Ray versus Tom.
Tom versus Ray.
Oh yeah, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, along for the ride. Ray Lewis’ last ride, one Tom Brady hopes to cut short today in the AFC Championship Game.
A year after a brutal last-minute loss in Foxborough, Baltimore is back, looking for a reversal of fortune and a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it in 2001. If the Ravens fall again, Lewis’ superb 17-year career as the NFL’s best linebacker of his era will end as he retires.
Brady, the most successful quarterback of his time, has no thoughts of retirement — or of failing to make his sixth Super Bowl in the last dozen seasons.
That Lewis and Brady will bring a mutual admiration society to Gillette Stadium adds some flattery to what has become an intense rivalry.
“Both sides understand the game of football,” Lewis said. “There have been some great, great rivalries and we have one of those going on with New England now.”
Adds Brady: “It’s really a pleasure to play against him. He’s really been so consistent over the years and durable and tough. He’s so instinctive.”
At the forefront in this rematch, naturally, is Brady, who, along with his coach Bill Belichick, has won three NFL titles and would be only the second player to reach six Super Bowls by leading New England (13-4) past Baltimore (12-6). And there’s Lewis, the most dominant inside linebacker the league has seen since the heyday of Mike Singletary.
Brady is all about composure, accuracy and even sophistication. Lewis brings aggression, ferocity and mayhem to the field.
An odd couple, indeed, but one that appreciates the attributes of the other.
“He doesn’t give up hardly any plays, makes a ton of tackles,” Brady said of the 37-year-old Lewis, who missed 10 games with a right triceps injury, but has been a tackling machine in the postseason.
No one can be more amped-up for this opportunity than Lewis. No one, of course, raises his teammates to a more fevered pitch than Lewis.
It also must be remembered that Ravens QB Joe Flacco outplayed Brady in the 23-20 AFC championship defeat last January. Flacco and receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have been particularly dangerous on deep balls in this postseason.
No matter who finds his way into the spotlight, though, he won’t shove aside Lewis or Brady.
Lewis thinks it is an honor to face Manning and then Brady in consecutive weeks. Then again, it’s a necessity if Lewis is going to end his career hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
“You’re talking about arguably the top two or three greatest quarterbacks of all time,” Lewis said. “So when you go from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady, you’re going from 1A to 1A. It’s not like you get a drop-off.
“I’d back up to the same fact we had last week. Is he going to make plays? Absolutely. But you have to play the whole game.”