The Prophecy Fulfilled: Ray Lewis And The Baltimore Ravens Are Going To The Superbowl

 
on January 21 2013 12:31 PM
The Prophecy Fulfilled: Ray Lewis And The Baltimore Ravens Are Going To The Superbowl
As Ray Lewis stood in the very same Locker Room a year ago, he gave an inspirational speech to his Baltimore Ravens team-mates. They would be back here next year, and when that time came, the outcome would be different. A year on, the legendary Linebacker was right. The Ravens pulled off a monumental upset over the New England Patriots to ensure their undisputed leader gets the send off his career undoubtedly deserves. Lewis will get all the headlines, without question. However, he will be the first to admit that this was a collective effort. He has long been a believer in this team, convinced that this year they would reach the promised land. They didn't make it easy for themselves, their route through the playoffs made it difficult to believe they could achieve their goal. After all, 3 of the NFL's best Quarterback's would stand in their way. First up was Rookie Sensation Andrew Luck. Luck found the Playoff much harder than the Regular Season and the Colts were easily disposed of 24-9 in Lewis' last game in-front of the adoring home crowd. Next up was MVP candidate Peyton Manning at the daunting Mile-High in Denver. This will go down as one of the greatest games in Playoff history, a 38-35 double-overtime victory which sent shockwaves through the league. What next? Well only the small matter of Tom Brady and the Patriots. Take two. Not many thought the Ravens had much hope in overcoming the odds. 9 point under-dogs with the Vegas bookmakers, most felt after last weeks effort this would be one obstacle too much for this team. After all, the Patriots had never lost an AFC Championship game at home and they were at their ruthless best last week as the destroyed the Houston Texans 41-28. You could only imagine what was going through the minds of the Ravens players as they entered the visiting locker room once again. The pain of last years defeat took a long time to get over for most of them. One missed field-goal away from taking the game to over-time. A heart-breaking way to end a season without question. Now they had a chance to redeem themselves, to put to rest the ghosts of last season, just as Lewis had predicted one year ago. The similarities to last year were endless. Cold conditions, the wind swirling and the hostile crowd would ensure this would be the toughest of tests. As the National Anthem played, the emotion on Ray Lewis's face said it all. He was very tearful, as intense as he's been throughout his glittering 17 years as a Raven. It was almost as if he realised the magnitude of the situation and was letting all his emotions rise to the surface before it was time to get to the business in hand. The game itself started much as it did a year ago. Defenses were on top throughout much of the first quarter and the Punters were busy. Brady did lead the Patriots within field-goal range on one drive, which they converted. The first quarter ended with the Patriots winning 3-0, exactly the same as the previous year. This was not to last though. The Ravens started with poor field position most of the half, but this time they made something out of it. Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a 13-play drive which ended in Ray Rice going untouched into the end-zone to give the Ravens a 7-3 lead. The Patriots came right back at them with an impressive drive of their own, the dangerous Wes Welker prominent throughout and he finished the drive catching a pass from Brady to give the Patriots a 10-7 lead. Game on. The Patriots seemed to have the edge over the Ravens, Belichick conjuring up some trick plays that had the Ravens defense extremely confused. However, a costly error by Brady at the end of the half would prove telling. After connecting with Aaron Hernandez on a 17-yard play Brady did not call time out and instead tried to get a snap off quicky to make sure the Ravens weren't organised. In truth, it was the Patriots who couldn't get set and Brady had to call a time-out with 4 seconds left, costing them a shot at the end-zone. 13-7 at the Half, all to play for. The Ravens were still in with a chance of winning despite only totalling 130 yards of offense in the first half.. Whatever was said in the Locker Room during the break, worked wonders. The Ravens dominated the rest of the game. They battered the Patriots in every phase of the game, playing like this wasn't just Lewis' last game, it was everyone's. Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta, then with Anquan Boldin for two scores and they surgically demolished the Patriots, they showed the hunger and desire that Lewis demanded of them a year ago and this game was a foregone conclusion even before the Patriots threw in the towel just after the two-minute warning. A 28-13 victory, The Ravens had done it. Amazing scenes followed, Lewis on his hands and knees in prayer with what looked like the world's media surrounding him. This is what he returned for, redemption. Lewis recorded 14 tackles throughout the game, leading all players. Leading by example. He wasn't alone in making a difference. Joe Flacco, who is out of contract at the end of the season and had some even questioning whether he would be brought back, gave another assured and confident performance on the road. Flacco now has 6 victories on the road in the Playoffs, the most by any Quarterback in NFL history. There is no question that this Playoff run has earned Flacco a new deal, probably in the region of $50 million guaranteed. Most thought he would be brought back regardless, but the first round pick out of Delaware has emerged as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Flacco finished with 240 yards and 3 touchdowns, with no turnovers. An exceptional display. Anquan Boldin also came good in the second half. He was largely shut-down by Aqib Talib in the beginning of the game but Talib suffered a thigh injury in the second quarter and did not return. This gave Boldin a lot more room and made his presence felt in the second half, finishing with 60 yards and two stunning touchdown grabs that tipped the scales in the Ravens favour. This is the sort of performance that the Ravens envisaged Boldin giving in a game of this magnitude when they gave in a $28 million, 4 year extension in 2010. Whether this would have occurred had Talib remained healthy enough to continue is irrelevant now. The likelihood is it wouldn't, Talib was brilliant in stifling Boldin in the first quarter and this was just another star aligning for the Ravens in their quest for glory. Bernard Pollard also came up with an extremely important turnover with a vicious hit on Stevan Ridley that had the Patriots running back wondering where he was when he finally came to. Pollard has been a nightmare for the Patriots for years. He was the one who injured Brady's knee whilst playing for Kansas City in 2008. He then gave Wes Welker the same ACL injury he had given Brady, this time while playing for the Houston Texans in 2010. As if that wasn't bad enough, in this game last year he was the one who gave Tight-End Rob Gronkowski a high ankle sprain which left his severely limited in the Superbowl against the Giants. One thing is for sure, The Patriots will be glad to see the back of Pollard once he decides to call it a day that's for sure. The defense in general was relentless, as it has always been. This is the first year they have finished out of the top 10 in recent memory and people questioned whether they had enough in the tank to make another run. They have answered that and then some. Paul Kruger's pass rushing has been exceptional and while Terrell Suggs isn't the force he once was, he still commands attention which has aided Kruger's game enormously. Dannelle Ellerbe, the heir-apparent to Lewis at Linebacker, was everywhere. His energy was infectious and galvanised this defense, particularly in the second quarter when the Patriots looked to be gaining an advantage. Ultimately though, it will be Ray Lewis who the world will be talking about. Leading his team to another Superbowl 12 years since he last appeared in one. The mood in the locker room was a lot different this time around. Celebratory but also reflective. With former Ravens linebacker O.J Brigance, battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, there to present the team with the AFC Championship trophy, there was a sense that what they had achieved had barely sunk in. "Work to do" Lewis stated, knowing that failing now would deem this moment irrelevant. The prophecy was fulfilled, the Ray Lewis Story has one more chapter to be written, in 2 weeks. New Orleans, Superbowl 47, who would be against him now? Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_
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