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OWINGS MILLS — The feud between Adalius Thomas and Ray Lewis has been muted in the wake of the two All-Pro linebackers trading vitriol earlier this season.
The dueling outbursts were initially triggered by Thomas’ swipe at the Baltimore Ravens in the pages of Sports Illustrated, escalated on Lewis’ radio program and capped by a rebuttal from Thomas, the former Baltimore linebacker who signed a $35 million contract with the New England Patriots during the offseason.
Since the controversy ensued in October, the two have spoken and apparently mended fences long before launching preparations for Monday night’s game between the undefeated Patriots (11-0) and the Ravens (4-7), who are mired in a five-game losing streak.
Thomas had no interest in igniting the argument again.
"That is done, over with," Thomas said Wednesday in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I’ll let you figure out if we spoke or not. I’m not going down that road because you guys are going to make it something that it’s not like it happened the first time because it was totally irrelevant. So, I’m not even going there."
Thomas went there and beyond during a magazine interview where he basically described the Ravens as consumed with chasing glory while portraying the Patriots as selfless, blue-collar workers.
The war of words was officially declared.
"People there wanted the limelight; people sought out the limelight, starting with the head coach," Thomas said. "It was a star-studded system. Here it’s about as different as you can get. Everybody here shies away from being the star guy. Nobody on this team beats his chest. They just all go about their business. And win."
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis was enraged by Thomas’ comments.
He responded in kind, and then some.
"When you take a shot at men that you claim to love to go to war with, I call those cowards," Lewis said. "If you have something to say privately, you don’t have to go to a newspaper. If you have something to say to a man, speak it."
Then, Thomas branded Lewis a coward for second-guessing Ravens coach Brian Billick’s play-calling and for lobbying for the Ravens to draft big defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to shield him from blockers.
"As far as calling me a coward, I think that goes to something personal, I don’t like it," Thomas told New England reporters. "I will address that with him personally myself. To attack my integrity, as far as that goes, and say you had to make a scheme up for me, I didn’t know they made up outside linebacker for me.
"I know he was crying about a big guy in the middle so you can keep blockers off of you. I mean, I don’t know if that’s a scheme made for you or not. As far as that goes, if you want to criticize your head coach, talk about a coward. You can go right upstairs and talk to him like a man, just like you’re talking about me."
Lewis was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Now, Thomas is concentrating on a unique situation as he returns to Baltimore for the first time after spending his first seven years of his NFL career here.
"You know the people there, you know the guys, you’re familiar with where you’re going,” Thomas said "I was there for seven years. You know the back way to get in. Instead of a road trip, it will be like a home game on the road."
Thomas is aware that his old popularity in Baltimore, which included an Inner Harbor party wishing him well upon his departure, has likely dimmed.
There could be boos for the former sixth-round draft pick who emerged as a versatile headliner on last year’s top-ranked defense only to sign with New England last March when the Ravens opted to not make him their franchise player.
"I don’t know, probably mixed," Thomas said when asked what kind of reception he anticipated. "Some people think that I’m a jerk. Some people think that I did what I had to do.
"They’re entitled to their opinion. The fans were great for me when I was there. I don’t have any hard feelings for anyone who’s there in Baltimore."
Thomas was unwilling to discuss the prospects of the dominant Patriots in comparison to the fading Ravens.
"I try not to compare the two," Thomas said. "The last time I tried to compare the two, there was all kinds of controversy."
The Ravens’ dramatic downward spiral did come as a surprise to Thomas, who starred on last year’s 13-3 AFC North champions.
"I wouldn’t have said I could have predicted that or anything like that, and nobody can," he said. "I’m not there, so it’s unfair for me to say this or that, because I’m not there. I’m not sure what it is that’s going on."
Billick downplayed the significance of Thomas’ return to Maryland.
"Every player that was here was a big part of the franchise," Billick said. "He gave us a lot of fond memories. Like any player that comes back, it’s always interesting when that happens. He’s obviously doing very well with a team that’s doing very well."
Thomas is no longer employed as diversely as he was by Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
The Patriots usually line Thomas up at inside linebacker and he ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 49 and third in sacks with three. He does have a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers and recorded 2 1/2 sacks against the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots have yet to have Thomas line up at defensive end, outside linebacker, middle linebacker, safety and cornerback in the same game, something that he did at least three times with the Ravens.
"He’s done a great job for us," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call. "He gives us a lot of versatility on defense and a great work ethic.
"He is a smart guy, has a good sense of humor, brings a good atmosphere, a good attitude to the team and to his job. I think everybody loves being around him and the way he plays."
Overall, Thomas has had a lower-profile impact on games.
Still, his role might be expanded since outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin was placed on injured reserve this week.
"Playing inside is different, but, again, you’re on the football field, and that’s where I’m comfortable and as long as I’m on the football field, I can adjust," Thomas said. "You’re still learning little things here and there. I think it just comes with time. I don’t think it’s something you can take a shortcut to."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.