Old faces in new place as Ravens, Jets kick offBy DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
2010-09-12 11:42:59 -
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Whenever LaDainian Tomlinson and Ray Lewis meet on the field, a few bumps and bruises usually are involved.
They've played against each other plenty during their long careers, and won't let a few bone-rattling tackles get in the way of their friendship.
``He makes some plays, we make some plays, but bottom line, it's a high-spirited competition,'' Lewis said. ``We give it everything we've got against each other because we respect each other that much.''
They'll be at it again Monday night when Lewis' Baltimore Ravens open their season against Tomlinson's New York Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium. It'll be Tomlinson's first regular-season game with his new team after nine seasons in San Diego, and a chance to prove he's far from washed up.
He's already got a believer in Lewis.
``If you watch the man play football, the man plays football better than probably any back in (the) game right now,'' Lewis said. ``That's one thing, if you don't respect that, he'll hurt you with it.''
Tomlinson laughed when he heard about Lewis' praise, knowing there's more to it.
``He's obviously, as a buddy, being very modest,'' a grinning Tomlinson said. ``He's going to try and tear my head off on Monday night. He's buttering me up. We have a lot of respect for each other. Older players in this league, we're always looking for that chip on our shoulder. It's no different with me.''
Or, with several other big-name players making their regular-season debuts in new uniforms Monday night.
Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie are in green and white now, and looking for fresh starts with the Jets - just as Tomlinson is.
``I think every year you have something to prove,'' said Tomlinson, coming off a career-low 730 yards rushing. ``That's the way I approach it. This, probably more so than any other year because I'm with a new team. I'm going to approach it that way. I'm always motivated, excited to play.''
Taylor was once one of the Jets' most-despised opponents while a member of the Miami Dolphins. Now, he's expected to give a boost to New York's pass rush, especially with linebacker Calvin Pace out with a broken right foot.
``I know some people don't think I can do it anymore,'' Taylor said, ``and there's a million different things being said, but that's fine.''
On the other sideline, former Pro Bowl wide receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are two more targets for young quarterback Joe Flacco in an increasingly formidable Ravens offense.
``Obviously, in one game, one guy might have more balls than the other, but that's a good problem to have because defenses can't fix on one guy each and every week,'' wide receiver Derrick Mason said. ``One day it might be 'Quan, one day it might be T.J., one day it might be me.''
Throw in New York coach Rex Ryan and linebacker Bart Scott facing their old team and the Jets hosting their first regular-season game at their new $1.6 billion stadium, and it makes for lots of old faces in one big, new place.
``It's a big deal,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``Obviously, it's New York City, that's a big deal. You have a brand-new stadium. I think that's a very momentous, historic kind of a thing and very meaningful to the Jets and their fans. We're honored to be a part of it. We're glad they asked us to come up and be a part of it.''
That doesn't mean the Ravens intend to be kind to the hosts.
``To get a win on the road, it would definitely build our team confidence,'' Ravens running back Ray Rice said. ``That's one thing we've got to do. Everybody knows we've got to go on the road, and it's tough to get a win on the road.''
Especially against a team that had the league's No. 1 defense and rushing offense last season, and has made it clear it has its sights set on a Super Bowl appearance.
``The opening game is always a statement game,'' Ryan said. ``Both teams are gunning for it. Both teams are going to try to win this game. Both teams recognize the fact that they are playing against a good football team. At least, we do.''
Ryan was an assistant in Baltimore for 10 years, including four as the defensive coordinator before being hired by New York, and still has several friends on the team.
``I'll always be indebted to them, but I'm going to try to kick their butt, period,'' Ryan said. ``We're going to try to win the game. No matter what my attachment is to them, I'm no longer their coach. I'm here. This is my team. Will I always respect those guys for what they did (for) me? Absolutely. There's no question about it, but we're going to try to win.''
All the subplots have made for some interesting chatter on both sides leading up to the game. Lewis, one of Ryan's favorite players, came out and knocked his former coach's big talk and said the Jets need to win something first before they run their mouths.
``Whatever he feels that they want to say, and all these Jets want to talk about this, man, you've still got to play the game,'' Lewis said. ``The game ain't played through tongues. The game is played when you buckle up your chinstraps.''
And both the Ravens and Jets will get a chance to finally do that Monday night.
``I think it's an exciting game for the NFL,'' Scott said. ``I think they knew what they were doing when they put it on Monday Night Football. They wanted two physical teams to start off. We know them, they know us. It's going to make for great competition.''
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