"You know, it sort of looks like Indy over there to me," Reed said of watching Broncos game film. "Just the things he's doing, looking at Peyton on the sideline — you watch the games — you see Peyton on the sideline, he's coaching everybody. That's no different from when he was in Indy."

Caldwell didn't sound terribly surprised at the latest chapter authored by his former player. "One of the things that [once] you've been around him awhile, you know he's one of those guys that can literally fight through any — and everything," he said. "If there's a guy that can come back from the type of surgeries that he's had, he could do it — never doubted that."

With an 8-2 career record against generally tougher Ravens defenses, you might assume Manning is licking his chops for Sunday's matchup. But he was careful to pay his respects in mid-week remarks, calling Reed the best safety in the league and praising the Ravens' stinginess near the goal line.

Last dance for Lewis, Manning?

From the standpoint of pure football fandom, another question lingers: Will Lewis and Manning — players who define an NFL generation on each side of the ball — match wits at M&T Bank Stadium, conceivably for the final time?

Lewis' torn right triceps might not allow it, and they could yet face each other in the playoffs or next season. But don't be too quick to take the potential meeting for granted.

Maybe you don't associate the two in your mind. Manning is football royalty — a second-generation NFL star, a former No. 1 overall pick, one of America's favorite comic pitchmen. Lewis is the product of a broken home — originally written off as too small to be great but ultimately an icon of fear and mayhem on the field.

If you really think about it, though, they have a lot in common.

They came into the league two years apart. Both reached elite status quickly and have held it longer than all but a few players in history. Both practice a histrionic style of leadership that made them the faces of their respective franchises. Both are dogged students of game film, always searching for the patterns that might be missed by less careful eyes. Both are playing on after injuries that had many observers questioning their football mortality.

"They're the two pre-eminent players of their generation at their positions and both could go down among the top 10 of all time," said Sharpe, himself a Hall-of-Famer. "It's the same for both of them: I want to be great. I prepare be great. I demand greatness of my teammates."

Manning certainly sees those qualities in Lewis. "His passion, his intensity — it's the same now as it was back in 1998 when I played against him for my first time in Baltimore," he said. "I have tremendous respect for the way he's played the game. And I don't know if anybody looks forward to playing against Ray Lewis, but … it's a tremendous challenge."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts