OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The sacks and accolades keep mounting for Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose relentless pursuit of quarterbacks has put him in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Suggs shrugs off the attention as if it was a 235-pound rookie offensive tackle. He has a career-high 13 sacks, but Suggs is still chasing a prize that has eluded him throughout his entire career: a Super Bowl ring.
Asked Wednesday at the team training facility whether he's enjoying the best season of his career, Suggs replied with a question of his own.
Pointing at a giant-sized banner of the Lombardi Trophy, he asked, "How many of those I got? If we fall short, it's all null and void."
If the Ravens (10-3) don't win a title this season, it almost certainly won't be Suggs' fault. He had three sacks and forced three fumbles Sunday against Indianapolis in a 24-10 win that kept Baltimore tied for the best record in the AFC.
His performance got him selected as the AFC defensive player of the week for the third time this season. Suggs is two sacks shy of matching Peter Boulware's single-season team record and a big reason why Baltimore has won four straight despite playing without injured middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
"He's playing as good as he's ever played," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He's got to be in the running for MVP. He's killing it right now."
Lewis returned to practice Wednesday, his first session in nearly a month because of a right toe injury. Whether or not he returns to face San Diego (6-7) on Sunday night is uncertain, but with Suggs on the outside, the Baltimore defense is poised to win without him.
"Terrell Suggs has stepped up big for us, just pressuring the quarterback and not letting balls get to the secondary or to the back end," Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata said. "He has been doing a great job all year. He's been a great leader for us and is doing really well at stopping the run — not only the pass. I was just thinking, we shouldn't use Ray Lewis until the playoffs just because we've been winning without him."
Ngata then paused and added, "Just kidding. We need Ray Lewis."
The 29-year-old Suggs is seemingly just as important to the third-ranked Baltimore defense. He's tied for fifth on the team with 58 tackles, has two interceptions and has forced six fumbles. And, with Lewis out, he's become more vocal in the huddle.
"Terrell has lifted his play. I think he's stronger and faster than he's ever been," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's worked really hard. He works hard in the weight room. He's one of the leaders in that."
Now in his ninth season, Suggs has become more influential in the locker room. While Lewis and Ed Reed are usually very serious and selective about the words they choose, Suggs relies more upon humor and profanity to get his message across.
But Suggs considers himself to be no more than one of many working parts on a finely-tuned engine.
"We all know it starts with 52 (Lewis), then it trickles down to 20 (Reed), then myself, 95 (Johnson), 92 (Ngata)," Suggs said. "When it comes to leadership, we're all just one unit. This machine works when we're all doing our part."
Suggs has certainly done his share. After chasing down Dan Orlovsky last week, his target Sunday is Philip Rivers of the Chargers. And San Diego knows what's coming.
"He's obviously an outstanding player," Chargers coach Norv Turner said of Suggs. "But he's one of many. You've got five guys with multiple sacks. I think they all feed off each other, and obviously Suggs has set a high standard for all of them."
Two years ago, Suggs stumbled through a difficult season in which he missed three games with a knee injury and finished with a career-low 4½ sacks. In 2010, he rebounded with 11 sacks. The common element of both seasons was that the Ravens didn't make it to the Super Bowl.
"I had a pretty good comeback year last year and I ended up home watching my rivals with the opportunity to win another game. So it didn't really mean anything," Suggs said. "I'm just trying to win."