Winning the war
Lewis gets better of rival George in Divisional battle
Updated: Sunday January 07, 2001 7:38 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- They yelled at each other. They pushed and shoved, with neither giving a bit of ground.
Then, Lewis left George prone in his wake, whisking the other way for the touchdown that enabled the Baltimore Ravens to begin looking forward their first trip to the AFC championship game.
Led by Lewis, the Ravens beat George and the top-seeded Tennessee Titans 24-10.
Lewis finished with 12 tackles, an interception and his first NFL touchdown. George finished with 91 yards rushing, eight catches for 52 yards, and the miserable feeling that goes with being eliminated from the playoffs.
"You're talking about two premier players, two heavyweight fighters slugging it out, taking the body blows and coming up for more," Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "That was worth the price of admission right there."
Lewis and George battled for more than three quarters, talking stuff and banging helmets, before Lewis delivered the knockout blow.
George had his hands on a short pass and bobbled it. Lewis took it away and ran 50 yards for a touchdown that put Baltimore up 24-10 with 6:41 left.
Baltimore, which never had a winning season before this year, will face the Raiders next week in Oakland.
"It was a great war," Lewis said of his duel with George. "We're great friends on the field, and off the field. When we're on the field, we're just gladiators going at each other."
George scored the Titans' lone touchdown, but by game's end, he had as many points as Lewis: six.
"He's the heart and soul of their defense," George said. "He was talking, I was talking. On the interception, it bounced off my hands. I should have made the catch."
Earlier in the game, Lewis knocked Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair out of the game briefly with a bruising hit. Titans fans called for a penalty, but McNair confirmed that the blow was legal.
"It was a clean hit," McNair said, saying without provocation that Lewis is "one of the best linebackers ever to play the game."
The victory, and his outstanding performance, was yet another positive in a whirlwind 12 months for Lewis. He led the Ravens to the playoffs, earned NFL defensive player of the year honors and almost single-handedly carried Baltimore into the AFC title game.
But after the game, someone among the dozens of reporters in a tiny room asked Billick if this is vindication for Lewis, who was charged, then exonerated, in a double murder after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta last year. The charges were eventually dropped in an agreement in which Lewis pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice.
"At what point are you going to take the asterisk off? When are you going to do it? It's up to you, it really is," Billick said. "The man's done everything he could. The man was convicted of nothing worth this constant asterisk Ray Lewis MVP, slash, yadda, yadda, yadda. AFC championship game participant, yadda, yadda, yadda.
"I know I'm howling at the moon here, because it's probably asking too much. ... For us, it's an absolute non-issue."
The only issue the Ravens are concerned about right now is getting ready for Oakland.
"Ray Lewis stepped up at the end and did a number on us. He proved he's defensive player of the year," Titans tight end Frank Wycheck said.