Just one year ago, Peyton Manning’s career was in limbo because of neck surgery.
Now with the Denver Broncos, he has led them to a 11-game winning streak and a divisional playoff game with the Ravens on Saturday (CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET).
He’ll be facing linebacker Ray Lewis, a Baltimore icon who will retire when his 17th season ends. Each have one Super Bowl ring and are desperate to get one more.
Broncos coach John Fox was defensive coordinator of the New York Giants when Lewis led the Ravens past them for their only Super Bowl title in 2001. Lewis was the MVP.
“He was all over the field,” Fox said. “A lot of the (University of Miami) guys, I've had a few of them myself, so there’s been a little bit of a connection there. He’s been great for the game, no doubt, both on and off the field.”
Manning has been a roadblock in recent years. With the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2011, he lost his first two meetings with Baltimore but won eight in a row, including 15-6 in 2007 in the playoffs.
That victory occurred in Baltimore as Manning went on to win his only Super Bowl.
“The thing is it’s not about facing Peyton. It’s about facing the Denver Broncos. As a team, that’s our No. 1 goal," Lewis said. "Who are we going to play? ... Everything we've been talking about is going to play the team that has won 11 straight games. They have a very hot streak going right now. Arguably, they are the best team in football. If that’s what it is, then let’s line up and let’s be who we are, and let’s get ready to play the best team in football.”
Lewis was out with a triceps tear when these teams met in the regular season during Week 15. The Broncos won easily 34-17 as Manning had to face second-year, little-used linebacker Josh Bynes at middle linebacker. Bynes began the season on the practice squad but thrust into duty because of an injury rash.
That made for nine wins in a row vs. the Ravens. But Lewis’ presence changes things for Manning.
“You are always going to study a lot for good defenses like the Ravens. They give you a lot of multiple looks and have excellent players,” Manning said. “Of course, playoff games you are going to do everything you can to get ready to play.”
This is Manning’s 15th season. He missed all of last season after having surgery on his neck. He signed with the Broncos as a free agent.
“He has done it all in 17 years as a linebacker,” Manning said. “A lot of things speak for itself -- just his play and his longevity. Great player.”
Ravens safety Bernard Pollard tried to keep things in perspective when asked about his thoughts of seeing Manning vs. Lewis for the last time.
"This is a football game, Broncos and the Ravens. It’s not about no individual," he said. "It’s about us going out there and competing at a high level. This is one and done."