't know. Hamstrings are very tricky."
Besides McClain and Ellerbe, the Ravens also have Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo to operate at inside linebacker.
Ellerbe is just returning from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for five of six games, but was upgraded to full participation in practice the past two practices.
Ellerbe is officially questionable on the injury report. However, he's regarded as healthy enough to play.
And he's well aware of whom he's stepping in for.
"You can't replace Ray Lewis, he's the best that ever played the game," Ellerbe said. "You can go out there, try to imitate, try to do your best, try to make plays and try to have fun. He's still going to be there on the sidelines. So, we're still going to have his help and his leadership."
The Ravens know it will take a collective effort to replace Lewis, who's the equivalent of a one-man gang on defense with his knowledge of the game and hitting ability.
"He's our spiritual leader, our emotional leader, so the young guys are going to have to step up and they're ready to do that," Ayanbadejo said. "Hopefully, there won't be a letdown on Sunday if Ray's not playing. They'll fill in his place, and we won't miss a beat."
Ravens notebook: Suggs has run into a wall against Whitworth
OWINGS MILLS – Terrell Suggs is having a banner season, harassing quarterbacks and running past offensive tackles.
The Baltimore Ravens' Pro Bowl outside linebacker leads the defense with six sacks, also recording two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Suggs' success hasn't replicated that success in the past, though, against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Suggs has only 1 ½ sacks against the Bengals since 2005 after posting five sacks against them in his first two NFL seasons.
It's the hulking presence of Bengals left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth that has halted Suggs' charge.
The 6-foot-7, 335-pound former LSU standout has given up only one sack in 14 AFC North games since shifting to left tackle, shutting out Pittsburgh Steelers star outside linebacker James Harrison.
"He's a really solid tackle," Suggs said. "We've always had battles against each other. I know he hasn't given up a sack to Harrison for his whole career, so that says a lot. He's a really big guy."
Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has only been sacked 12 times, third fewest in the league.
And the Ravens rank third in the NFL with 27 sacks, including 16 sacks at home this season.
The Ravens have fallen off a bit lately, though.
"I've got to send them more, I've got to call more," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "That's not on them, that falls on my shoulders. We've got to be more aggressive, and we've got to come after them.
"They're keeping more guys in to protect. They're running the ball a little bit more. I've got to a better job of putting our guys in position to get after the quarterback. So I've got to go after him."
FLACCO, JONES FINED: It was a costly loss for the Ravens, literally.
Quarterback Joe Flacco and defensive tackle Arthur Jones were fined $7,500 apiece for infractions committed during a 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, according to AFC spokesman Corry Rush.
Flacco was punished for an illegal horse-collar tackle of Seattle linebacker David Hawthorne in the third quarter, tackling him from behind to prevent a touchdown after an interception.
And Jones was punished for unnecessary roughness following an exchange with the Seahawks after a Billy Cundiff field goal where he was "blocking an opponent low, specifically on a special teams play."
Meanwhile, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was fined $20,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Chancellor gave himself a concussion.
EVANS QUESTIONABLE: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans is questionable with a left ankle injury after practicing on a limited basis all week.
Evans has taken part in six consecutive practices dating back to last week, but doesn't appear ready to make his return after missing the past seven games.
"I think he's getting closer, yes," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's definitely getting close. We'll just have to see how it goes."
The Ravens ruled out Jones (concussion) and rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring).
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is questionable.
Ellerbe has participated fully for two days in a row.
Meanwhile, Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green (hyperextended right knee) is doubtful and could be out Sunday instead of challenging the Ravens' secondary along with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals have other targets, though, in tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell.
"They've got enough guys," Pagano said. "I charted the last four times we've played them. It's 33 rushes a game. He's going to pound the ball, they're going to take their shots, they're going to throw two, three shots down the field. Get the ball out of that kid's hand quick, get it to their playmakers.
"They've got a tight end that can stretch the field. He's a big target in the red zone. Simpson's playing really good, Caldwell's playing really good. Whether he plays or not, we've got our hands full across the board."
Tight end Donald Lee (foot) is doubtful.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) is questionable.
The following starters are probable: defensive end Frostee Rucker (knee), cornerback Nate Clements (knee), strong safety Chris Crocker (knee) and center Kyle Cook (foot).
Also listed as probable: cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones (groin), free safety Gibril Wilson (ankle), running back Brian Leonard (knee), outside linebacker Dontay Moch (illness), wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (hamstring) and defensive end Jonathan Fanene (illness).
FINAL WORD: Retired kicker Matt Stover is being inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday.
"Matt's one of the special guys and really good for the community," Harbaugh said. "Going forward, this is the beginning for Matt in a lot of ways. The things that he's going to do in business and the things that he's going to do for this community, for Baltimore, for all of us, is just going to be neat to watch.
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