Ray Lewis was in a sharp gray suit on the sidelines. Ed Reed was in Texans red, white and blue.
The Ravens’ two defensive legends were back at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time Sunday afternoon since departing this offseason.
And what they saw was a defense proving that it’s just fine without them in the Ravens' 30-9 win over Houston.
“It wasn’t about them,” cornerback
“The Ring of Honor was about Ray. Ed coming back here, that was about him. For us, it was about what we could do for each other. We’re playing for the man beside us, and those guys are not beside us anymore. We love them and we respect them. But we’re trying to move on and let everybody know that we can still be a great defense without those two guys.”
The Ravens gave up a franchise-high 49 points and watched Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning drop seven touchdown passes on them in the nationally televised season opener.
At that point, the national media and fans all questioned whether Baltimore’s defense could indeed survive without Lewis and Reed.
Since then, the Ravens defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in two games. Eight quarters. Five field goals.
Last week it was against the offensively-challenged Cleveland Browns. This Sunday, it was against a very potent Houston Texans unit with weapons all over the field.
“We want to be a great defense,” Webb said. “We played a great Denver team the first game. Peyton Manning did a great job. We just wanted to show that wasn’t us. We wanted to keep getting better and better.”
It was almost fitting that on the day Lewis was inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor that the defensive play of the game came from the man who stepped into his shoes, inside linebacker
Signed after spending nine seasons as an unheralded tackling machine in Jacksonville, Smith has drawn rave reviews in Baltimore for his leadership and work ethic.
On Sunday, it was film study that led Smith to step in front of a Matt Schaub pass intended for tight end Owen Daniels for an interception. Smith outran the Texans’ offensive linemen on his way to a 37-yard pick-six that put the Ravens ahead, 7-6. Baltimore never trailed from that point on.
Head Coach John Harbaugh saw the symbolism of Smith’s touchdown return with Lewis on the sideline.
“I guess there is an article to be written here about Ray going into the Ring of Honor and Daryl playing the way he did – not only in this game, but the way he’s helped us all year,” Harbaugh said.
Smith has been an integral part of remaking the Ravens defense in the wake of Lewis and Reed’s departures. He’s the new captain in the middle, and his play is astounding his teammates.
Smith had 10 tackles and a quarterback hit on Sunday. He now has 25 stops, 1.5 sacks and five passes defensed, one interception and a touchdown on the season.
“If he keeps playing like he’s playing, we’re going back to the Super Bowl,” Webb said. “He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber guy. He’s making plays like no other. A lot of people didn’t see that when he first came. They didn’t know we had him.”
Collectively, the Ravens defense is largely getting the job done by stuffing the run and rushing the passer, the two areas primarily focused on this summer. Baltimore’s front seven may have even outplayed the Texans’ talented group featuring reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The Ravens held Texans Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster to just 54 yards on 12 carries. Backup Ben Tate had 36 yards on nine runs.
“We’re a defense where we know once we stop the run, we’ve got a bunch of guys that can hunt,” Jones said.
The Ravens had seven different defensive starters Sunday from the team that played in Super Bowl XLVII. With so many new faces, the players said they’re now starting to gel.
“Just time and growing together, watching film together, talking about it on the screen as we see it and trusting each other,” Smith said, adding that the communication is much improved. “The more time we spend together, I think that will continue to grow.”
Even Reed, who started for the Texans at free safety, couldn’t help but be impressed by his former unit. Reed had a quiet day with just three tackles. Meanwhile, he saw his former teammates (and new faces) flying around the field.
“Baltimore has a great defense,” Reed said. “The defense has always been great around here for a long time.”