Peyton Manning: Ray Lewis was toughest opponent

Former Tennessee Volunteers football quarterback Peyton Manning said the Baltimore Ravens linebacker was his toughest pro opponent.

While anybody who watched his Tennessee football days knew his toughest opponent was then-Florida Gators defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, Peyton Manning said his toughest opponent in the pros was a player. That player was Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

When you look at their careers, it makes sense for them to be a perfect match for each. They largely spent their prime as the most dominant and recognizable player on either side of the ball, and they each captured two Super Bowl championships with one Super Bowl MVP. In fact, both of them won their second Super Bowl title the year they retired.

There are even more parallels when you peel the layers back. Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis both lacked certain physical attributes normally associated with their positions, so they made up for it in intelligence and film study. They were also known for being very emotional team leaders, even if they didn’t take exactly the same approach.

On the field, Manning and Lewis was always a chess match. They met three times in the playoffs, with Manning winning two of three. Each of them beat the other on the road during one of their Super Bowl runs.

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However, in two of those wins, the opposite person played better. During Maning’s Super Bowl run with the Indianapolis Colts, his team beat the Ravens 15-6, but he completed only 15-of-30 passes for 170 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Lewis, meanwhile, had 15 total tackles, 10 of which were solo, along with a pass deflection. So he was the better player.

In the 2012 season, though, when Manning was with the Denver Broncos and his team lost to the Ravens in the divisional round, he did his job, completing 28-of-43 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Lewis, to be fair, still played well with 17 total tackles, 10 of which were solo. However, the Joe Flacco Hail Mary to Jacoby jones was the story in that game.

Between those two matchups, Manning’s Colts and Lewis’ met in the Divisional Round of the 2009-10 NFL Playoffs. That year, the Colts dominated, winning 20-3. Lewis only had eight total tackles, six of which were solo, while Manning threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns.

As you can see with these matchups, neither player ever dominated the other. They always tried to outsmart each other, and that’s likely why they respect each other. Manning paying his respects to Lewis now comes nine years after Lewis paid his respects to Manning when he narrated the Peyton Manning feature on being named one of the top 10 players of the 2000s.

It’s clear these two always had a high level of respect for each other. After that 2012 playoff win by the Ravens, Manning and Lewis met in the locker room to speak. It was a photo that went viral at the time.

So it’s pretty clear that these two always have genuinely respected each others’ craft, and it likely comes from the dedication in the film room and the leadership qualities they both have. Very few people played the position better than those two.

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Simply put, Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis were the NFL for a long period of time. It’s also a bit ironic since Manning spent the bulk of his career with the Colts, Baltimore’s former franchise, and he replaced Jim Harbaugh, whose brother John would eventually become Lewis’ coach.

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