BALTIMORE • If you think racing across the middle with Ray Lewis at linebacker is a scary thought, consider a trip into his mind.
There must be a special brand of wiring up there. Figuring out his mindset? This is a duty better suited for a doctor than a sports columnist.
“I think he hates to lose more than he loves to win,” said Rob Bell, a sports psychologist who specializes in the study of mental toughness.
How else to explain a 17-year veteran of the punishing NFL trying to escape the injury list for another December of body blows? Thirty-seven years old qualifies as a geezer in football circles.
Lewis suffered a torn a triceps muscle in October. Those hurt. His team’s Web site pronounced his season dead to rights: “The heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens defense is done for the season.” Lewis practiced Friday.
And if the Bronco Beater were to gyrate into M&T Stadium Sunday, the Ravens would play oh-so-well against the Broncos.
But he won’t. The Ravens did not active Lewis on Saturday. The Broncos did dodge one.
Bell studies the minds of athletes from his home base in Indianapolis. The good doctor puts Indy’s former QB in the same category of wiring as Baltimore’s current ILB.
“They believe in Peyton (Manning) and they believe in Ray Lewis,” Bell said. “When other people see them doing what they do, it forces other players around them to raise their game another notch. It is absolute belief.
“If Peyton’s got the ball at the end of a game, you know it’s over. If you are a running back, you know where Ray Lewis is. They demand so much of themselves that it forces others to get on board.”
In Baltimore, the Ravens demand the best of the Broncos.
The Broncos have two owners. Pat Bowlen in Denver. The Ravens in Baltimore.
It says here the Ravens’ historic bullying of the Broncos has less to do with a talent gap and more to do with a mindset. Ray Ray’s mindset.
Denver is 0-5 against the Ravens in Baltimore. The scoreboard: Ravens 142, Broncos 56.
The reason: No. 52. The Ravens don’t beat the Broncos in Baltimore. They beat them up, beat them down and send them to bed without a crab cake.
“He’s the leader,” former Raven and now-Bronco safety Jim Leonhard said of Lewis. “Everybody in that locker room knows it.”
Denver hasn’t won in Baltimore since 1983. It was so long ago, the AFC West was the NFL’s best division. The Broncos finished third in the West — behind teams from Seattle (not in the division anymore) and Los Angeles (not in Los Angeles anymore) — and still made the playoffs. Those were the Baltimore Colts. John Elway was The Bronco.
It’s been so long, the Rockies have won in Baltimore — three times — since the Broncos last did.
“I really can’t speak to what’s happened here, the history of Denver in Baltimore,” Manning said, mercifully.
These Ravens are no Super Bowl contender. Those don’t lose to Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins in consecutive weeks, or fire their offensive coordinator in Week 15.
These Ravens are more chaotic than contender. Aside from playoff implications, there is something bigger at work for these Broncos: an opportunity, against the messy Ravens, to wipe away their reputation of a franchise that doesn’t beat back when it’s beat up.
“I think that entire defense is still forming their identity, as well, under new leadership, under coach (Jack) Del Rio,” Manning said.
It is an opportunity to show the mindset has swapped sidelines.