Ray Lewis hears the talk that he has lost a step, that he's not the player he once was.
He concedes his play has changed during the 16 years he has been in the NFL, but he insists he's better than ever.
"The only difference is my knowledge now of the game. It's like 'The Matrix' now; everything has slowed down," the Baltimore Ravens' star linebacker told NFL Network's Michael Irvin in an interview that aired during "NFL GameDay Morning" on Sunday. "You know, everything for me is mastery and putting my pieces here, putting my pieces there."
Entering Sunday's divisional playoff matchup with the Houston Texans, Lewis already is one of the most accomplished defenders in history. His 13 Pro Bowl selections are the most of any active player and the second-most in league history.
And though it might seem contrary to his nature, Lewis has learned how to embrace restraint instead of pure aggression. Instead, he pursues a more cerebral approach.
"When you get older, you really start to pick your spots and say, 'Oh, OK, I don't have to overrun like that. I don't have to go this far. I can stick where I need to stay, do the things I need to do,' " Lewis said. "And now you take what most people say is a lack of speed, and you add wisdom to it. I'll trade that any day of the week."
Lewis saw his 57-game streak of consecutive starts end this season after a toe injury sidelined him in Week 11. He returned in Week 15 to help the Ravens close out the season as the league's No. 3 defense. Lewis doesn't want another respite, even if only for a series.
"In any war, who pulls the general out? Nobody, nobody," Lewis said. "When I put on that jersey, every man in this building believes in one thing: Whatever our general says, we follow, bottom line."
Having been the centerpiece of a perennial contender, Lewis attributes his individual accomplishments to a focus on the greater good.
"The only thing that makes me consistent is that I'm more willing to sacrifice what I have here to every man that's next to me on the field," Lewis said. "Everything isn't about always individually making every play that people want you to make. It's about what matures your defense."
Though he tries to tune out those who still doubt him, Lewis can't help himself from using criticism as motivation. The postseason in full swing, however, he's willing to put arguments on the backburner.
"If the playoffs were about Ray Lewis, I would argue with critics," Lewis said. "But it's not. It's about the Baltimore Ravens. And whoever has gotta deal with us, that's gonna be rough, no matter how they want to deal with it."