BALTIMORE -- For almost the entire game Ray Lewis talked. And talked. And talked some more.
Newsflash, I know. That's what Lewis does. Lewis' body converts smack talk into riboflavin. But this time he seemed to be especially chatty with Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. After each hit, he stood over Jones-Drew, jawing. The more Jones-Drew talked back, the more Lewis ran his yap.
Once, he pointed at Jones-Drew as the runner left the field after Baltimore forced Jacksonville to punt. The message: I'll be here all day.
Lewis is playing at a heavier weight than in previous seasons. There's a little more pudge in the middle and junk in the trunk. He's no longer spectacular but he's still formidable. Most of all, Lewis resembles the rest of this Baltimore team: in your face every second, of every play, of every game.
There isn't a tougher team in football than this bunch.
They utterly embarrassed the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-7 at M&T Bank Stadium to clinch a playoff spot and a game next week against the Miami Dolphins. And if the Dolphins aren't careful, the Ravens well embarrass them, too.
After all, they beat Miami in October, 27-13.
They're not gorgeous, these Ravens. When one of the biggest weapons on your team is a bunch of fat bodies on the offensive line, you're not winning any beauty contests. When the fullback is the offensive star, Hollywood agents aren't circulating scripts.
But boy will they be brutal to play in the postseason. If I was facing them, I'd be frightened. I'd buy extra padding for my helmet and a few extra chinstraps. I'd also stock up on pain reliever and hire extra medical personnel. It's a Def Concussion Jam when playing Baltimore.
|Ray Lewis and the Ravens seem ready to face anybody, anywhere, anytime. (Getty Images)|
It was eight years ago when the Ravens made an unlikely Super Bowl run and this team is starting to remind me of that group.
It's damn eerie.
They're the opposite of the Dallas Cowboys. Baltimore's a team with a sizeable cardiac muscle and tons of guts.
"We don't care where we play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Road, wherever. We're looking forward to it. We're going to line up and we're going to play a football game for 60 minutes."
While Baltimore's defense isn't as talented as that 2000 group -- that defense was the best of all time -- it's not too far off. They gave up an average of 13 points or less at home in the regular season and Ed Reed is redefining the safety position the way some in football believe Lewis redefined the linebacker spot.
This Ravens edition does have a better offense and they do something that will help them greatly in the playoffs: they run the ball as well as any team in football. Last week against Dallas the Ravens had two spine-breaking runs for scores. Against the Jaguars, Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee had three touchdowns in the first half alone.
The play of quarterback Joe Flacco also continues to impress. For much of the first half the Jaguars blitzed Flacco mercilessly and he calmly dumped off the football or found the open man. He made only one bad play on a blitz.
Their special teams and kicking game are excellent, their wide receivers are underrated and they're built to play in any kind of weather.
This is not the team you want to play in the opening round.
The Jaguars game showed why. Late in the contest Lewis and Jones-Drew collided again meaning Lewis made good on his vow to be in Jones-Drew's face all game. Lewis completed a perfect tackle on Jones-Drew, wrapping him around the legs, and spinning the runner wildly. Just as he did, the ball squirted loose and Lewis recovered the fumble. A more perfect tackle couldn't be made.
We've gotten used to Lewis doing the spectacular.
And we'll be seeing him doing it again in the playoffs.
Just like 2000.