Ray vs. Peyton: A Match for the Ages
In this Wednesday's Baltimore Sun, Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote an interesting piece about Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning being the best at their positions in this generation of players. You can argue that each is.
Frankly, I believe it's easy to call Ray the best. In fact, as I've written before, I think Ray is the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL. In recent time, Manning is challenged by Tom Brady, whose team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years during the 1st 10 years of this century.
When we boarded our charter flight after our victory at New England last Sunday, there were a lot of smiles, handshakes, fist bumps and some hugs. (Being on a charter after a road win in the playoffs is one of the special moments we have in this business.)
My seat-mate, Ozzie Newsome, was beaming. Across the aisle from Oz sat Ray Lewis, who was on the phone with one of his children. I said, nodding towards Ray: "Oz, he was everywhere today. It looked like he knew every play they ran on their 1st two series. He was spectacular." Newsome agreed and then offered: "Savor it, Kevin. We're the fortunate ones to have seen every play he's ever played. There has never been one like him. Just savor it."
And, here's something we can all savor Saturday night in Indianapolis: the matchup between Lewis and Manning. Sure, it's about the Ravens' defense against the Colts' offense. But, it's also about these two unique players. Certainly no two players work as hard in preparation for a game. They are masters at dissecting and then communicating to teammates what is about to happen on any given play. At the start of many plays, they will be just 2 to 3 yards apart.
So, enjoy this special matchup.
With the game at Indy, the crowd will be silent when Peyton makes his calls and goes through all of his gyrations. That actually helps our defense. Our Baltimore crowd is so loud and effective at disrupting visiting teams' offenses, our defense has more trouble communicating at M&T Bank Stadium. Defenses communicate with each other much better on the road. Plus, TV and radio listening devices are so good, you can actually hear some of the calls during the broadcasts.
No doubt, you will hear Peyton make some calls. And, you'll hear Ray countering on the other side. Each will give real calls and false instructions to throw the other off. You might even hear a little chuckle or laugh from one of the two when they catch each other's eyes and give a look that says: "I know what you're doing here." It's the game within the game. And, you have two of the best ever, not just this generation, going head-to-head. That's pretty cool.
Hall of Fame Quarterbacks
If we win tomorrow night in Indianapolis, we will have taken down 2 Hall of Fame quarterbacks within 7 days. What an accomplishment that will be. We'll be able to tell the story of how our Ravens beat Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the same week. Wouldn't that be something?
This has been an amazing season for facing elite quarterbacks. You know Manning and Brady are already locks for the Hall of Fame. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, who has played just 6 seasons, already owns 2 Super Bowl rings. Brett Favre, who we played at Minnesota on Oct. 18, is a for-sure Hall of Famer. The Chargers' Philip Rivers – we won at San Diego in game 2 this season – is showing signs that he will be special. He has already broken the Chargers' team record for touchdown passes in a season, breaking the one mark Hall of Famer Dan Fouts set that San Diego reporters said would never be broken.
Let's see, that's 2 games each against Brady and Manning, 2 versus Big Ben, plus Favre and Rivers – that's 8 games against the best. Throw in 2 more against the Bengals' Carson Palmer. We've certainly faced a set of elite QBs this season – 10 of our 18 games (including tomorrow against the Colts). We've earned our spot as the NFL's 3rd-ranked defense this season.
(Next season, we won't battle quite as many of the NFL's best quarterbacks. We'll have the 4 games against our division rivals, the Steelers and Bengals; Drew Brees and the Saints will come to Baltimore, and we go back to New England to see Brady again.)
Another fun thing I get to do for the Ravens is review the video/audio when a Raven is "mic'd" during a game. Before any of this material makes TV, teams review and can reject something they find objectionable or puts us at a competitive disadvantage. For the playoff game at New England last Sunday, NFL Films put the microphone on John Harbaugh. Here are some of the things John said:
- On the field during the pre-game, Harbs was talking with owner Steve Bisciotti and Steve's guest, Cal Ripken. John, chuckling, said to Cal: "Would you mind if I brought over some of the (game) officials? It might give us an edge." Cal, of course, said, "Sure," and John immediately called over some of the officials to meet the baseball legend.
- When Ray Rice broke the 83-yarder on the 1st play from scrimmage, NFL Films caught John sprinting up the sideline, yelling "Go Ray! Run Ray!" It reminded me of the line in Forrest Gump – "Run, Forrest, run!"
- On the muffed punt in the 2nd quarter that had a lot of reporters and fans questioning why Coach Harbaugh did not challenge the call, it's clear that our coaches did not get to see the same view many had seen. John is shown talking into his headset: "Guys, is this something we should challenge? We couldn't see it down here…It hit us? Was he blocked into it? I need some help here…Not showing anything?" (The coaches in the booth upstairs only see the replays the televising network airs, and CBS went to a commercial after showing the replay of the ball hitting Tom Zbikowski. When CBS came back from the break, the Patriots were already coming to the line of scrimmage to run their next play.)
- During our impressive 1st-quarter start, Harbs is shown a number of times exhorting the players: "Keep coming. It's wave after wave. Let them know it's not going to stop. Wave after wave."
- Early in the 3rd quarter, John addressed Mark Clayton: "You're going to make a big catch for us today." Sure enough, Mark did for a key 1st down.
- One of the best sequences was during the Ed Reed interception and lateral to Dawan Landry. Harbaugh: "Yeah, Ed, go, go…secure the ball. No…Go Dawan…That was one of those, 'No, Ed, no. Yes, good job, good job.'"
Let's hope Coach Harbaugh gets to react to as many good plays Saturday night against the Colts. Let's beat Indy.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis , Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.