Age must really be only a number for Ray Lewis!(/team/roster/ray-lewis/1c6d5ed3-fe49-4a89-a6b5-9e358e906ae7/ "Ray Lewis"), as the 33-year-old linebacker is still racking up the awards in his 13th NFL campaign.
Following a vintage performance last Sunday against the Houston Texans, where he returned two interceptions 43 yards and led the team with nine tackles, Lewis was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Lewis was a terror at Reliant Stadium, further evidence that he's turning in another Pro Bowl-caliber year.
According to coaching statistics, Lewis already has 92 stops this season, an eye-opening 33 ahead of second-place Terrell Suggs' 59, adding seven passes defensed and one sack.
While it may be surprising to outsiders that Lewis has maintained such production, it's no shock in the Ravens' locker room.
"He's flying around like he did 10 years ago, when I first got here," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "He enjoys playing with the guys, leading the guys. Heck, leading me and everyone else. He's a special guy."
Ever since Lewis entered the league as a 21-year-old rookie out of Miami in 1996, the accolades have piled up. Nine Pro Bowls, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and Super Bowl MVP honors after the Ravens made him the 26th-overall selection, Lewis continues to support his draft status.
He is currently one of only three players in NFL history with over 30 sacks (30.5) and 25 interceptions (27). His 2,114 career stops are by far a franchise record.
And this year, Lewis has paced the team in tackles in eight of nine games.
Early in Lewis' career, he was able to make plays based on his instincts and athletic ability. As he matured, Lewis realized that is only half of it.
He grew into a student of the game, known for marathon film sessions that are routinely attended by the younger linebackers on Baltimore's defense.
"That's kind of what makes my game simple," Lewis explained. "I like to study people more than they probably even study themselves, so when I do step on the field the game is easy. You just react to the football.
"It's just taking a test. I tell the young guys this all the time. You take a test every week, [and the more] you prepare for it, the easier the test is going to be."
The knowledge he's gained throughout his career offsets any deterioration brought on by 13 years of brutal hits. Lewis is still delivering them, too – just ask Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, whom Lewis knocked out for the season by breaking his shoulder with one of those vicious blows.
In addition, Lewis' chiseled 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame is a testament to his year-round training regimen that keeps him in peak physical condition.
At this point in the season, he doesn't see retirement anywhere in the near future.
"Life is freaking incredible, and loving football is just what I do," he said. "One thing about me, when it's done, it's done. There's no hesitating [about] if I'm done or if I'm not done. You know me, [I could] easily [play] three or four more years, but that's going to take care of itself however it comes out."
Lewis credits stalwart veterans like Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe for showing him the ropes when he was getting started. Now, he is enjoying the chance to be that bellwether for many of his fledgling teammates.
"I just think that every year you gain different levels of wisdom in just the game of football," Lewis noted. "You won't understand it until you start getting up to that point when you've played with the good ones, and you see the things that they started seeing when they [were] older.
"Now with me being in that position, I'm like the tutor to a lot of these young guys trying to teach them the game and trying to get them to understand it."
Lewis has even taught his new head coach a thing or two. While **John Harbaugh** was always impressed with No. 52 from afar during his 10-year tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, the coach was wowed after working with Lewis up close.
"Here's a world-class athlete, a Hall of Fame type of athlete, and you kind of wonder what makes a guy like that tick," Harbaugh admitted. "The thing I've been so impressed with is his work ethic. I mean, this guy does it all. He does it in the physical side in the offseason, he practices hard and he studies tape.
"Everything you ever heard about Ray Lewis is true."
Note:Lewis' AFC Defensive Player of the Week award is different than the *GMC Sierra Defensive Player of the Week *honor for which he is currently in the running. Voting for that award is open through Thursday. Vote for Lewis here.