Stacked up as Panthers target, J. Lewis makes gain in opener

Held to 64 yards, back happy with stamina, knee after season on sideline

Nfl Week 1 Panthers 10, Ravens 7

September 09, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jamal Lewis had a good idea heading into yesterday's game what the Carolina Panthers' defensive strategy would be, and he was certain it centered on him.

So when new Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was linebackers coach with the Ravens the previous three seasons, stacked at least eight defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage nearly every play the first three quarters, Lewis got what he anticipated.

But so did the Panthers. Lewis rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries, yet was largely a non-factor outside of a few double-digit runs. The Panthers dared Ravens quarterback Chris Redman and the rest of the offense to beat them, and in the end, the strategy paid off.

Redman's comeback attempt ended with a Dan Morgan interception with less than two minutes left, and the Panthers held on to a 10-7 win in front of 61,109 at Ericcson Stadium.

"[Del Rio] knew that we were starting off with a new quarterback, and he knew the ability I had to run the football," Lewis said.

"I really thought that was how it was going to be, them coming in and trying to stop the run, which they did. They played the run first, and he was able to hit things across the top."

Lewis, coming off major knee surgery, played his first complete game since Super Bowl XXXV. Despite the prolonged absence, Lewis still looked fresh well into the fourth quarter and said he did not experience any pain in his knee.

"I feel great. My knee is not aching at all, not swollen at all," said Lewis, whose longest run was for 18 yards. "It held up pretty good during the game. That was a real test for me. I'll be ready for the start of practice next week."

Lewis was held to 11 yards on seven attempts in the first half. Three of those attempts were either for no gain or minus yardage.

Redman did have chances to go downfield with one-on-one coverage to his receivers, but 75 of his 118 first-half passing yards came on the Ravens' lone touchdown drive.

"Obviously their game plan was to stop Jamal, which enabled me to get a lot of checks in the first half," Redman said. "A lot of times we passed the ball downfield on checks. That is what the defense dictated, so that is what we tried to do.

"It seems like he really didn't get into the flow of the game too much. But he made some nice runs, and I know he is going to help us down the road."

The only problem from Lewis came on the Ravens' final offensive play. With less than two minutes left and the Ravens down a field goal, Carolina sent an all-out blitz. Lewis was supposed to pick up defensive end Julius Peppers and did, but not in time to stop Peppers from getting to Redman. Peppers' hit popped the ball in the air, and Morgan got the interception.

Lewis said he hesitated before picking up Peppers because he saw tackle Edwin Mulitalo pause before picking up his responsibility, tackle Brentson Buckner.

"I think that is how it was supposed to pan out," Lewis said. "I talked to [Mulitalo] about it, and he told me that he just couldn't get that pushoff to get down the line to pick up his man.

"[Peppers] had a free run. I really wasn't in his way, couldn't get my hands on him."

Despite the mix-up at the end and the attention throughout, Lewis making it through an entire game unscathed had to give the Ravens hope on an otherwise disappointing day.

"If he came out healthy and strong, the knee feels good and it doesn't swell up, doesn't need to be drained, then I would say for him, physically, a great outing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Tale of 2 halves

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis had a productive second half in his first game after missing all of last season with a knee injury. First half

Att. ........... Yds. ................... Avg. .............. LG ................. TD

7 ................ 11 ..................... 1.6 ................. 8 .................... 0

Second half

Att. ........... Yds. ................... Avg. .............. LG .................. TD

10 .............. 53 ..................... 5.3 .............. 18 .................... 0

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