3. The Ravens defense is in transition, with Ray Lewis heading into retirement and Ed Reed meandering to who knows where, but the rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated

There was something symbolic about the way Super Bowl XLVII ended, as an era ended as well, two iconic players and future Hall-of-Famers making one beautiful last stand together. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are arguably the two greatest players to ever play their respective positions, and you could also make a pretty compelling case for them being the greatest pair of teammates on the defensive side of the ball in NFL history. But Father Time eventually tackles everyone, which is why Lewis is dancing into retirement and Reed's future after Sunday night is totally in doubt; this could be his last NFL game, too.<br>
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The San Francisco 49ers had the momentum at their backs and the ball on the Ravens' 7-yard line with less than two minutes left in the Super Bowl. Their perfect ending on the verge of being shattered, the Ravens dug their heels in near their goal line and attacked back, something they have consistently done all season. As 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick huddled his troops, the general and his top lieutenant locked eyes for a second. There was Lewis, 37, with a clunky black arm brace stabilizing his torn right triceps and Reed, 34, with flecks of gray in the bushy beard peeking out from underneath his chinstrap. One last stand together. On first down, the Ravens gave up a little ground as running back LaMichael James dove up the middle for two yards. On second down, Kaepernick rolled to the right and fired a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who couldn't make a tough catch just inside the goal line. On third down, Kaepernick threw to Crabtree in the flat, but cornerback Jimmy Smith jarred the ball loose with a hard and high hit. One more play. Kaepernick rolled to his right to avoid another heavy Ravens blitz and floated a fade to Crabtree, who bumped bodies with Smith and couldn't make the catch as Reed closed on him. The game essentially ended when that pass hit the turf.<br>
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It wasn't the prettiest performance, as the Ravens allowed 31 points and let another quarterback throw for more than 300 yards against them. But they made big plays when they were needed. The forced a key fumble in the second quarterback, putting a swing of at least 10 points in motion. Reed picked off a pass later in that quarter. The Ravens allowed just two touchdowns in six red-zone possessions, including that dramatic last-minute drive that stalled at the Baltimore 5-yard line. There is no doubt this defense is in transition, especially with Lewis in retirement and Reed in limbo, but young players like Jimmy Smith, Courtney Upshaw and Arthur Jones made critical plays when they were needed in Sunday's 34-31 win.<br>
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No, this unit was not like the snarling, smothering defense that dominated offenses the last time the Ravens won the Lombardi Trophy. But it made its fair share of impact plays in the second half of the regular season and during this postseason run, which is why the early-season whispers about the demise of the Ravens defense now seem silly after Lewis and Reed played hot-potato with the Lombardi Trophy.<br>
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That being said, this unit will look a lot different next year. Lewis will be in a studio somewhere, and who knows where Reed, the mercurial safety who is now a free agent, will be six months from now. Pass rusher Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe are all free agents, too, and the Ravens won't be able to keep all three. Safety Bernard Pollard could spontaneously combust at any point (just kidding about that one, but this dude is intense). But the Ravens have one of the NFL's best general managers in Ozzie Newsome, and you can be sure he will restock the defensive cupboard with draft picks and more savvy free-agent signings. These are worries for another day, though. For now, it's time for Lewis, Reed and the Ravens to celebrate a Super Bowl title -- and the happy end of an era.

( Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / February 3, 2013 )

There was something symbolic about the way Super Bowl XLVII ended, as an era ended as well, two iconic players and future Hall-of-Famers making one beautiful last stand together. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are arguably the two greatest players to ever play their respective positions, and you could also make a pretty compelling case for them being the greatest pair of teammates on the defensive side of the ball in NFL history. But Father Time eventually tackles everyone, which is why Lewis is dancing into retirement and Reed's future after Sunday night is totally in doubt; this could be his last NFL game, too.

The San Francisco 49ers had the momentum at their backs and the ball on the Ravens' 7-yard line with less than two minutes left in the Super Bowl. Their perfect ending on the verge of being shattered, the Ravens dug their heels in near their goal line and attacked back, something they have consistently done all season. As 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick huddled his troops, the general and his top lieutenant locked eyes for a second. There was Lewis, 37, with a clunky black arm brace stabilizing his torn right triceps and Reed, 34, with flecks of gray in the bushy beard peeking out from underneath his chinstrap. One last stand together. On first down, the Ravens gave up a little ground as running back LaMichael James dove up the middle for two yards. On second down, Kaepernick rolled to the right and fired a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who couldn't make a tough catch just inside the goal line. On third down, Kaepernick threw to Crabtree in the flat, but cornerback Jimmy Smith jarred the ball loose with a hard and high hit. One more play. Kaepernick rolled to his right to avoid another heavy Ravens blitz and floated a fade to Crabtree, who bumped bodies with Smith and couldn't make the catch as Reed closed on him. The game essentially ended when that pass hit the turf.

It wasn't the prettiest performance, as the Ravens allowed 31 points and let another quarterback throw for more than 300 yards against them. But they made big plays when they were needed. The forced a key fumble in the second quarterback, putting a swing of at least 10 points in motion. Reed picked off a pass later in that quarter. The Ravens allowed just two touchdowns in six red-zone possessions, including that dramatic last-minute drive that stalled at the Baltimore 5-yard line. There is no doubt this defense is in transition, especially with Lewis in retirement and Reed in limbo, but young players like Jimmy Smith, Courtney Upshaw and Arthur Jones made critical plays when they were needed in Sunday's 34-31 win.

No, this unit was not like the snarling, smothering defense that dominated offenses the last time the Ravens won the Lombardi Trophy. But it made its fair share of impact plays in the second half of the regular season and during this postseason run, which is why the early-season whispers about the demise of the Ravens defense now seem silly after Lewis and Reed played hot-potato with the Lombardi Trophy.

That being said, this unit will look a lot different next year. Lewis will be in a studio somewhere, and who knows where Reed, the mercurial safety who is now a free agent, will be six months from now. Pass rusher Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe are all free agents, too, and the Ravens won't be able to keep all three. Safety Bernard Pollard could spontaneously combust at any point (just kidding about that one, but this dude is intense). But the Ravens have one of the NFL's best general managers in Ozzie Newsome, and you can be sure he will restock the defensive cupboard with draft picks and more savvy free-agent signings. These are worries for another day, though. For now, it's time for Lewis, Reed and the Ravens to celebrate a Super Bowl title -- and the happy end of an era.

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