Ravens capture AP Player of Year awards

Jamal, Ray Lewis become the first teammates to win

Ravens Jamal and Ray Lewis capture Player of Year honors

January 01, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Three days after Jamal Lewis fell short of making NFL history, the Ravens' rugged running back combined with linebacker Ray Lewis to do so yesterday.

The Lewises (who are not related) became the first teammates to win the Associated Press offensive and defensive Player of the Year awards.

Jamal Lewis received 29 of 50 votes by a nationwide panel of sportswriters and broadcasters for Offensive Player of the Year, easily beating San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the runner-up with eight votes.

Ray Lewis received 43 of 50 votes, winning the defensive honor for the second time in his eight-year career.

A day earlier, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. And, last month, the Ravens placed eight players, including the Lewises, on the Pro Bowl squad for the NFL's all-star game.

Jamal and Ray Lewis remain in the running for the Associated Press league Most Valuable Player award.

The Ravens won their first division title this season and face the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the playoffs Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Yesterday's honors come after Jamal Lewis ran for 114 yards in Sunday's regular-season finale, a 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, to become the fifth player to top the 2,000-yard rushing mark for a season. Lewis finished with 2,066 rushing yards, the second-highest season total in league history, 39 shy of Eric Dickerson's record.

Ray Lewis also had one of his better games of the season against the Steelers, leading the team with 15 tackles and an interception. He set a Ravens record with 225 tackles this season.

"The beauty of it is, that's what we set out to do at the beginning of this year," Ray Lewis said of the awards.

The Player of the Year honor has been given out annually on defense since 1971 and on offense since 1973. Ray Lewis won the award in the Ravens' championship season of 2000, and is the sixth defensive player to win it more than once.

Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is the only three-time winner, having captured the award in 1981, 1982 and 1986.

Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the Giants, expressed admiration for both Lewises.

"Ray Lewis is simply the best defensive player in the league and one of the greatest linebackers I have seen in 54 years of watching the NFL," Accorsi said. "And Jamal Lewis just warms the hearts of those of us who love the big back. One thing will never change. ... You still don't want to tackle the big, fast guy who hurts you.

"Both players are examples of why no club in this league does a better job in player personnel than Baltimore."

Jamal Lewis - the eighth straight running back to win the award - is two years removed from missing an entire season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Lewis rebounded to rush for 1,327 yards last season, but has shown an explosiveness this year not seen before. He has seven carries of 30 or more yards this season, including a career-high, 82-yard scamper Sept. 14 against the Cleveland Browns. His previous longest was 45 yards against Miami in 2000.

"It's a great accomplishment among many more to come, hopefully," Jamal Lewis said. "I just keep striving for success, and things just keep falling into my hands. As long as I keep doing my job and doing what I'm doing, things will happen."

For Ray Lewis, this year was as much about redemption as it was dominance. Last year, he separated his left shoulder and eventually needed season-ending surgery. During what might have been the best year of his career, he hurt the shoulder in the fourth game, against Cleveland, and played just once more the rest of the season.

Vowing to come back better than ever, Lewis set career highs this year in solo tackles (160), interceptions (six) and forced fumbles (two).

"We said that if me and Jamal are healthy, we have a great chance of going back to the Super Bowl," Lewis said. "Once again, we're healthy. It's hard to walk into a game and game plan against both of us. You have to deal with Jamal, who can run all day, and then deal with me, who can talk all day. One way or another, you'll have to deal with one Lewis. It's a great one-two tandem that we have."

Both Lewises credit an intense off-season regimen for their memorable seasons.

For Jamal Lewis, his goal entering the season was to be thought of as one of the league's premier backs. So he cut out some of the fat in his diet, took up boxing and worked daily with a personal trainer, from last winter through the opening of training camp in July.

"I always considered myself one of the best, but I was never recognized," Jamal Lewis said. "It just goes with the game. The bottom line is, I think my [offensive] line, my fullback and those guys pushed me over the top."

Now the Ravens will field the best players on both sides of the ball in Saturday's home playoff game against the Titans.

"What makes it even more special is the relationship between the two," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "The mentoring Ray has done for Jamal - I'm going to venture to say Ray is more proud of Jamal's getting it then his own naming."

Billick is right.

After Jamal Lewis' award was announced, Ray Lewis said: "I'm more happy for him than I am for myself."

Sun staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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