Lewis, Barber on run

Raven eager to turn it up, disclosing he hurt knee vs. Denver

`It feels great right now'

Slowed past two games against Titans, Raiders, he rebuts `rookie wall'

January 25, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Jamal Lewis wasn't running on empty, just a sore knee.

The Ravens rookie running back explained yesterday that his falloff in the playoffs is a result of a left knee injury suffered a month ago. It occurred on his final play against the Denver Broncos in a 21-3 wild-card win.

But Lewis won't use that as an excuse for the Super Bowl.

"It feels great right now," said Lewis, who was not listed on the injury report. "After the Oakland game, I felt relieved because I knew we had some time in between to get some rest. I took some time off. It's going to pay off in this game."

Lewis became the Ravens' offensive staple, setting a team record with 1,364 yards rushing and gaining 110 yards in the playoff-opening win over Denver. Over 10 games, he averaged 114 yards.

Those numbers have dipped the past two games, with Lewis running for a total of 126 yards. His average has plummeted to 2.7 yards a carry.

"People make an issue of Jamal not having yards," fullback Sam Gash said. "We don't even care. The thing is, we're winning. So to ask what's wrong with Jamal, I think it's a stupid question."

The fifth pick in the draft, Lewis played 26 games in three seasons at the University of Tennessee. On Sunday, he will suit up for his 20th game in this season alone.

This week, Lewis has been asked about hitting the wall so many times that he has wanted to bang his head against one.

"I don't believe in the rookie wall," Lewis said. "That's all myth, all talk."

The Ravens addressed his injury during the three workouts last week in Owings Mills. Lewis said his reps were limited to rest him.

In the Ravens' first practice in Tampa yesterday, Lewis practiced and reportedly looked sharp.

"The time off was huge for him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Lewis, 21, sees an opportunity to run against the New York Giants despite their being ranked second in the NFL against the run. When asked if the Giants were the toughest defense he has seen this season, Lewis named the 1-15 San Diego Chargers as having a stronger defense.

The Giants, however, have only bestowed compliments on Lewis, the motor of the Ravens' offense. During the playoffs, Lewis has touched the ball on 80 of the Ravens' 164 plays (49 percent).

"Jamal runs the ball just about as hard as any other running back in the league," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "He has really carried that offense. He's going to be our No. 1 priority to stop."

The Giants have stopped the run on a similar level to the Ravens. New York allows an average of 72.3 yards a game while the Ravens give up 60.6 yards.

This season, the Giants have surrendered a 100-yard rushing game to only the Tennessee Titans' Eddie George. Their strategy is if they stop Lewis, they stop the Ravens.

"We have to bring it," Giants linebacker Mike Barrow said. "We have to put some things on him to slow him down. They're building their offense around him. He can take a lot of pressure off guys with his ability to move the chains and pound guys inside." The Ravens agreed with Barrow and are prepared to ride Lewis to a Super Bowl championship.

"If we play it our way, we'll grind it out," running back Priest Holmes said. "It will be Jamal left and Jamal right."

After a week of rest, Lewis is ready to go back to work.

His recent statistics show a decline heading into the Super Bowl. But his healthy outlook puts a different spin leading up to the biggest game of his young career.

"I don't think you can actually go by the numbers," Lewis said. "It depends on who shows up Sunday ready to play."

Two of a kind

How running backs Tiki Barber of the Giants and Jamal Lewis of the Ravens match up.

Tiki Barber .................. Jamal Lewis

............ Rushing attempts

213...............................309

............ Rushing Yards

1,006 ..........................1,364

............ Yards per attempt

4.7 ............................... 4.4

............ rushing touchdowns

8 ................................. 6

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