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Ravens' Lewis dominating as retirement looms

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Ravens' Lewis dominating as retirement looms

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Ray Lewis sure doesn't look like an aging linebacker on the brink of retirement.

With 30 tackles in his last two games, the Baltimore Ravens defensive leader appears as if he could play at a high level for several more years.

That's not going to happen. In spite of his standout performance this month and the pleasure he's derived from Baltimore's run to the AFC championship game, Lewis remains adamant that he will retire after the Ravens complete their postseason journey.

``No, I can't come back,'' Lewis said Wednesday. ``My kids are calling for Daddy. It's a great reward to see the sacrifice my babies have made for me, and it's time that I sacrificed for them.''

The 37-year-old Lewis announced on Jan. 2 that he would retire after Baltimore's playoff run is completed. Since that time, he's provided his teammates with inspiration in the locker room and magnificent play on the field.

After being sidelined for 12 weeks with a torn right triceps, Lewis reclaimed his customary position in the middle of the Baltimore defense two weeks ago. Wearing a cumbersome brace on his right arm, Lewis led the Ravens with 13 tackles in a 24-9 playoff win over Indianapolis.

As an encore, Lewis had a team-high 17 tackles last week in a 38-35 double-overtime victory over Denver.

``He's a guy that still plays the game at a high level,'' Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones said. ``You would think he was 21, 22, watching him out there, flying around, making plays. Why not play hard for a guy like that? It makes you so (confident) on defense that you have a guy behind you that's a stud, that's going to make such a huge play and can make so many plays.''

With Lewis leading the way, Baltimore (12-6) will head to New England (13-4) this Sunday night for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.

``He definitely can play multiple more years, but I think he understands that it's time to move on,'' defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. ``It's just great to see him play at a level that I don't think a lot of linebackers can be doing now. I'm just humbled and definitely lucky, I guess, to play with someone like that.''

Lewis can't cover a fleet running back or tight end in the same fashion as years ago, but he compensates for that shortcoming with extensive film study and by taking the most advantageous pursuit route. And if there's a tackle to be made, more often than not Lewis is going to be the one to put that player on the ground.

That, more than his motivational speeches, are what makes him so valuable to the Ravens.

``Ray's played well. That's the most important thing. He still can play,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``He's been playing his heart out for 17 years. He's a top linebacker in the game right now. He's made a difference for us.''

Lewis has no desire to hang around the NFL until some coach has no choice but to cut him, and he isn't going to pull a Brett Favre, who followed a magnificent career in Green Bay with forgettable stints with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.

In the future, when someone thinks of Ray Lewis' career in the NFL, they'll recall a 13-time Pro Bowl star who played only for the Ravens and with unyielding energy and resolve.

``He's changed the game,'' Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater said. ``I think he's been kind of a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation type player. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he's accomplished in his career. As a fan of the game, and I fancy myself a historian of the game also, so (I have) all the respect in the world for him.''

New England safety Steve Gregory added, ``He's one of the greats. He's probably one of the best linebackers ever to play this game. So we have a lot of respect for that guy. He's an amazing football player.''

This game will mark the final showdown between Lewis and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In nine games against New England, Lewis has 84 tackles - including 12 in last year's AFC title game.

``He's really been so consistent over the years and durable and tough,'' Brady said of Lewis. ``He's so instinctive. He doesn't give up hardly any plays, makes a ton of tackles. ... You always have to know where No. 52 is.''

Soon, you won't be able to find Lewis on the football field. His teammates haven't abandoned hope of trying to convince him otherwise.

``I told him to stay a few more years,'' Jones said. ``I think he could.''

But Ngata conceded, ``I think he has bigger plans and bigger things that he has to do.''

Walking off the field in Denver with running back Ray Rice last Saturday, Lewis was delighted to still be playing football and apparently not the least bit saddened about knowing he had one or two games left.

``I'm proud that the ride is still going,'' Lewis said Wednesday. ``I looked at my teammates after the Denver game, and me and Ray just sat there. We hugged on the field, and he grabbed me kind of hard. It's just special. To end it, whenever it ends, then so be it.''

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AP Sports Writers Howard Ullman and Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

Coach John Harbaugh, just six days after his team’s disappointing 28-12 loss to the Titans in the AFC playoffs, has already had to defend his quarterback.

Faced with some criticism after Jackson finished 31-of-59 passing, and three total turnovers, Harbaugh mentioned how far Jackson has come in the last year — which also ended in an early playoff loss at home.

“It’s really interesting to look at Lamar Jackson, because look at the progress he made in the last year,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Because the same question, I think you might have asked it last year, how is he going to get better going forward? And he did a good job, right? He’s 23 years old. He’s younger than Joe Burrow. So, he has a pretty good head start right now.”

Jackson is now 0-2 in the playoffs with a 19-3 regular season record. 



He’s likely the MVP this season after he passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards, setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback along the way. He led the NFL in passing touchdowns and carried the most prolific offense in the league to a league-best 14-2. 

Harbaugh isn’t worried that his quarterback, who is just 23-years-old, hasn’t found his playoff success yet.

“The Manning brothers combined to, they had five losses in their first five playoff games before they won one,” Harbaugh explained. (Joe) Montana, (Steve) Young and (Brett) Favre didn’t start a playoff game until their third season, (Drew) Brees and (Troy) Aikman, until their fourth season, and (Aaron) Rodgers until his fifth season.”

After the season ended, Harbaugh added that Jackson went to his office to discuss the offseason and what he needed to do to improve. 

While Harbaugh and the offensive coaching staff had a plan for Jackson to improve, Jackson “nailed” each and every single critique that the coaches had laid out for him.

“I’m really confident in Lamar and his understanding the things he needs to do to get better, and that he’s going to work really hard to keep building himself up as a player,” Harbaugh said.

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Harbaugh reflects on resting starters: 'I might go the other way' next year

Harbaugh reflects on resting starters: 'I might go the other way' next year

If the Ravens can pull off winning the AFC North division title three years in a row, their starters might be on the hook for Week 17 next time around.

In head coach John Harbaugh's season-review press conference on Friday, the Ravens leader of 12 years was asked if resting his starters in Week 17 vs Pittsburgh contributed to their AFC Divisional Round loss to the Tennesse Titans. 

"I mean, we didn't play well," he said.

Harbaugh went on to explain how he dove into the numbers of football's past in order to make decisions ahead of hosting the Steelers in their regular-season finale. The Ravens ultimately won 28-10 before two weeks off and then losing to Tennessee, 28-12.

"You look at the history, and I did that, went back and looked at the history," Coach Harbaugh said. "And the history is about 50/50. You know, teams have held their guys out and won and then won the Super Bowl. Teams have held their guys out and lost. It's gone both ways. We held our guys out and won and we won the Super Bowl [in 2012]. I was probably leaning on that in all honesty."

"Going forward after this, I might go the other way, you know?" Harbaugh offered. "Right now, if I had to do it today, and it's next year and we're in this situation, God willing we're in the same situation, we'll probably go the other way in all honesty."

Analytics can only tell you what has happened in the past, not what will happen next. A predictive guide at best, resting starters is likely best exercised as a case-by-case, team-by-team situation.

Since coming to Baltimore in 2008, Harbaugh has only been faced with this specific decision twice, establishing a 50/50 track record himself. It worked for the Ravens in 2012 as they went on to beat the 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII.

It did not work in 2019. 

"The disappointment ... is that we didn't play our best football," Harbaugh continued. "That's the thing that really sticks to us. We're way better than what we played in both those games, and we're gonna have to grow from that." 

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