5:05 PM EST, December 20, 2012
Will Ray Lewis dance one more time in a Ravens uniform at M&T Bank Stadium?
A month ago, no one asked that question because it seemed like the Ravens were headed into the postseason to play at least one home game.
Now, nothing is certain.
And if the Great Collapse of 2012 continues, Baltimoreans might never see the Ravens inside linebacker do his pregame dance again. And Sunday could be the last home game for Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, as well as potential free-agent quarterback Joe Flacco.
But, as always, everything centers on Lewis, because for the last 17 years the Ravens have lived in "Ray's World." In a home game in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys, the 13-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year suffered a torn triceps in his right arm.
Initial reports had Lewis out for the remainder of the season. Then, a few weeks ago, reports surfaced about the possibility of him playing again this season.
Lewis could possibly play Sunday against the New York Giants in the Ravens' last home regular-season game, even though his atrophied right arm is smaller than the left. If he does play or even suits up, the Ravens should allow him to do his "Squirrel" dance, the pregame ritual that Lewis made famous throughout the NFL.
And if he doesn't, it would be very disappointing, especially because he might never dance again.
Lewis, 37, still has three years left on his contract worth $5.4 million next season, $5.85 million in 2014 and $6.3 million in 2015. Before the three-game losing streak, there was a good chance he would return, even though he was having arguably his worst season before the injury.
But if the Ravens continue to lose, they might want to clean house and start a rebuilding program.
Goodbye, Ray Lewis, and goodbye "Squirrel."
It sounds inconceivable, but so did firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron two weeks ago.
"There is nothing like going to M&T Bank and seeing Ray Lewis come out of that tunnel," said James Joyner, 26, a data-entry specialist from Reisterstown. "Nobody gets a crowd pumped up like Ray Lewis. If this is indeed his last season and he doesn't dance, then it will have been a sad day in Baltimore. Just the fact that he might not play is sad."
Jennifer Barrett Cox, 29, a teacher at Kenwood High School, echoed similar sentiments.
"I've had season tickets for six years and have only missed one home game," said Cox, also director of the Sports Science Academy magnet program at the school. "I get chills every ... home game when I get to be part of the Ray-Ray dance. … The stadium erupts every time. We will see it again one day when he is inducted into the Ring of Honor."
The Ravens have some other players who have good pregame introductions, like Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice and Reed, but they are ho-hum compared to Lewis — even though Lewis hasn't changed his dance steps for more than a decade.
This could also be Reed's last game. He is in the last year of his contract, and like Lewis, is showing signs of slowing down. Reed has always been a gambler, but he has won most of the time, which is why he is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This year, his unpredictability and the loss of a step have been costly when he strays on the field. There are some within the organization who believe Reed has been lobbying owner Steve Bisciotti about a new contract, but that probably won't be a topic of discussion until after the season.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said Reed is playing well, but he's just being polite to the eight-time Pro Bowl pick and 2004 Defensive Player of the Year.
Between Reed and Lewis, Reed seems to be the most logical one not to return, and it would be hard for the Ravens to bring both back to a defense that is one of the worst in the NFL.
The decision on Flacco will be more difficult. The Ravens want him to return, but at what cost?
Last month, it made sense for the Ravens to at least designate him with the franchise tag and pay him the required $17 million or so for next season, but Flacco's stock has fallen dramatically by committing six turnovers in the team's three consecutive losses.
Sunday could be the last time Flacco goes long to Torrey Smith at M&T. Maybe Reed will pick off a pass and return it for a 60-yard touchdown, showing off those vintage long strides down the left sideline one more time.
And then there is Lewis.
It can't be his last dance, can it? Can we get the "Squirrel" one more time after he picks up some turf, and then slides to the right and then to the left?
Just one more, please. If it is his last game, everyone deserves one more show.
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