CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Winning ugly? Ravens, Lewis OK with that if it means a pretty ring

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BALTIMORE -- The ring, a big gaudy thing you would expect a champion to wear, came out of the jewelry box Sunday for Ray Lewis, not for style reasons but instead to send a message to his young teammates.

It's time to go get another one.

Lewis, the heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens, his maniacal, emotional ways leading them for 16 years as he played the best middle linebacker the NFL has ever seen, wore it on his left hand. As he met the media after the Ravens' 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Lewis explained why he added the ring to his game-day apparel.

"It's bigger than just reminding them," Lewis said. "Sometimes I have to remind myself to what's it's really about. Sometimes you go into games and say, 'It's just another playoff game.' Actually, it's not. I know what that moment feels like. To feel that moment again with this team can be a special thing."

After the way they played in beating the Texans, who were starting a rookie fifth-round pick in T.J. Yates at quarterback, it would be hard to imagine the Ravens beating the New England Patriots next week in the AFC Championship Game at Foxborough, Mass.

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The Ravens got two turnovers in the first quarter to jump to a 17-3 first-quarter lead, but did little the rest of the day on offense and held on with three picks of Yates, the last one by safety Ed Reed in the final minutes.

The Ravens had eight first downs with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The finished with 11 and just 227 yards of total offense.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who has taken his share of blame over the past couple of years, was 14 for 27 for 176 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked five times and never really looked to get it going.

"There's a right way to do things, there's a wrong way to do things and then there's the Ravens way to do things," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "It wasn't really pretty, but we're not really a pretty team."

It's the type of performance that will open the Ravens up to the type of criticism they have faced in most of the 16 years Lewis has been in the league.

Are they good enough on offense to win another ring?

The Ravens have been to the playoffs four straight years, reaching the AFC title game in 2008, but the lack of offensive production has kept them from breaking through. In his three playoff losses, Flacco was a combined 49 of 95 for 455 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions.

Maybe that's why Lewis, ever the team leader, took to taking up for his quarterback already. Mind games?

"I briefly spoke to my team [Saturday night] and I told Joe, you're not winning or losing games by yourself," Lewis said. "We're in this as a family. We're in this as a team. If he can ever take that approach, then he'll understand that.

"Everything on the outside doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what's inside our building and the way we feel about him and the confidence we have in him. With everything else, throw it out the window. Just keep playing football."

Somebody asked Lewis if that's what he told Trent Dilfer when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000.

CBSSports.com Grades
Houston Texans
Houston Texans
B
Houston's defense sacked QB Joe Flacco five times. It's offense outgained the Ravens in total yards (315-228). Yet, thanks to four turnovers (three offensive, one on special teams) it lost. In crunch time, QB T.J. Yates threw two picks, showing that he's still a rookie.
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
B+
In vintage Ravens fashion, the offense couldn't sustain any drives but the defense was dominant. Baltimore turned four Houston turnovers into 17 of its 20 points. CB Lardarius Webb picked off two passes, his second a key interception that stalled a Houston attempt in the fourth quarter.
By Jason Butt
RapidReports Correspondent

"Absolutely," Lewis said. "The exact same thing. At the end of the day, it's still football. For Joe to come in and lead this team to the playoffs the last four years -- anybody else we'd be praising them. "

Just listening to Lewis is like hearing a pregame speech. He was wired for sound Sunday. He almost makes you want to suit up and hit somebody in the mouth, even if you are 51-year-old short sportswriter.

It's almost as if you pointed Lewis to the wall, he would run through it. That's how juiced he was after this one. It was either that or he's auditioning to become a well-paid evangelical preacher when his career is done.

That's Lewis, ever the motivator, seemingly already lighting the fire for next week. In Lewis and Reed, two players bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Ravens have two veterans to pull the team through the tough times. That's why even when the offense is sputtering, like it did against the Texans, the Ravens seem to find a way. It took four turnovers, but isn't that just doing enough?

Reed joked after the game about getting older, and talked as if the end is near.

"At one point, I won't be up here," he said. "You'll be interviewing another safety here in Baltimore."

Lewis laughed when asked if he had those moments.

"I never have those moments," Lewis said. "I have kids. My kids challenge me in the weight room. They challenge me in sprints. So it's kind of hard to think about Father Time. When it's over, it's over. The thing everyone out here has to appreciate is when great warriors fight to the end. Those are the ones you remember. You never, ever remember the stories of people who played two or three years. You remember the stories of the people that carried their legacy and carried and carried it."

At the age of 36, Lewis isn't what he used to be. He's still damn good, but he was special in the early years. This season, he battled through a foot injury that limited him to 12 games.

Lewis did have eight tackles, one for loss, and a pass defense against the Texans. But Houston's Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, the most against a Ravens defense in a playoff game.

That, plus the lack of offense, made for a tight game. But it also allowed Lewis and Reed a special moment late. Before Reed's last interception, Lewis gave him a message if he got another.

"Don't lateral," he told him.

It was a classic warrior-to-warrior moment. Now they get to go for another ring, only this time it won't be a rookie fifth-round pick taking snaps for the other team, but Tom Brady, arguably one of the best ever.

"Bill [Belichick] and Brady and them know they're going to see a totally different team," Lewis said. "We're not the Denver Broncos. We're the Baltimore Ravens."

Ray Lewis' team.

That's why the ring came out of the box -- a reminder of what he helped accomplish 11 years ago and something he hopes to do again.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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