In Ray Lewis' illustrious career, there have been some plays that best exemplify his greatness. His interception return for a touchdown against Tennessee in the 2000 divisional round of the playoffs immediately comes to mind. There are so many other big hits and plays that it's almost too hard to think of them all. However, Lewis' stop on the Chargers' Darren Sproles on fourth down with 30 seconds left in 2009 ranks near the top of the list.
Winning on the road isn't easy in the NFL, and neither is making a cross-country trip to take on the high-powered Chargers' offense. But that's exactly what Week 2 of the 2009 campaign brought for the Ravens. Baltimore was coming off a season that saw rookie head coach John Harbaugh take his team to the AFC championship game before being knocked out. The 2009 Ravens had a taste of a deep playoff run the year before, and were poised for more, but the road would not be easy. The Ravens would travel to San Diego, New England and Minnesota – all 2009 division winners – in the season's first six weeks.
San Diego's story was a similar one: They boasted a high-octane offense and a defense that had a nose for making big plays. The Chargers had won the AFC West in four of five seasons heading into 2009, but had not enjoyed much playoff success. LaDainian Tomlinson – who would not play in the game – was in his final season with Chargers after a spectacular first nine years in San Diego. Philip Rivers was back at quarterback, and would go on to be selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009.
The perfect weather in San Diego made for an offensive battle between the squads. Rivers threw touchdowns of 81 and 35 yards to lead the aerial assault for the Chargers, and Joe Flacco threw two of his own. After pushing their lead to 31-26 late in the fourth, it was the Ravens defense that needed to step up and make a stand. Even with all the offense the game saw, it was Ray Lewis who would make the lasting memory in this victory, helping the Ravens hold on for the win.
Stat of the game
Rivers' 436 passing yards. His output is the second-most passing yards a quarterback had ever amassed against Baltimore's defense.
Player of the game
As has been the case so many times before, Lewis was the player of this game. He had 12 tackles, three for a loss and a forced fumble, but his numbers aren't what set him apart in this contest. His fourth-down tackle of Darren Sproles during the game's most-tense moment earns him the accolade.
Play of the game
What else could it be? The Chargers were down 31-26 and driving with 37 seconds left. Rivers had led San Diego down to Baltimore's 15-yard line where they faced a fourth-and-2. Timing the snap perfectly, Lewis shot through the middle of the line and hit Darren Sproles almost simultaneously as he received the handoff from Rivers, dropping him for a 5-yard loss, ending the game and stunning the Chargers and their fans in the process. During the game cast, CBS analyst Dan Fouts had this to say regarding the play: "That's a Hall of Fame play. That's where he'll be whenever he decides to retire."
Quote of the week
Ravens tight end Todd Heap on Ray Lewis' fourth-down play to end the game: "Ray does some special things out there. That last play of the game was spectacular. I don't even know what the defensive call was. I was asking a couple guys and some said he did it on his own. He read it, made the play and that's what you get when you have the best middle linebacker in the game."
What it meant
The win helped Baltimore head back home with a 2-0 start. The 2009 season would be an up-and-down one for John Harbaugh's team. Finishing second in the AFC North with a 9-7 record, the Ravens would end up winning their AFC wild-card game at New England in blowout fashion, 33-14. However, the playoff run would not be as deep this time around, falling in the divisional matchup to Indianapolis, 20-3.