Rob Woodfork, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens did the Redskins a solid by eeking out a win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Monday, we learned that win would come at an incredibly high price.
Those who watched Baltimore's 31-29 victory surely noticed when Dallas went on their final drive without Ravens defensive star Ray Lewis on the field to stop them. We'd later learn that absence was due to a to a to a triceps injury that will end his year.
I know Ravens fans won't like me eulogizing their favorite player's career before it's officially over, but this injury could also mean the end of Lewis' time in the NFL. Some suggest the 37-year-old linebacker has lost a step (or two), and even if he was healthy for all 16 games, it's fair to start wondering when he'll finally shut it down. Given his son could be close to starting an NFL career of his own, few think Lewis will hang around long enough to show his son the ropes from an NFL sideline.
Some would say there's no way he's done - no way he'd go out on anything other than his own terms. But the same was said about Brett Favre, and he left after his worst season (hope I didn't just coax him out of retirement with that last remark). Dick Butkus let injuries end his career after nine seasons, close to half of Lewis' career.
If Lewis does hang up the cleats after 17 NFL seasons, that's OK. He's got nothing left to prove. He's been to 12 Pro Bowls. He's not only won a Super Bowl, but was Super Bowl MVP. He's a cinch Hall of Famer. Some would even make the case he's the greatest middle linebacker of all time. I know he wants to win one more championship and go out on top, but I doubt that was going to happen anyway.
Why? Because even with Lewis in the fold, the once-vaunted Ravens defense has surrendered over 200 rushing yards in the last two games, and now ranks a pedestrian 26th in the league. Their best corner (Ladarius Webb) also was lost for the season in the Dallas game. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs likely will miss at least half (if not all) of the season with an Achilles injury. That's not to mention Ed Reed, who may not have much left in the tank after flirting with retirement the last two offseasons.
Couple the worries on defense with the seemingly annual question of whether Joe Flacco is capable of leading the offense to heights worthy of a Super Bowl champion, and it's hard to put Baltimore ahead of teams like Houston and New England in the AFC pecking order - even if the Ravens are currently tied for the best record in the conference at 5-1.
Regardless, this season appeared to be the last best chance for Lewis to add one more ring to his collection. Even if he's lost a step, he's still a coach on the field and the most important player in the Ravens locker room. Losing him isn't just a bummer - it's a deathblow to their title hopes.
Of course, Flacco might prove me wrong by taking this unfortunate situation and turning it into an opportunity to make this team his. The defense could find some unsung heroes to keep that unit stout. Perhaps special teams could get more big returns from Jacoby Jones, who ran back a kickoff 108 yards for a score against Dallas.
I don't buy that scenario, but that hope is why we play the games.
And why I do this recap:
Steelers 23 Titans 26
I thought Pittsburgh would come back to the pack this year, but I didn't think they'd have their first losing record in the Mike Tomlin era. Couple that with all the injuries, and Steeler Nation should be very worried.
Raiders 20 Falcons 23
The Falcons' high-powered offense has stalled against two of the league's statistically worst defenses (the Redskins and Raiders) in consecutive weeks, and yet somehow the team remains undefeated. It's starting to look like the road to New Orleans will go through Atlanta.
Bengals 24 Browns 34
Sunday was a good day for Brandon Weeden: Dude gets his first NFL victory on his 29th birthday, ending the Browns' 11-game losing streak. Savor this, Cleveland. It might be a while before it feels this good again.