Adalius Thomas acknowledges that Monday night's game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium might be different from the first 11 he has played this season for the New England Patriots. There's a good chance that Thomas hasn't experienced anything like it on the road in his eight-year NFL career.
"You know the people there, you know the guys, you're familiar with where you're going," Thomas said yesterday. "I was there for seven years. You know the back way to get in. Instead of a road trip, it will be like a home game on the road."
But familiarity could breed contempt, judging by the verbal fisticuffs Thomas engaged in last month with former Ravens teammate Ray Lewis and the reception Thomas could get from fans when he returns to play in Baltimore for the first time since signing a five-year, $37.5 million deal with New England. [Please see RAVENS, 6C]
Asked what kind of response he expects from Ravens fans, Thomas said: "I don't know, probably mixed. Some people think that I'm a jerk. Some people think that I did what I had to do. They're entitled to their opinion. The fans were great for me when I was there. I don't have any hard feelings for anyone who's there in Baltimore."
Whether that includes Lewis or any of his other former teammates is also in question.
Thomas declined to discuss whether there has been a cease-fire to their war of words, which began when Thomas told Sports Illustrated that the Ravens were more concerned with individual glory than team goals. Lewis later called Thomas a "coward" on his radio show.
Have he and Lewis, who was unavailable to comment yesterday, settled their squabble?
"I'm not even talking about that. You're going to take half of what I say and put it in the paper and make it into something that it's not," said Thomas, who told the Boston media recently that he and Lewis have spoken. "That is done, over with.
"I will let you figure out if we've spoke or not. I'm not going down that road."
Nor would Thomas get drawn into a new discussion comparing the Patriots (11-0) and Ravens (4-7).
"I try not to compare the two. The last time I tried to compare the two, there was all kinds of controversy," Thomas said.
But Thomas said he was surprised by his former team's struggles.
"I wouldn't have said I could have predicted that or anything like that, and nobody can," Thomas said. "I'm not there, so it's unfair for me to say this or that, because I'm not there. Their record is what it is. They've lost some close games, and, other than that, I'm not sure what it is that's going on."
Thomas certainly appears to be a different player - used in a different role - than he was with the Ravens. A sixth-round draft choice in 2000, Thomas grew into the most versatile player on one of the league's top defenses, recording 30.5 sacks the past three seasons and becoming a ferocious run stopper on the outside.
Used almost exclusively as an inside linebacker with the Patriots, Thomas has been solid but mostly unspectacular. He is fifth in tackles (49) and a distant fourth in sacks (three compared with 10 for team leader Mike Vrabel), and except for a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the season against the San Diego Chargers, Thomas hasn't been the kind of game-changer he was in Baltimore.
"Playing inside is different, but, again, you're on the football field, and that's where I'm com-fortable, and as long as I'm on the football field, I can adjust," said Thomas, whose role could change since outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin was put on injured reserve this week. "You're still learning little things here and there. I think it just comes with time. I don't think it's something you can take a shortcut to."
Said Patriots coach Bill Belichick: "He's done a great job for us. He came in the offseason and worked very hard. He gives us a lot of versatility on defense ... and a great work ethic. He is a smart guy, has a good sense of humor, brings a good atmosphere, a good attitude to the team and to his job. I think everybody loves being around him and the way he plays."
Ravens coach Brian Billick said after practice yesterday that Thomas' return won't be any different from other former players coming back to Baltimore.
"Every player that was here was a big part of the franchise," Billick said. "He gave us a lot of fond memories. Like any player that comes back, it's always interesting when that happens. He's obviously doing very well with a team that's doing very well."