- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

BALTIMORE.

Eddie George dislocated his shoulder in yesterday’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, but the Tennessee Titans running back had no problem locating his heart.

After leaving the game early in the second quarter, George came back in the second half to help lead his team to a 20-17 victory over the Ravens, the win coming on a 46-yard field goal by Gary Anderson with less than a minute left in the game — ending Baltimore’s season and snapping a five-game losing streak to the Ravens.

And make no mistake about it, the Titans did so on Eddie George’s one good shoulder as the running back, who passed the 10,000-yard career rushing mark this year, carried the ball 25 times for 88 yards, eclipsing his rival on the other side of the field, the league’s top rusher, Jamal Lewis, who gained 35 yards on 14 carries.

“What can you say about Eddie?” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said after the game. “That is what he is all about … that is why he is a warrior.”

George hurt his shoulder at the start of the second quarter after Ravens safety Ed Reed intercepted a Steve McNair pass on a drive deep in Baltimore territory. Reed intercepted at the Ravens’ 6 and was in the process of running the ball back downfield.

At that point, there was nothing more important than bringing Reed down, since the Ravens had already returned one interception for a touchdown when safety Will Demps grabbed a McNair pass tipped by Reed in the first quarter and ran it in 56 yards to tie the game at 7-7.

So George grabbed Reed at the Ravens’ 29. But when George went down, he landed hard on his left shoulder.

“I heard it pop out and I tried to get in back in while on was on the ground,” George said. “They popped it back in on the sideline. It was a little painful.”

George left for the locker room, where he had the shoulder X-rayed. His return to the game was announced as “questionable.” But here was the only question George needed answered — could he damage it more by playing? Was there a risk of ligament damage or something worse?

If not — and if all we were talking about was playing with the pain — there was no question George was coming back in the second half. “I said put it back in and let’s go,” George said.

So when he came out to take the field in the second half wearing a harness to protect his injured left shoulder, everyone on the field took notice, particularly his teammates.

“When he came out and said he was ready to go, I knew it would fire up some of our guys,” McNair said. “Eddie is a very physical and tough guy.”

It was tough guy football yesterday at M&T; Bank Stadium, and there was nothing pretty about it. There were five interceptions in the game — three thrown by McNair, the NFL’s co-Most Valuable Player this season, and two by Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright.

But it was beautiful nonetheless, watching George square off, with his shoulder in a harness in the second half, against Ravens All-World linebacker Ray Lewis, who nearly willed his team to victory with 17 tackles — 11 unassisted. Even though they lost, Lewis and the Ravens have nothing to be ashamed of this season, with a young team that won 10 games and its division with Wright at quarterback.

At one point in the second half, George was tackled by Lewis as the two fell out of bounds. George popped up screaming at Lewis, and the two of them had to be separated. When asked what he said to the linebacker, George said, “I said, ‘have a great New Year.’”

Maybe he did, but it was probably in unprintable tough guy talk.

“I’ll tell you, Eddie is going to fight,” Lewis said. “I’m going to fight. It’s always a competitive rivalry between me and Eddie. It turned out to be another classic again today.”

After rushing for more than 1,200 yards in each of the first five seasons of his career, George has battled back from injuries in the last three, seeing his average gain drop from a high of 4.1 in his rookie year of 1996, and also in 1999, to 3.0 in 2001, 3.4 last year and 3.3 this year (1,031 yards on 312 carries).

He may be in the place where hard-nosed running backs find themselves, often prematurely, on the down side from all of the hits after eight seasons. He may never be able to recapture the power that drove him to 1,509 yards on 403 carries in 2000. But as long as he can locate his heart, Eddie George is one tough guy and someone who can still carry a team on one shoulder when it needs him.

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