Ray Lewis is as fearsome and dependable as anyone in football, and that earned him his second Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday.
The Ravens' inside linebacker and leader is Baltimore's third player honored in 2003, joining Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis and Defensive Rookie of the Year Terrell Suggs.
Lewis also was the NFL's top defender in the 2000 season, when he led a dominant defense that carried the Ravens to the Super Bowl title. He probably would have won the award in other seasons, too, had he been fully healthy, particularly last year, when Lewis missed 11 games with a shoulder injury.
"When I got hurt, I had a lot of choices to make,'' Lewis said. "I could have moped because I was starting to have one of my best seasons ever, or I could have did what I did: I said I was going to come back bigger, faster and stronger all over again.''
Which is precisely what happened, making him a landslide winner in voting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers an broadcasters. Lewis got 43 votes, Dallas safety Roy Williams and New England tackle Richard Seymour each received two votes, and three others each got one.
The Ravens (10-6) won their first division title and ranked third in the league in total defense. They host Tennessee on Saturday in a wild-card game.
Lewis is the fifth player to win the award more than once. Only Lawrence Taylor won it three times, and one Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott, believes Lewis is on course to be the best linebacker ever.
"He's there,'' Lott said. "The only thing left is a consistent three or four more years.''
Meanwhile, his Ravens teammate Jamal Lewis, is making his own case as one of the top players in hisotry.
After becoming the fifth player in league history to amass 2,000 yards rushing in a season and carrying the Baltimore Ravens to their first division title, Lewis on Wednesday was honored as The Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Much in the same fashion that he pulled away from speedy defensive backs after breaking past the line, Lewis easily outdistanced runner-up San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson. Lewis received 29 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Tomlinson drew eight votes.
Lewis is the eighth consecutive running back to win the award, including Priest Holmes last year. He is the first Ravens player to win it.
Lewis finished with 2,066 yards rushing second best in NFL history and just 39 short of Dickerson's record, set in 1984.
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