John Smallwood: Reed, Lewis old reliables for Ravens

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fumbles as he is sacked by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the second half of Baltimore's win.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fumbles as he is sacked by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the second half of Baltimore's win. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 12, 2012

BALTIMORE - Make no mistake, Father Time will eventually win these races.

He is the only unbeatable opponent in any sport and has no intention of ending his winning streak.

But Baltimore Ravens elder statesmen Ray Lewis and Ed Reed keep adding distance to what is normally a sprint for professional athletes.

If the average NFL career is a 100-meter dash, Reed, 33, is running a 1,600.

Lewis, 37, is halfway through a marathon.

Sooner or later, these stalwarts of defense will reach a point where they can't do it anymore, but nobody's willing to bet on when that day will come.

It certainly wasn't Monday night as Lewis began his 17th season and Reed his 11th by doing what they've always done - make big-time plays that contributed to a Ravens victory.

Reed, who was drafted 24th overall in 2002 out of the University of Miami, made NFL history when he picked off Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the third quarter and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.

Not only was it the 58th career interception for the eight-time Pro Bowl free safety, but the return yardage gave Reed 1,497 return yards on interceptions to move him past Hall of Fame selection Rod Woodson (1,483 yards) for the most ever.

"It felt good, but that's really hands down to the d-linemen, who got pressure on Dalton," Reed said of his interception. "When pressure is in [the quarterback's] face, and I kind of know the call, know how aggressive we are, it gives you a chance to make a play.

"I got my hands on one before that, actually two. You're talking to yourself, 'It's coming. It's coming. Just be patient.'

"Really, it's just about making those plays, and I've been pretty much doing that for all of my career."

Lewis, another Miami alum, was the Ravens' second first-round pick (26th overall) after they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.

A 13-time Pro Bowl selection, Lewis had heard the whispers that he had lost a couple of steps. The linebacker took it to heart by dropping 13 pounds in the offseason.

Against the Bengals, Lewis had a team-high 14 tackles. In the fourth quarter, he recorded his 41 1/2 career sack and 19th career forced fumble on a hit on Dalton.

"You just kind of feel better," Lewis said of his change in diet. "To be honest, I really did it as a lifestyle change because I am getting older.

"But the game is changing, so why not change with it? Teams are going to throw the ball more. I had to adapt to that."

I'm not exactly sure what Eagles coach Andy Reid has in mind to improve on his team's disjointed, season-opening victory over the woeful Cleveland Browns, but it better be good.

The Ravens, who come to Lincoln Financial Field for the Eagles home opener on Sunday, showed no jitters as they blasted the Bengals, 44-13, at M & T Bank Stadium.

While the Eagles struggled with the only team from the AFC North that did not make the playoffs last season, Baltimore took a talented Cincinnati team to the woodshed.

Unlike Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who threw four interceptions against Cleveland, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco showed no signs of "rust."

Flacco, out of Audubon High School and the University of Delaware, connected with receiver Torrey Smith for a 52-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and stayed in stride from there.

If the Ravens truly are committed to giving the fifth-year signal- caller more responsibility to become a playmaker instead of just a game manager, then Flacco appears like he's ready.

Spreading the ball around to his big-play receivers - Smith and Anquan Boldin, tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta and running back Ray Rice - Flacco completed 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns before being replaced by back up Tyrod Taylor.

The Ravens have always been known for their defense, but if Flacco has matured into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be, it adds another dynamic to a team that is looking to make that final step to the Super Bowl.

"I don't concern myself with that stuff," Flacco said. "I feel like I always go out there, and we go out on the field and we play pretty good every week.

"The stats might not always say 299 yards or 300 yards or 450 yards, whatever it is, but the bottom line is I go out there, and I play hard. I play tough and we win a lot of football games around here. All the other stuff will take care of itself."

The Ravens got 37 points from their offense against a Cincinnati defense that ranked ninth in points allowed (20.2) in 2011.

That is a clear indication that the Eagles' offense, which scored just 17 points despite rolling up 456 net yards, will have to find a way to put the ball in the end zone to win on Sunday.

Of course, that looks like it will be easier said than done against a Ravens' defense that appears to be as physical and dominant as ever.

The big problem for the Eagles' offense is that Ravens' defense against Cincinnati excelled in the areas that gave the Eagles so many problems against Cleveland.

In addition to his four picks, Vick got hit 19 times while attempting 56 passes.

We can safely say the Ravens will be pleading with Reid to have Vick drop back that many times.

Even without injured Pro Bowl defensive end Terrell Suggs, Baltimore sacked Dalton four times.

The Eagles' offensive line consistently struggled against Cleveland and Vick again displayed a propensity to hold the football too long.

"We have a short week, and we're going to play an explosive team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It's right around the corner, so that's what we'll turn our attention to."

And the Eagles had better have paid attention to the Ravens.


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Smallwood.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|