This is Ray Lewis before the game. Imagine what he is like during a play. He is one of the greatest, one of the most inspirational, and one of the most controversial players ever. Photo by Jeff Lewis
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., looks like he is the difference maker that put the 49ers over the top. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Ray Lewis' final ride continues
As of right now, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, one of the greatest football players ever, is the baddest man on the planet! Bar none!
Before the Ravens Wild Card playoff game against the Colts, Lewis announced that this year's playoffs will be his last ride, and he was celebrated before that game as if it were going to be his last.
But that ride is not over. A month later Lewis is still playing, and his final ride has led the Ravens right to the Super Bowl. He may be the single most inspirational player to ever suit up in the NFL, and the Ravens have not lost a game since his return from what appeared to be a season ending tricep injury.
The Ravens limped into the playoffs while Lewis was injured, losing four out of their final five games. But since Lewis came screaming out of the tunnel before their playoff game against the Colts, they have defied the odds, and knocked off the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs in dramatic fashion.
Lewis raises the level of play of his teammates like no other player has. His mere words and emotions wills his teammates to play at the highest level possible. And his drive to be great has been the driving force behind a team that has been known for their defense since he was drafted in 1996.
From whistle-to-whistle Lewis is a beast, but that is just part of his story, which has been at the center of attention during Super Bowl week.
Lewis has put the murder case that he was involved in back in 2000 in the rear view mirror. He, along with two other men, were charged in the stabbing deaths of two men outside of a bar. The brawl was between Lewis' party and a group of other men. Two men from the other group were stabbed, and even though it appeared that there was no evidence that linked Lewis to stabbing anybody, and there were no witnesses that said he was the individual stabbing the victims, Lewis was charged with the murders by a district attorney who appeared to try to make the case a national story by attaching his name to it.
The murder charge against Lewis was dropped in exchange for his testimony against two men who were in his group. Those two men stood trial, but were acquitted of the murders on the grounds of self defense.
A year later Lewis led the Ravens to their only Super Bowl victory, and he was the best player on the field that day, as he was the game's MVP. But he was not chosen to say the famous line, "I'm going to Disneyland!" That line was always reserved for the Super Bowl MVP, but Disney chose Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer instead.
After a few years Lewis was able to regain the corporate sponsorship as the stigma of the murder case faded away. The case has rarely been talked about until Lewis willed his team to this year's Super Bowl.
Another hot topic with Lewis is his spirituality. He is a Christian, and he has expressed that in post game interviews. He has gone as far as to express that the Ravens have won these playoff games because of God. While many athletes give glory to God for allowing them to play to the best of their abilities and keeping them safe, Lewis has implied that God has allowed the Ravens to win games, as if God was going against their oppositions.
Lewis has stated that "No weapon formed against us will prosper." That Bible verse speaks to evil forces, such as the devil, not being able to harm a Christian. The issue with Lewis using that verse is that his opponents are not an evil force. They are not the devil. There are just as many Christians on the other side of the field as there are on the Ravens. So it is a bit much to act as if God is willing the Ravens past evil forces.
If Lewis said that God had given them the abilities to win games, nobody would have an issue. But saying that God is making this all happen, as if God is a Ravens fans, has many people questioning Lewis' intentions. And seeing that Lewis was involved in a murder case, many people think that what Lewis is doing is just an act.
Lewis plays right in the middle of the field, and he is the center of attention wherever he goes, on or off the field. All of the controversy is off of the field, but on the field he is one of the greatest forces in NFL history. There is no question about that.
49ers and Ravens made the right offensive moves
The Ravens have been known as a defensive team for over a decade, and the 49ers have fielded one of the best defenses over the past few years. But both teams were lacking offensively.
Both teams play a rough and tough style of football, but in today's NFL it is all about the offense. Yes, defense does win championships, but teams have to have some type of offense as well. The changes that both teams made on the offensive side of the ball are a key to their success.
In 2008 the Ravens drafted quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round. Also in that draft the Ravens selected running back Ray Rice in the second round. Rice is one of the better pass catching running backs in the league, and the more carries that he gets, the better the team is.
Two seasons later the Ravens traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, one of the best receivers in the league at the time. In the second round of last year's draft they selected wide receiver Torrey Smith, who is one of the fastest players in the league.
The Ravens defense did not have high rankings this season, mainly due to injuries, which led a lot of people to say that their defense is not as good as it used to be. But now they are healthy, and with players such as Lewis, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and safety Ed Reed, all future Hall of Famers, this is one of the top defenses in the league.
They held Peyton Manning and the Broncos to only 21 points in Denver (the Broncos scored a kick off return touchdown and one off of a punt return). Tom Brady and the Patriots were held scoreless in the second half after only scoring 13 points in the first half in the AFC championship game against the Ravens.
This Ravens defense is legit, and they now have a good enough offense to win another Super Bowl.
The same can be said for the 49ers. Before Colin Kaepernick was given the starting quarterback job, the team had a great defense, a great running game, but a game manager at quarterback in Alex Smith. That made them a playoff contender, but not a Super Bowl contender.
Smith did not lose games, but he did not really win them either. He was not a playmaker on offense, and they could not rely on a big play from him when they needed it.
It appeared that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was waiting for the right time to make the quarterback change. It was hard to do it because Smith was playing at a Pro Bowl level. For the season he completed 70.2 percent of his passes and he had a quarterback rating of 104.1.
In Smith's last complete game before being sidelined with a concussion, he completed 18 of 19 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Harbaugh really saw something great in Kaepernick, similar to what Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw in Brady back in 2001, when he benched an injured Drew Bledsoe in favor of the unproven Brady. It seemed like Belichick was waiting for the right time to play Brady, and Bledsoe's injury gave him a reason to make the change. It appears that Harbaugh was waiting for that same moment.
Kaepernick has been the spark that the 49ers offense needed. He has a big arm that Smith does not, so tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss have been put to better use.
Kaepernick has also enhanced the running game with his own running abilities, and now running back Frank Gore has less defenders to worry about because Kaepernick draws so much attention.
The 49ers offense has not been this explosive since Steve Young was throwing to an aging Jerry Rice and a young Terrell Owens.
Defenses have tried to bottle up Kaepernick by keeping him in the pocket, but he has been able to defeat teams from there too. Let him outside of the pocket and it is showtime. He was the one thing that this team was missing. Now this team does not have any glaring weaknesses.
Who is going to win the Super Bowl?
The 49ers have the X factor in Kaepernick, while the Ravens have the unstoppable force in Lewis. The great thing is that both of these players will be on the field at the same time, lined up right across from each other. The winner of that battle wins this game. It's as simple as that.
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