For the record, the guarantee made by Baltimore Ravens running
back Jamal Lewis wasn't that outlandish. He was playfully
trash-talking during a three-way telephone conversation last week
with high school teammate Robert Cromartie and Cleveland Browns
linebacker Andra Davis, who knew Lewis through Cromartie. All
Lewis told them was that if he carried the ball at least 30 times
on Sunday, he would have a career game against the Browns, a team
he had averaged 135.8 rushing yards against in four previous
meetings. There was no bluster for the Cleveland bulletin board
about breaking Corey Dillon's single-game NFL rushing record of
278 yards. Lewis simply stated what then became obvious during
Baltimore's 33-13 victory at M&T Bank Stadium: He's feeling good
about his game this year.
That's exciting news for the rest of the Ravens, who watched
Lewis erase Dillon's mark with 295 rushing yards on 30 carries.
He won't make history every week, but Lewis will make life easier
for an offense that is struggling to be consistent. With a rookie
at quarterback, first-round pick Kyle Boller, and an
underwhelming cast of receivers, the passing attack was inept in
a season-opening 34-15 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It
was clear the offense would have to be more dependent on Lewis.
"I want to take the pressure off [Boller]," says Lewis.
Lewis gained 1,364 yards as a rookie on Baltimore's 2000 Super
Bowl champion team and 1,327 last year (in '01 he tore his left
ACL in camp and missed the season), but thanks to a rigorous
off-season program he's a more dynamic runner than ever. While
training with other NFL players this summer, he started running
hills, participating in boxing workouts and eating healthier
food. The results are impressive. The 5'11" Lewis, who weighed
260 pounds in minicamp in June, has dropped 17 pounds. "I worked
out with him, and I never saw a guy with that much determination
and intensity," says Ravens fullback Alan Ricard.
Lewis, whom Baltimore selected with the fifth pick in the 2000
draft, hopes to put questions about his durability behind him.
(He tore a ligament in his right knee as a sophomore at
Tennessee, dislocated his left elbow as an NFL rookie and then
tore that ACL the next season.) He has also regained his
breakaway speed, as evidenced on Sunday by touchdown runs of 82
and 63 yards. "People forget how fast he is because he was such a
power back," coach Brian Billick says.
Lewis's speed should be on display in coming weeks. Following the
loss to Pittsburgh, in which he carried 15 times for 69 yards,
Billick vowed to increase his big back's workload. Lewis knew he
was up to the challenge and proved it. "I guess the dude is
Nostradamus," says Cleveland free safety Earl Little. "He did his
thing, and there was nothing we could do about it." --Jeffri
COLOR PHOTO: NICK WASS/AP CATCH 31 Lewis, who had predicted earlier in the week that hewould have a career day, ran for 295 yards against the Browns.