The Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl hopes were dealt a massive blow as Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were both ruled out for the rest of the National Football League (NFL) season with injuries, the team said on Monday.
Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker, tore his right triceps in Sunday's 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys while Webb, regarded as Baltimore's top cornerback, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee during the same game.
"I'm disappointed for those guys," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after announcing the season-ending injuries. "It doesn't matter how I or someone else feels about it. It's their thing. These are guys that put so much heart and soul into what they do."
In NFL veteran Lewis, the Ravens will be missing a player viewed as their "heart and soul" who has led the team in tackles in every season when he has been healthy.
He played in just five games in 2002 due to a shoulder injury, six games in 2005 because of a hamstring injury and sat out four games last year with a toe injury.
"I admire Ray Lewis," said Harbaugh. "I've said that many times. I think everybody in this room does. Everybody that knows him feels that way."
Asked whether the 37-year-old linebacker could be forced into retirement by his latest injury, Harbaugh replied: "You know I'm not going to make any comment on that.
"That's for Ray to speak on. I look forward to seeing what he says about that."
The Ravens, who came one win shy of a Super Bowl berth last season, have made a strong 5-1 start to the NFL campaign to tighten their grip on the AFC North division lead despite having to cope with a heavily depleted defense.
They rank 26th in the league in average yards allowed per game and have surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in their last two outings.
Lewis was their leading tackler this season with 57 stops. In his absence, the Ravens will try to plug a yawning gap with Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Albert McClellan.
"Guys who are going to be playing are the same guys that stepped up and played last year to a large extent," Harbaugh said. "Those guys have played a lot of football and we have a lot of confidence in those guys."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)