Observers around the NFL are talking more and more about the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis being “over the hill.” In fact, one national sports website recently ranked him fourth in the league in that very category.
“He's still viable, but you can see the old age beginning to show,” CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz wrote.
But at age 37, the 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker is still in his prime when it comes to breathing fire and brimstone.
Take, for instance, his performance during a conference call with the Dallas media Wednesday to promote Sunday's game between the Dallas Cowboys (2-2) and the AFC North-leading Ravens (4-1).
When it was suggested the Cowboys' moribund running game (31st in the NFL, 67.8 yards per game) could return to health in Baltimore against a Ravens defense ranked 22nd against the run (118.4 yards) and coming off a game against Kansas City where it yielded 214 yards on the ground, Lewis' determination surged through the long-distance line.
“I tell you what,” he said. “They can look to do whatever they want to do, but it ain't going to be what they think it's going to be.”
That's the kind of leadership that has made Lewis an NFL legend.
“Ray is a one of a kind, historic type of leader,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said in another conference call.
In February, Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher made headlines by saying he couldn't identify the leaders inside the team's locker room and suggested the club could use a Ray Lewis type.
“I don't even want to talk about that,” the Dallas Morning News quoted Hatcher as saying Wednesday. “That is so over.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also tried to do his best to squelch comparisons between the leadership-heavy Ravens and the Cowboys, who have plenty of players who lead by example but lack emotional ones such as Lewis.
“I think it's unfair to compare anybody to Ray Lewis,” Garrett said. “This is a great player, first ballot Hall of Famer, as good as it gets. We feel good about the leadership we have from our best players.”
One of those is third-year linebacker Sean Lee, who Lewis went out of his way to praise.
“You see (on tape) this one Energizer bunny that's on that defense,” Lewis said, referring to Lee. “... He's definitely one of those high-motor guys, always around the football. ... I really, really appreciate the way he plays the game.”
In his 17th season, Lewis leads all active players in tackles with 2,629, including a team-high 43 (36 solo) this season. He's a big reason the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in the league in yards allowed for nine straight seasons, a streak they're determined to continue even though they entered Week 5 ranked 24th with an average of 379.8 yards per game.
“We need to do a better job of controlling the big plays, and I think we'll be in good shape,” said Harbaugh, who pointed out the Ravens are seventh in scoring defense, allowing just 17.8 points per game. “We take a lot of pride in defense around here, so we'll keep chasing that.”
With Lewis leading the way, their pursuit will no doubt be furious.