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Wednesday, December 12
Updated: December 13, 10:49 PM ET
Lewis furious over pregame comments

Associated Press

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, furious over statements by two Pittsburgh Steelers, plans to take out his anger Sunday against the AFC Central leaders.

Lewis was particularly annoyed over a comment by Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who was quoted in a magazine article as saying Cincinnati fourth-year linebacker Takeo Spikes is as good as Lewis, but doesn't get the same notoriety because he has a lesser supporting cast.

"Jerome saying Takeo Spikes is better than me? Let's go find out," Lewis said. "They have to come here in three, four days regardless of what's coming out of their mouths. Tell him to tape that groin up and come see me at PSINet."

Bettis missed last week's game against the New York Jets because of a groin injury, but is expected to play in Sunday night's showdown between the defending Super Bowl champs and the Steelers (10-2), who can clinch the division title with a victory.

Bettis, told of Lewis' rage Wednesday, said he did not intend to slight Lewis, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP.

"I just said (Spikes) is as good an athlete as Ray Lewis, he just doesn't have the talent around him," Bettis said. "I'm trying to compliment another guy. So he brings that into a Steelers story? I guess they're jumping on anything right now."

In the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens won 13-10 when Pittsburgh's Kris Brown missed four field goals. But wide receiver Plaxico Burress said this week that although they lost, the Steelers knocked around the Super Bowl champs.

"We beat those guys up physically. We know it," Burress said. "All we have to do is go down there and beat them up again this time."

Lewis was enraged by the comment.

"It kind of ticks you off. You want to just play football, but these guys want to trash talk," Lewis said. "You talk about what Plaxico Burress said, you talk about what Jerome Bettis said, man, that's garbage."

Lewis defended himself and the Baltimore defense, which is currently ranked second behind the Steelers but last year set an NFL record for fewest points allowed over a 16-game season.

"I've always said you don't have to respect me, but don't ever disrespect me. For those guys to say what they're saying now, it's ignorant," Lewis said. "They have a good defense this year. I'm not even going to say great. But we've been there, we've done this before.

"There's no person on this defense, first team or second team, that I would trade for any one of their starters."

The Steelers took exception to that comment.

"That's good, cause we wouldn't take none of their guys neither," Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter said. "I don't need none of their guys over here playing for us neither."

Lewis' scorn was provoked by Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, who told the linebacker what Bettis and Burress said. Sharpe, one of Lewis' closest friends on the team, also thought Bettis' comparison of Spikes and Lewis was way off base.

"That's like saying, `Dude, Where's My Car' is just as good as `Titanic.' At some point in time, you've got to be realistic," Sharpe said. "I don't mean no disrespect to Takeo, because Takeo Spikes is a great football player, but he's not Ray Lewis. Let's not fool ourselves."

Sharpe didn't much care for Burress' comment either, particularly because Burress has a reputation for being far less physical than the Steelers' other wide receiver, Hines Ward.

"I'm not even going to talk about Plaxico. I'm not even going to dignify what he said with a response," Sharpe said. "If Hines Ward would have said that, as physical as he's played the game, OK, I can at least lend some credence to that one. But Plexiglas, no."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher moved quickly to prevent the battle of words from escalating.

"Anybody who knows Jerome Bettis knows he has a lot of respect for Ray Lewis, the best linebacker in the game today," Cowher said. "Those two know each other well."

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