Double Coverage: Legends of Lewis, Moss

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
12:00
PM ET
Randy Moss, Ray LewisUSA TODAY SportsAll-time greats Randy Moss and Ray Lewis have added storylines to the Super Bowl.

NEW ORLEANS -- Ray Lewis and Randy Moss, two all-time greats at their positions, face each other in Super Bowl XLVII. The week hasn't been a smooth one for either.

Lewis finds himself denying a report that he took a banned substance to accelerate his recovery time from triceps surgery. Moss started a weeklong debate after declaring he was the greatest wide receiver of all time.

It's now time for NFC West blogger Mike Sando and AFC North counterpart Jamison Hensley to do the talking in the final installment of this week's Super Bowl Double Coverage.

Sando: I'll have to admit, Jamison, that I was taken aback just a little by Lewis' emotional response to beating New England in the AFC Championship Game. Moss isn't going to match that even if he catches the winning touchdown pass Sunday. But there is a parallel between these two once-great players chasing championships late in their careers. Let's begin with Lewis. How does the pervasive narrative apply to the game itself? Can he be a big factor on the field at this stage of his career?

Hensley: It is remarkable that Lewis is still a factor in games, even at age 37 and after 17 NFL seasons. As everyone knows, Lewis isn't the same player he was in 2000 when he came to the Super Bowl as the most dominant defensive player in the game. At this point of his career, he's not Patrick Willis on the field. But I would take Lewis over Brian Urlacher and more than half of the other starting linebackers in the NFL.

Sando: And there’s no question Lewis means more to the Ravens than any other linebacker could mean to them.

Hensley: After missing 10 weeks following surgery to repair a torn triceps, Lewis leads the NFL with 44 tackles this postseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s the most by any player since Dan Morgan had 45 for the Carolina Panthers in the 2003 playoffs. Yes, Lewis has lost a step or two. Yes, he's playing with one healthy arm and one arm in a bulky brace. But he's more than just a figurehead for the Ravens.

Sando: Odd as it sounds, I think both teams are happy to have Lewis on the field. The 49ers have tremendous speed at quarterback (Colin Kaepernick), running back (LaMichael James) and tight end (Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker). They have to like their chances if Lewis winds up chasing any of those players.

I’m most interested in seeing how Kaepernick’s running threat affects the Ravens’ ability to defend against Frank Gore on inside runs. Lewis and Gore are two players who qualify for the sporting version of the warrior label. I have so much respect for how they approach the game.

Hensley: The area where Lewis can be the most exposed is in pass coverage. He is much better moving forward than going backward. The Ravens have to make sure Lewis isn't matched up one-on-one with Davis, which could be trouble.

What hasn't diminished with Lewis is his ability to lead. You can debate whether Lewis is the best linebacker to ever play the game. But there's no argument when it comes to the best leader in NFL history.

Lewis can always find the pulse of his team and elevate the players around him. He's the reason Baltimore's defense has ranked in the top 10 for 12 of the past 14 seasons. Players such as Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott weren't the same when Lewis wasn't beside them. Lewis has given so much to this franchise over the past 17 years. You can't think of the Ravens without him. Now, as he prepares to play his final game, his teammates want to give something back to him -- the Lombardi trophy.

Sando: That is going to be a prevailing narrative if the Ravens win this game. Lewis has earned that, too.

We began this conversation promising to discuss two all-time greats chasing championships late in their careers. Moss is more one-year rental than 49ers legend, of course. He has become a quiet leader and a resource for 49ers players. Moss probably deserves some credit for the strides Michael Crabtree has made in becoming a go-to receiver. Moss is also increasingly relevant as a player now that Mario Manningham is on injured reserve. I’m not sure the Ravens are all that worried about him, though.

Hensley: I wouldn't say the Ravens are worried about Moss. But they aren't going to ignore him. When watching film, Baltimore has seen Moss as a decoy.

If the 49ers are going to take a shot or two deep to Moss, that's going into the neighborhood of another NFL great we haven't talked about, Ravens safety Ed Reed. His primary job is to play center field and make sure that long passes turn into interceptions. The Ravens have given up nine passes of more than 20 yards in three playoff games and none more than 40 yards.

The Ravens have a history with Moss. Back in 2005, Baltimore tried to trade for him but was unsuccessful. Unlike Lewis, who is deemed the ultimate team player, Moss has a reputation for being selfish. Mike, has that side of Moss shown up in San Francisco?

Sando: Not at all. Moss deserves some credit for that, but there are other factors at work. One, the 49ers have been winning. They never had a losing streak all season. Two, the 49ers signed Moss to a non-guaranteed contract. Moss had to earn his roster spot. He was entitled to nothing. Moss needed the 49ers more than the 49ers needed him, particularly early in the season, when Manningham was healthy.

As the 49ers demonstrated in their handling of Brandon Jacobs, they weren’t going to let a player push them around. Moss has become increasingly valuable on the field since the 49ers lost Manningham. He has played at least half the offensive snaps in each of the 49ers’ past six games. He never played more than 43 percent in a game previously. He has three touchdown receptions and has 17 of his 33 receptions over the past seven games.

Hensley: Even though Lewis and Moss aren't the players they once were from a few years ago, both have been instrumental in getting their teams this far. It wasn't too long ago when many didn't expect Lewis or Moss to be playing football, much less the Super Bowl. Lewis surprisingly needed just 10 weeks to recover from surgery on his triceps, and Moss came out of retirement after sitting out the 2011 season. Both players returned because they wanted to get to this game. One will earn a ring, and the other will leave with disappointment.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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