12-3-03, 9:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Ray Lewis, the most intense player in football, is mad heading into Sunday's AFC North showdown in Baltimore.
Mad at Marvin Lewis' goals. Mad at the Cinderella Bengals. Mad, it seems, even at Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna.
"Marvin already predicted it. Marvin said that they were going to win three on the road," challenged Ray Lewis in Baltimore Wednesday. "The last one is in Baltimore, so they predicted a victory. We just have to go play, the pressure is on them now."
Never mind that Marvin, the man who helped scout, draft and mold Ray into a Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker as his long-time defensive coordinator, never predicted three straight road wins. When asked to clarify if he was calling a victory in Baltimore after last week's win in Pittsburgh, Marvin said that was only the goal.
But don't get in the way of Ray's attempts to fire up his teammates. It's what makes him, at the same time, the most feared foe and most loved teammate in the league. No one knows him better than Bengals assistant strength and conditioning coach Kurtis Shultz, his personal trainer in Baltimore.
"If you're not with the Ravens or the (Miami) Hurricanes,' Shultz said, "forget it."
How big is Bengals-Ravens Sunday in Baltimore? Lewis is talking about taking out his Super Bowl ring to flash to his mates this week to let them know they can do it again. But he seems to still be smarting from Cincinnati's 34-26 victory on Oct. 19 at Paul Brown Stadium. Since he came into the NFL in 1996, the Ravens have lost to the Bengals in Baltimore only in his rookie season.
"They know what comes when they come to play us, especially when they come to Baltimore," Ray Lewis said. "It is not talking trash, the Bengals don't play well when they come see the Ravens at home. So come see us again at home, we are playing pissed off now. So come see us, we are pissed off."
The game showcases two legit NFL Most Valuable Player candidates in Lewis and Kitna. Lewis has a bone to pick with him, too, because apparently he believes Kitna told him he was going to take a knee on the last play of the Oct. 19 game.
"I made an example to him. Same things will make you laugh, or make you cry," Lewis said. " Don't ask for four turnovers or for us to drop interceptions next time you throw. Hopefully we won't. I promise you we won't. He knows he has to come back to Baltimore and we will be waiting on him."
Kitna torched the Ravens last time on three touchdown passes of at least 21 yards while his defense forced three turnovers, and his 91.2 rating has made him one of the hottest passers in the NFL.
"I don't watch him like that," Lewis said. " The only thing that helped him against us last time is that we dropped balls and gave him turnovers. If he is expecting that, he is going to have a long day."
Kitna already knows it's going to be a long day no matter what, largely because of the play of Lewis, coming off a monster 19-tackle game in which he returned an interception for a touchdown. He says he's better than he was in 2000, the year the Ravens set the NFL record by allowing just 165 points.
"He's just so fast. He sees everything so fast," Kitna said. "From what I understand, he's a film junkie. When he sees a play, it becomes like he's seen it
before. He's getting everybody in the right place, too. That athletic ability, going along with the fact that he's one of the smartest guys on defense in this league. . .That's why Junior Seau was so good all of those years."
The reason Kitna thinks Lewis is playing better for a defense currently ranked fourth in the NFL is the lack of the Sam Adams-Tony Siragusa grassy knoll in front of him. Without them, he's still leading the team tackles, has four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
"I can't imagine him being much better," Kitna said. "It wasn't very often Ray had anyone even attempting to block him just past the center because of Sam Adams. Now he's just defeating blocks. He doesn't have that 800 pounds in front of him between him. Guys are trying to (block him), he's just beating them to the spot. He's unbelievable."
He was pretty good in 2000, too, and he's got the Super Bowl ring to prove it. Now he's trying to will his teammates there again.
"It was for my gut feeling. When I have a gut feeling and if I don't share it with my teammates, I am cheating them," Lewis said of bringing out the ring. "I had that gut feeling that we were ready to go on that roll again. I haven't had that feeling since 2000. I said to myself, 'The only time that I will take my ring out of my safe is when I know we have the chance to go back.' I know we have a chance to go back. So why not capture the moment?"
Meanwhile, Lewis tries to capture the mind of the foe.
"We know what house rules are. It's not hard," Ray Lewis said. " We have house rules in Baltimore, any way that you want to look at it. We don't believe in 100-yard rushers, I don't care if you have two or three backs. Deal with it. When they come to Baltimore, they will find out."