For the Baltimore Ravens' seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker, it's the
second time in four years than an injury has ended his season as he will likely
be placed on injured reserve this week.
Lewis, 30, has been sidelined since Oct. 23 when he aggravated a preexisting hamstring problem against the Chicago Bears. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year sought several second opinions with his X-rays overnighted to several cities before ultimately undergoing surgery in South Florida after consulting a Miami specialist.
"It was the right thing to do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It gives him the maximum rehab time, multiple opinions. He sought them all, we sought them all.
"It was great that we were able to come to a resolution. I'm sure he's comfortable with it."
Lewis was limited to only six games as he averaged a career-low 7.6 tackles while the Ravens (4-8) underachieved and have been eliminated from playoff contention with four games remaining on the schedule. Lewis will join linebacker Dan Cody, fullback Alan Ricard, running back Musa Smith and safety Will Demps on injured reserve.
Teammates were hardly surprised to learn of Lewis' decision to shut it down for the remainder of the season.
"Ray hasn't been here for I don't know how long, so we knew that was a chance," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It's sad. It seems like that he would have known that sooner, but that's a whole different thing. Our prayers go out to him and we hope that he keeps his spirits up."
Lewis ranks second on the team with 77 tackles, and converted outside linebacker Tommy Polley, his replacement, leads the team with 93 stops. However, Polley, who's 15 pounds lighter than Lewis at 230 pounds, hasn't had nearly the same impact as far as hitting or taking on blocks.
"It was an adjustment early on, but now I'm settling in a little bit," Polley said. "Still, we're going to miss Ray and all the intangibles he brings. He's a Hall of Fame player and a leader on this team."
Lewis was limited to five games in 2002 before being placed on injured reserve with a separated shoulder.
He was downgraded to doubtful last Friday after not practicing the entire week while seeking second opinions. He didn't attend the Ravens' 16-15 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday, and Billick declared the following day that surgery was a strong possibility.
The fact that the Ravens are struggling and in last place in the AFC North were major factors in Lewis' decision.
"Do you have surgery or not? Billick said. "There was great strength to the point where he could probably play, but on re-examining it, from the long-term perspective, it was probably better to go with the surgery, because it was the best long-term solution.
"When the player says he's ready, I have to decide if he's putting himself or his team at risk. Ray and I never had those discussions and we never got to the point where he said, 'I can go this week.' Usually, when that happens, he'll start inching towards it. We never got to that point."
The injury offers a glimpse of an eventual future without the cornerstone defensive player. Lewis is under contract for 2006 with a $5.5 million salary, and is slated to earn $6.5 million in 2007 and 2008. With a $5.5 million salary this season and six games played, the Ravens essentially paid Lewis the equivalent of just over $916,000 per game.
The run defense ranked ninth with Lewis, but has dipped to 13th overall.
"It's huge, but you gain some things when you lose a player of that caliber," Billick said. "We'd prefer not to go through it, but we'll focus on the things we've been able to do with Ray Lewis and the people we have out there and we'll get a much better idea of what their abilities are."
With Lewis out of the lineup, the Ravens have allowed 100-yard games to Jacksonville's Greg Jones (106 yards, Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson (114 yards) and Houston's Domanick Davis (155 yards) in the past four weeks.
The Ravens are 22-20 with Lewis in the lineup over the last four years, and 8-10 without him.
With Lewis out of the equation, it has created opportunities for younger players like Bart Scott. In six starts, Scott ranks third on the team with 75 tackles and second with 4 ½ sacks.
"You can do a lot in practice, but you can't really measure yourself until you get into game situations," Scott said. "It's been a learning experience and an opportunity to show people some of the talents I have."
In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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