ASHBURN, Va. – In what many would consider the twilight of his career, this middle linebacker has strung together multiple consecutive Pro Bowl appearances while recording more than 100 tackles and serving as the inspiration for his team's defense.
Unlike the Ravens' Ray Lewis, however, the Washington Redskins' London Fletcher has largely avoided the injury bug. In fact, as the Ravens and Redskins prepare to meet at FedEx Field in Landover on Sunday, Fletcher is poised to play in his 237th straight game and make his 196th consecutive start.
"Really, just God's grace and taking care of myself and being accountable and dependable," Fletcher said of the secret to his longevity after Friday's practice at Redskins Park.
Not many would think to mention Fletcher and Lewis in the same breath. Lewis, a first-round pick out of Miami in the 1996 draft, has been named to 13 Pro Bowls, is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and is widely regarded as a lock to enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Fletcher, who was not drafted after graduating from John Carroll University in Ohio, made his first appearance in a Pro Bowl after the 2009 season and isn't among the list of middle linebackers that immediately come to mind. (Lewis, the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher and the San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis usually top that list.)
But there are a few similarities. Both Fletcher and Lewis are 37, born in May of 1975, with Lewis being the elder by just four days. Both have Super Bowl rings – Fletcher with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 and Lewis with the Ravens in 2000. And both are regarded as ferocious hitters.
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Like Lewis, Fletcher has been a tackling machine. He led the NFL in tackles last season with a career-best 166, marking the 13th straight year in which he has posted at least 100 tackles.
Lewis has a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least 100 tackles before last year when strained ligaments in a toe forced him to sit out four games. Lewis is set to miss his seventh straight contest after tearing his right triceps in a 31-29 win against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14.
Fletcher, who has been playing despite a sprained left ankle, empathizes with Lewis' recent spate of injuries.
"Ray's been a great player," Fletcher said. "He's been in the league for 17 years, and we play a very physical position. When you can play the game the way he plays it, you're going to get banged up. It's hard to go through a 16-game season and stay healthy. Some things happen. It's just part of the game."
Fletcher's streak of 236 consecutive games is tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber as the longest among active players and is just seven shy of the all-time mark among defensive players set by linebacker Bill Romanowski between 1988 and 2003.
Fletcher's toughness is an inspiration for his teammates.
"We've got a couple different captains, but he's the unquestioned leader," nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "We feed off him, and just to see a guy who's done it that well at that level for that long, if he can come in here and have the passion that he can have after 15 years, it makes you feel bad if you don't match that."