There is something about the best of the best that drives them to leave their signature behind every time they perform in public, and Ray Lewis and
Lewis and Johnson are on opposite slopes of the continental divide when it comes to personality, but they are kindred spirits as members of an elite group of football players whose every move bears watching.
Lewis is wild man at middle linebacker for the Ravens. Johnson – the Lions’ dominant wide receiver nicknamed Megatron -- is the mild man.
The manner in which both men put on a show in Friday night’s exhibition game in Baltimore is the focus of this week’s Monday Countdown.
There also is a sprinkling of former Ravens coach Brian Billick’s comments about the Lions on the FOX network telecast of the game, what Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith had to say about Johnson’s TD catch, and what John and Jim Harbaugh said about the replacement officials.
And there is a last item about how an admittedly biased but proud Wayne State alum analyzes a fumble by former Wayne State star running back
We start with Lewis and Johnson:
1. The wild man: Lewis sat out the first week’s exhibition game and was the last Raven introduced to the crowd. He held nothing back. He stomped his feet, waved his arms, howled into the air – and the home crowd roared.
Watching Lewis put on his show – before the game – reminded me of Muhammad Ali climbing through the ropes in a sparring session, or watching Mark McGwire take batting practice when he was chasing the home-run record in 1998.
It’s not the real thing, but you have to watch the show.
“It never gets old,” someone from the Baltimore contingent said with a touch of reverence.
No, it doesn’t. Lewis might be getting old – he’s 37 and going into his 17th season – but his act isn’t.
It is no surprise to Lions coach Jim Schwartz that Lewis’ passion has not waned. Schwartz was a defensive assistant with the Ravens for Lewis’ first three seasons with the team (1996-98).
“There a reason he’s in his 17th year,” Schwartz said. “That’s because he enjoys the game. He treats them all like they’re an opportunity to go play.
“Both of those go hand in hand.”
2. The mild man: Johnson gave another signature performance – five catches, 111 yards and a touchdown.
On a 93-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, Johnson gained all but 10 of the yards on three catches.
He started the drive with a 57-yard catch and ended it with an 18-yard TD catch, snatching the ball away from Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith like the neighborhood bully swiping an ice cream cone from a nerdy neighbor.
Billick showered Johnson with praise by ticking off the names of the game’s best receivers – and putting Johnson at the top.
“I love Larry Fitzgerald,” Billick said. “I love Andre Johnson. “There are some great receivers in this league. But Calvin Johnson – this is a man’s man here.”
On another catch in front of Smith, Billick said: “Jimmy Smith is getting schooled by Megatron.”
3. The beaten man: Jimmy Smith didn’t sound impressed by Johnson’s catch. He said that misplaying his technique is what let Johnson make the catch.
“It had nothing to do with who it was,” Smith said after the game. “Anybody would have caught that, because I looked the wrong way.”
4. Nate’s take:
“I’m not too sure about that,” Burleson said of Smith’s comments. “First of all, not anybody could have made that catch. Calvin didn’t see the ball. It got lost in the lights.”
Burleson related how Johnson explained on the sideline how he made a blind catch.
Johnson told Burleson that he “caught the lights.”
“You’ve got to think about that,” Burleson said. “He figures if the light catches the ball, I shoot my hands where the light is, the ball will land.
“How many receivers can do that? That’s amazing. When he caught the blind spot, he just shoved his hands into the blind spot and just used all feel from that.”
5. Blocking out: Billick was impressed with how the offensive line protected Stafford on a play that led to the second touchdown.
The Ravens stunted and blitzed, as they do often, but the line gave Stafford a clean pocket. He delivered a 15-yard completion to
“They sorted it all out,” Billick said. “That’s a maze of blue jerseys. That’s a great pickup from a very complex defense.”
6. Beating the heat: Three plays later, Stafford hit
The way Stafford reacted to the pass rush impressed Billick. He didn’t react.
“What makes that even more impressive was Stafford getting the ball off under pressure,” Billick said.
7. One for the aged: Kicker
Billick can relate to having a kicker with longevity. Matt Stover kicked for Billick’s entire tenure as head coach of the Ravens (1999-2007).
“There’s something comforting about having a kicker as old as you are,” said Billick, ever glib.
The age gap between Billick and Stover is 10 years wider than between Schwartz and Hanson. Billick is 58. Stover is 44.
8. ASPCZ -- mum’s the word on officials: ASPCZ is an acronym for the American Society for the Prevention of Criticism of Zebras. The group doesn’t exist – and I made up the name - but the spirit of it does.
The NFL has instructed team officials and players not to comment on replacement officials (the zebras), who are working games during deadlocked contract negotiations between the real refs and the league.
Schwartz would not comment on the officials after Friday night’s game, but comments Ravens coach John Harbaugh made would seemed like an oblique swipe at them in his postgame comments. The Ravens were flagged nine times, the Lions 11.
“I look forward to seeing them,” Harbaugh said of the penalties called on his team. “It’ll be nice to see what they were, because I couldn’t see them on the screen, and I couldn’t see them on the field.”
9. Did brother Jim miss the memo: After the 49ers’ 20-9 loss at Houston Saturday night, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, John’s brother, sounded exasperated by the penalty calls. The 49ers were flagged seven times to nine times for Houston.
“I don't have the pulse on this game,” Harbaugh said, according to published reports. “What was it exactly? Us? Them? Some crazy, wild calls. Were they accurate? Weren't they? We'll see.
“I have a headache, though (from yelling). I have a darned headache. A lot them (the calls) didn't seem like they were in the ballpark.”
10. A great fumble, I say: Running back Joique Bell had a great career at Wayne State and has run well in his attempt to make the Lions’ roster. He appeared headed for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter but fumbled as he neared the goal line.
Bell was credited with a 20-yard gain. The ball rolled forward to the one-yard line, where the Ravens recovered – 99 yards away from tying the score at 17-all with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
What does a WSU alum say about the play?
Great fumble, kid! Way to pin ‘em back!!!