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On the field, Ray Lewis’s return may not mean much for Ravens

New England Patriots v Baltimore Ravens

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Linebacker Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens argues a call with a replacement referee in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 31-30. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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It may seem like sheer sacrilege to criticize Ray Lewis as he heads into what will likely be his final game in Baltimore on Sunday. But amid all the talk of Lewis announcing his retirement this week, few have asked this question: At age 37 and coming off an injury that had him sitting out the last 10 games, is Lewis any good anymore?

Before Lewis suffered the triceps injury that cut short his regular season in Week Six, there was plenty of talk around the NFL that Lewis had declined significantly. Lewis had talked in the offseason about losing weight and said it was going to make him better able to compete against faster, wider-open offenses. But when the season started, he didn’t look lighter and faster. He looked lighter and weaker.

So it’s not surprising that Ron Jaworski, the former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst who’s known for spending long hours watching game film, said on Pardon the Interruption today that Lewis hasn’t looked this season like the all-time great linebacker he once was.

“I’ve got to be honest: When I looked at the tape of Ray Lewis when he was playing, it wasn’t the Ray Lewis I had become accustomed to watching,” Jaworski said. “He wasn’t getting to the plays that he had gotten to. He wasn’t covering receivers and backs and tight ends like I had seen in the past. There’s no question he’s going to bring those Baltimore Ravens an emotional lift, and they’ll be fired up to have Ray back -- and everyone will be. But I think from the physical play on the field, he’s not what he was.”

Lewis is the undisputed leader in the Ravens’ locker room, and having their leader back -- and knowing if they lose it will be their leader’s last game -- may serve as motivation for some Baltimore players. But when the pre-game motivational tactics are over and it’s time to start playing, don’t be surprised if the Colts decide that the best way to attack the Ravens’ defense is to go right at Ray Lewis.