On prime-time stage, R. Lewis delivers big-time performance

October 01, 2002

PITTSBURGH Steelers running back Jerome Bettis has learned, and so has the Tennessee Titans' Eddie George. Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe was quiet all week, but he should have told teammate and rookie Clinton Portis about the No. 1 rule when playing the Ravens.

Don't tick off the inside linebacker.

Never question his ability, never question his leadership because Lewis takes everything personally.

Last week, Portis, a running back, watched a few highlight films of Lewis, and then afterward said: "Ain't nothing spectacular."

Portis may have changed his mind last night after the Ravens defeated the Broncos, 34-23, in perhaps the biggest upset of the young NFL season. Apparently, Portis didn't watch the highlight reel of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season when Lewis was dismantling Bettis, George (who hasn't been the same since), the Cincinnati Bengals' Corey Dillon and anyone else who wore a different-colored jersey.

So Lewis gave Portis and the Broncos an up-close-and-personal look. Lewis had 11 tackles in the first half alone. He introduced rookie wide receiver Ashley Lelie to the NFL with a shot to chin that put Lelie's head somewhere in the front row early in the first quarter, and set up a touchdown with an interception late in the first half.

He ran down Denver quarterback Brian Griese with relative ease on a sprint-out in the first half, and then had the hit of the game on a block that sprung Chris McAlister for an NFL-record 108-yard return at the end of the half. There had been some who have suggested that the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher had surpassed Lewis as the best inside linebacker in the game, but they had better think again.

No inside linebacker can dominate a game like Lewis. No inside linebacker can run as fast from sideline to sideline. The top inside linebacker in the game still wears No. 52 and resides in Baltimore.

"I told [Portis] to stop ducking me," said Lewis, who also played at Miami. "It wasn't the `if I can play' part. It was just the lack of respect coming from another Hurricane.

"I don't care who you are, you don't diss someone who has paved the way for you. I love him to death, but he hasn't done a thing in this league yet. He came in talking about what he can do, what my game is like. This was personal. Me and him, it was personal. Me and Shannon, we're friends for life. This was business, but everything else was personal."

Lewis was obsessed last night, and he gave a great show on the national stage. Al Michaels was here. So was John Madden. The Ravens were expected to be pummeled, embarrassed like the Washington Redskins were a couple of weeks ago in their weak Monday Night Football effort against the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Lewis, the soul and spirit of this team, wasn't going to let that happen. He was tough, and so were the Ravens against a Denver team that the Ravens always physically smack around. From the moment Lewis was introduced with his own special music and ugly dancing, he was easily the best player on the field.

Now we know why the Ravens re-signed him to a seven-year contract worth $49.5 million, which included a $19 million signing bonus, before the start of the regular season.

The guy is worth every penny.

The most symbolic play of Lewis' performance came at the close of the first half. Denver's Jason Elam attempted a 57-yard field goal, which fell way short, one that McAlister fielded 8 yards deep in the end zone. McAlister was reluctant to come out, but Lewis waved him out as the Ravens started forming a wall to the left.

McAlister, though, needed one block, and Lewis delivered the knockout blow. After starting from the 20, Lewis blindsided Denver linebacker Keith Burns with a hit that took Burns completely off his feet.

From that point on, McAlister went untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown as the half ended.

"That's the way we practice it," McAlister said. "I watched and hung in the end zone and let my guys set up the wall. I got a hell of a block from Ray, and we went with the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone."

"I was trying to tell him before the play [to] come on," said Lewis. "When you play field-goal block, you don't have offensive linemen on the line blocking and stuff. So, you've got to take your chance coming out. He is always telling me to come out on the punt team and make the lead block for him. I told him if I ever got the chance, I would."

Lewis' other big play came with 1:34 left in the half. Griese, under slight pressure, tried to throw a short pass to over the middle to running back Mike Anderson. Lewis, who got away with a slight push in Anderson's back, stepped in front for the interception, which he returned 4 yards to the Denver 36.

Four plays later, Ravens quarterback Chris Redman threw a 3-yard touchdown pass on a fade pattern to tight end Todd Heap for a 24-3 Ravens lead.

Since signing his new contract, Lewis has said he wanted to take this team back to another Super Bowl. During the summer, he spent extra hours in the weight room, and extra time with the younger players in training camp. Like most of his teammates, he struggled with the new defense put in, a 3-4 alignment compared with the 4-3 of previous years.

But Lewis has been this team's best player since he arrived in Baltimore in 1996. He has given fans a lot to cheer about, including a Super Bowl championship two years ago.

But on a cool Monday September night when the Ravens were underdogs, Lewis gave fans another special night to remember with another great performance.

"They've got one thing over there that nobody else has, and that's No. 52," Sharpe said. "As long as they have him, they'll be in every ballgame."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.