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Rob Long: End Of An Era?

In the aftermath of the Baltimore Raven's 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the team now has to deal with injuries to key players. Lardarius Webb tore his ACL while covering Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and will be out for the year. Haloti Ngata suffered an MCL injury on his right knee but the news doesn't seem to be as bad as what Webb received. Also, Jimmy Smith watched much of the Cowboys final touchdown drive as stood on the sideline with an injured groin.

While all of these players are keys to the success of the Ravens defense, none is more synonymous with Baltimore Ravens history than Ray Lewis.

Lewis suffered a season ending injury to his right triceps in the fourth quarter of the game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The veteran from the University of Miami was the team's second overall pick when they took him in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft. Lewis fell to the Ravens because of questions about his size and speed but has put together a career that will, without a doubt, land him in Canton.

Recently, Lewis' physical contributions to the Ravens have been in question at the age of 37, but no one has even doubted the emotional and mental advantage that he gives the team's defensive unit.

Now, owed a guaranteed $5.4 million in 2013, some question whether Sunday, October 14, 2012 marked the end of an era for the man some consider the greatest middle linebacker of all-time. Will he ever play for the only team he's known as a pro? Have Ravens' fans watched number 52 come through the tunnel for the final time?

One thing is for certain, the world of professional sports can be cruel. Does that apply to players such as Ray Lewis? Did it apply to Joe Montana? The answer is yes but Montana had a future Hall Of Famer in Steve Young sitting behind him, ready to play. Emmitt Smith did not have a future great behind him but that didn't stop Jerry Jones from showing him the door just months after he became the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

Some would like to believe that things are different in Baltimore. Some would like to believe it's different for Ray Lewis. I'm one of those people, but if Jameel McClain and Danell Ellerbe get it done for a team that's already struggle defensively, it'll be difficult to turn to a 38-year old and give him his job back.

Maybe this is the perfect storm. You can't say goodbye to a legend when everything's going great. You can say goodbye when his side of the ball isn't very productive and the bar isn't as high as it use to be. It's one of those times when you're torn. Either way, you want the best for Ray Lewis. He deserves it when he's given us his best.

Rob Long

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