R. Lewis downplays Pro Bowl snub

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis emphatically denied any lingering bitterness about being snubbed in the Pro Bowl balloting. If he's angry, the Baltimore Ravens' middle linebacker tried to hide it as well as he could by pointing toward his AFC North division champions T-shirt and hat as proof of where his top priorities lie.

Although Lewis is a seven-time All-Pro, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the acknowledged leader of the league's top-ranked defense, he's only a first-team alternate this year in the league's annual all-star game behind the Denver Broncos' Al Wilson and the Miami Dolphins' Zach Thomas. Lewis would only get to play in the game if Wilson or Thomas are unable to play.
While downplaying the significance of the Pro Bowl, Lewis left no doubt, though, about his belief that he belongs in the game.
"Do you really believe they would have let four of us go to the Pro Bowl?" said Lewis in reference to the Ravens' heralded linebacking corps comprised of himself, standout Bart Scott, who was also excluded from selection, along with Pro Bowl selections Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs. "Anybody can make plays, but in this business ask yourself, ‘What's the difference-maker?' I'm a difference maker.
"I'm not credited with all these plays and all these good things, but when you go back to ask me if I'm bitter, heck no. There's nothing to be bitter about when I'm sitting as a champion right now. I've never played this game for a Pro Bowl."
Lewis' surprising omission along with four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce and Scott, who registered 9 1/2 sacks for more than any other inside linebacker, stunned teammates. Lewis registered a team-high 142 tackles, according to the coaching staff's film review, along with 3 1/2 sacks and two interceptions.
However, Lewis was only credited with 91 tackles by the NFL to rank 26th in the league while the Dolphins' Thomas posted 141.
Tackles aren't an official statistic.
"For Ray not to go, it's pretty ridiculous," said Pryce, who didn't make the AFC squad despite registering a team-high 12 sacks. "There are some guys on that team that flat out will tell you they don't deserve to go.
"It's a popularity thing. I thought Ray was the most popular guy in the NFL. I have no idea what happened. I guess they changed the voting."
Scott was perhaps an even more glaring omission.
Undrafted out of Southern Illinois, Scott established himself as a starter last season and ranks second on the team with 122 tackles and has two interceptions while also delivering one of the season's hardest hits on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"Last year, I watched the same thing happen to Adalius," Scott said. "The Pro Bowl is a matter of opinion. A lot of people think I should have made it, but there's a lot of people that should have made it.
"Who am I to single myself out and say that I deserve to go even more than anybody else?"
Lewis advised Scott to move on from the slight.
"I told Bart, 'You can be hurt because you got robbed, but if that's on your mind, Miami can't be on your mind,'" Lewis said, referring to the Super Bowl site. "The bottom line: We're in the dance. Whatever frustration you got, let it come out on the field."
Meanwhile, Lewis offered the theory that voters, which are split evenly between players, coaches and fans, might not be as knowledgeable or as objective as they used to be in the past.
"It's sad the way it goes down," Lewis said. "Of course, I was around when the voting was right. I was around when you used to vote guys in on what they did and not on whatever comes up.
"It's getting kind of crazy because this league is getting very young and these guys don't know how they are voting no more. They don't know why they vote, guys vote against each other and that's not the way the game should be. Bottom line: We're chasing something bigger."
It was harder for special-teams ace Gary Stills, a first-team alternate behind the San Diego Chargers' Kasim Osgood, to control his emotions. Stills has posted 40 tackles to lead the NFL, and needs only six more to break the league's all-time single-season record.
"What do I have to do?" said Stills, who made the game in 2003 with the Kansas City Chiefs. "How many plays do I have to make to go to the Pro Bowl? Every year, I'm in a fight to get to the show."
Baltimore wound up with five Pro Bowl selections in Thomas, Suggs, safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and cornerback Chris McAlister with four alternates in Lewis, Stills, tight end Todd Heap and kicker Matt Stover.
"I have a tough time imagining anybody being better than the guys we have," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think the guys who made it know it's in no small part because of what's going on around them."
Pryce has 1 1/2 less sacks than Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel, one more than Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess and a half-sack less than Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor.
Pryce seemed to literally take the snub in stride. He said he was shopping in Chevy Chase at Louis Vuitton when his wife informed him that he wasn't headed to Hawaii.
"I said, ‘Oh, cool, look at this shirt, you like this shirt,'" Pryce said. "She was upset and I was like, ‘Who cares?'"
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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