The idea, of course, is for Sunday not to be the last time this group of linebackers plays together for the Ravens. At best, the Ravens figure out a way to keep Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott here, to team up with Jarret Johnson and retain the best linebacking unit in the NFL. No disrespect intended to the linebackers for their coming opponent, of course.
The worst-case scenario, however, is that they already have taken the field together for the last time. If Suggs' sprained right shoulder keeps him out of the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, then their immediate future depends on the strategic brilliance of Rex Ryan and their own constantly tested resourcefulness and resilience. It might be enough to get them past the Steelers and into the Super Bowl. Then again, it might not.
It might not because this group is so uniquely talented, so well meshed, so brilliant individually and accomplished collectively, the Ravens' defense won't be the same with any single piece missing. In other words: Let's not pretend that they wouldn't miss Suggs enormously Sunday. How could they not?
"This group is one of the special ones, and I guess that's why you see the things that are happening with this defense," Lewis said at the Castle yesterday. "Because you don't have too many times where you can have that many linebackers with the type of ability that we have on one side of the ball, being able to do so many interchangeable things that we do.
"I don't know where you rate them. I don't know where we rate ourselves right now. But we're OK, you know. We're pretty good."
Lewis was not just talking about how he, Suggs, Scott and Johnson compare with the rest of the NFL - and particularly with the Steelers' quartet, led by Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. Lewis has had a lot of talent to either side of him over the years, but this group can hold its own against any past contingent, even - yes, I said it - the one in 2000.
However, the prospect - actually, it's all but a certainty, unless Ozzie Newsome has some cap trick up his sleeve - of Lewis, Scott or Suggs departing via free agency adds a different ingredient in the mix. One player at a time has reached this point before, sure, but never three.
There's not much left for the players themselves to say about it now, and to their credit, none of them has said anything. All they've done is play out of their minds, to a man, indifferent to the speculation about each of them, anchoring the Ravens' deepest playoff run since you-know-when.
Said Johnson, with the luxury of being part of the group but not part of the expiring-contract segment of it: "Obviously, we've got some situations in the offseason coming up. But the offseason isn't here yet. We'll deal with that as it comes."
Historically, the Ravens do deal with these things well, as Johnson himself has proved. So only the immediate problem remains: Suggs' shoulder. Take their general silence on the contract issues and multiply it by 10, and you'll get the level of evasiveness yesterday about Suggs' status for Sunday.
Understandable, because who even wants to entertain the thought? Without him, the Ravens simply aren't as good, and that could be all that separates them and the Steelers. All doubts about Suggs' value would be erased, the hard way.
Thus, the Ravens hope that if the band has to break up, that it stays together for one more show Sunday. At least.
Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).