Slight Lewis plays mighty big role in rebuffing Bengals 87-yard return of punt for score, 4 catches for 122 yards make difference

Ravens 31, Bengals 24

September 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Pound for pound, is there a more valuable player in the NFL than Jermaine Lewis?

Lewis, who carries 172 muscular pounds on his 5-foot-7 inch frame, clearly was the biggest man on the field in the Ravens' 31-24 victory over Cincinnati last night.

He entered the contest averaging a whopping 32.2 yards per catch on just six receptions and, amazingly, that average did not drop. Lewis hung four catches for 122 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown, on the Bengals.

That score came in the first half, when Lewis burned cornerback Ashley Ambrose on a stop-and-go move, ran under a perfectly thrown pass by Eric Zeier, and jogged down the left sideline and into the end zone, giving the Ravens a 21-0 lead.

Lewis saved his biggest play for midway through the third quarter, after Cincinnati had used an assortment of Ravens penalties and turnovers to close to 21-17.

Lewis gathered in a punt at the Baltimore 13, used a crunching block by Duane Starks -- who deposited Thomas Randolph into the turf -- to get going along the right sideline, and from there, it became a footrace that Cincinnati had little chance of winning.

Eighty-seven-yard return. Touchdown. The Ravens led, 28-17, and Lewis had regained the momentum his team had nearly allowed to dissipate.

"I knew I had to do something. Every time I catch [a punt], I want to score, and so does our strike force [his blockers]," Lewis said. "Duane told me to follow him, because he was going to blow somebody up, and that's what happened."

"That was a big one," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "We needed momentum. It was just an exchange for what they did to us. We needed the momentum at that time, and I think he provided it."

Lewis also gave the Bengals' secondary fits all night. Teaming up with Zeier, who made his first start of 1998, Lewis found himself involved in the offense early and often. The world-class sprinter from the University of Maryland did not disappoint.

Through the first three games, the Ravens had gone to Lewis sporadically, sometimes allowing two quarters to pass without attempting to deliver the ball to him. That thinking changed with the strong-armed Zeier.

On the Ravens' first possession, Zeier set the tone by hitting Lewis for an 11-yard completion on a first-down, play-action pass.

"I knew we were going to go downfield more tonight, and I was excited about that," Lewis said. "We all got involved early. When you do that, you should make plays the whole game, instead of waiting to make them late in the game."

With 12: 27 left in the second quarter, Zeier revisited Lewis with memorable results. The Ravens were on top, 14-0, and they decided for the fifth time in the half to throw on first down. Lewis was Zeier's target, and Ambrose, who fell down after biting on his fake, was the victim.

Zeier threw the pass while Lewis was coming out of his initial move. The only question was whether Lewis would gather in the pass and complete an easy score.

"I threw it right as [Ambrose] was going down, and I was afraid I overthrew Jermaine," Zeier said. "That was a great move and a great catch."

And a great night. In all, Lewis touched the ball nine times and accounted for 236 yards.

Happy returns

Last night's third-quarter punt return for a touchdown was the fourth of Jermaine Lewis' career, all in Ravens victories:

Date .. .. .. Opp. ... .. . Yds. .. .. Result

12-7-97 .. .. Sea. .. .. . .89, 66 ..W, 31-24

9-13-98 .. .. at NYJ .. .. .69 .. .. W, 24-10

9-27-98 .. .. Cin. .. .. .. 87 .. .. W, 31-24

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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