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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Ray Lewis not retiring, will return

By Jamison Hensley
ESPN.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday's devastating AFC Championship loss won't be Ray Lewis' last game.

Lewis said he will return to the Ravens next season, his 17th in the NFL. The 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker is so sure that he's coming back to the Ravens that he cleared up the issue himself.

Lewis For us to be here now, I'm hungry again and I'm thirsty again. Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you. I truly believe that's the only thing that makes people great.

-- Ravens LB Ray Lewis

"Is this my last time as a Raven? Absolutely not," Lewis said after a 23-20 loss to New England. "Let me answer that question before somebody asks me. Absolutely not. It's just too much. Life offers too much. Every time you step on this field, it's a true blessing."

Lewis, who will turn 37 by the time training camp begins, endured one of the roughest seasons of his career. He injured his toe late in the season that caused him to miss four games and didn't play at the same high level when he returned.

Still, he led the Ravens with 95 tackles and recorded two sacks, one interception and seven forced fumbles. The Ravens might have to consider reducing Lewis' snaps next season to save the wear and tear on his body. He's been an every-down player since he entered the league in 1996.

Still, Lewis has set a new standard for longevity among middle linebackers. Mike Singletary retired after 12 seasons before his play declined. Jack Lambert walked away after 11 years because of a severe toe injury. And Dick Butkus stopped after nine seasons because of multiple knee injuries.

"For us to be here now, I'm hungry again and I'm thirsty again," Lewis said. "Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you. I truly believe that's the only thing that makes people great. It's not the ones who always winning that people remember. It's the ones who go through tough times."

Jamison Hensley covers the AFC North for ESPN.com.