How well did Ray Lewis really play in his return?

Linebacker Ray Lewis made his return from a torn right triceps Sunday, and after he performed what was probably the most anticipated pre-game dance in football history, he quickly made a dent on the stat sheet.

In Baltimore's 24-9 win over Indianapolis, Lewis made a game-high 13 tackles, nine of the solo variety. Only fellow graybeard London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins made more tackles during wild card weekend. Lewis made a tackle for a loss early in the game, and he was also credited with a pass defended when he dropped what should have been an easy interception of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the second quarter.


If Lewis sat out a snap, I didn't see it, and throwing him out there for the final kneel-down in the victory formation was a nice gesture by Ravens coach John Harbaugh. The emotional impact of Lewis' return is impossible to quantify, as is the value of his leadership, but overall, the Ravens defense played well with Lewis back on the field. They pummeled Luck, kept the Colts out of the end zone and forced two turnovers.

But how well did Lewis play individually in his return to action?


According to the guys over at Pro Football Focus, Lewis was the team's lowest graded defender Sunday. They gave him positive grades on just two plays, and their overall grades suggested that he struggled against both the run and the pass. They said Lewis allowed four first downs in coverage -- and it would have been five if not for a dropped pass. Of course, these grades are subjective, but Pro Football Focus is a reliable and respected stats website.

"He's done a lot for the Ravens organization and it can't be easy for him coming back from an injury that should have ended his season. But please, let's not kid ourselves in believing that he played well," wrote PFF's Khaled Elsayed, who noted that many of those 13 tackles came when the Colts left Lewis unblocked.

They did credit the 13-time Pro Bowler with a team-high five stops.

All that said, Lewis, who tore his triceps back in Week 6, played a little better than what I expected considering the 37-year-old hadn't played in three months and had a bulky brace stabilizing his right arm. It was unrealistic to expect to see the 27-year-old Ray Lewis.

"I thought he played exceptionally well. It's always funny to hear people say, 'Well, he's not the same that was 10 years ago.' Well, who is? None of us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game, scanning a room filled with athletically-past-their-prime sportswriters and reporters. "But he's found different ways to play the game and play it so well. He's still a great football player."