R. Lewis will have George in his sights


Continuation of rivalry not game's primary focus

Billick issues challenge

Ravens vs. Titans

January 03, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

One of the best individual rivalries in the NFL has become a near afterthought.

With all the focus on the Tennessee Titans' passing attack, plus the attention given to Jamal Lewis' historic season, little room was left for Ray Lewis vs. Eddie George this week.

Lewis, the Ravens' intimidating linebacker and this season's NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the Titans' George, the team's leading rusher since moving to Tennessee, likely will meet early in today's first-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Me and Eddie have been going at it since Day One," Lewis said. "We were drafted together, came out in the same year. He started having the better years because his team was having better years, but that changed a couple of years ago. It's always been a good, heated rivalry. We get at each other pretty well. It should be exciting once again."

Outside of a 91-yard effort by George in the playoff game between the teams three years ago, Lewis has held a decided advantage recently.

George is averaging 60.7 yards a game against the Ravens, and his will to play against their defense has been questioned -- most notably in a Sports Illustrated article that quoted cornerback Chris McAlister as saying George curls up like a baby when he faces the Ravens.

The Ravens have done no talking like that heading into today's game. Titans coach Jeff Fisher also has defended George's difficulties. George rushed for 61 yards in last season's 13-12 Ravens win.

"Eddie isn't the only back to struggle against that defense," Fisher said. "They are very well coached, disciplined and very difficult to run against. Eddie and any other back has trouble against them.

"Eddie and Ray are good friends. I asked Eddie earlier in the week if he had spoken to Ray, and he just shook his head nope. Their defense with Ray can stop most backs in the league."

Motivational moves

Coach Brian Billick placed a written challenge inside the locker room to the team, demanding the players reach down into their subconscious and be better than they have been all season.

"The challenge is to ourselves to be great," McAlister said. "To go out and do what you have to do to be a champion. Extra film, extra workout, whatever it may be, challenge yourself to get better each week."

McAlister was asked if some of Billick's motivational tactics were similar to those of Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"I know Phil is a philosophical guy, but I don't have any examples to link the two together," McAlister said.

Chasing wins, not yards

Last week, Jamal Lewis was hounded by the attention surrounding his quest to reach 2,000 rushing yards and possibly break Eric Dickerson's single-season record.

Lewis, whose 2,066-yard total is second all time and ended up 39 short of Dickerson, expressed his pleasure in focusing back on football.

"I can breathe again," Lewis said. "None of that matters, none of the yards matter. The only thing that matters now is winning. That is a lot of pressure off my back, and I can just play football."

Heap gets handle on role

Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap has just one catch in four of the past six games, but he is content to keep a low profile.

Although Heap made waves earlier this season when he expressed displeasure about not being more involved in the offense, he kept the focus on the Ravens' offense as a whole rather than his place within it when answering questions this week.

"Right now, we are running the ball, and we are running the ball well," Heap said. "That is our main focus offensively. I am still going to do my part. All of us receivers, we are going to do our part, just making plays on the outside. Our main focus is to get Jamal going and work off of that."

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