Little Lewis proves huge pain to 'Skins

Kickoff, punt returns take air out of rallies

October 14, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER - Michael Lewis used to drive a beer truck in New Orleans to feed his family. Yesterday, the diminutive kick returner drove the Washington Redskins to despair with his quick feet.

Playing for his hometown Saints, the 5-foot-8 Lewis tied an NFL record by returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. The first two scores of an improbable NFL career kept the streaky Saints comfortably ahead of the Redskins for a bizarre, 43-27 victory at FedEx Field.

There were nine touchdowns, five Redskins turnovers worth 27 Saints points and a total of 23 penalties. But, to Lewis' credit, there were no lead changes. In a game that bordered on blowout, the Redskins kept chipping away at New Orleans' early lead. Lewis answered twice with game-breaking plays.

After a horrendous, four-turnover first quarter and 20-0 deficit, Washington cut the margin to 20-7 early in the second period. But Lewis took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to make it 26-7.

The Redskins were still in striking distance early in the third quarter at 29-21 when Lewis cut behind a block from Bryan Cox and went 83 yards to give the Saints a commanding, 36-21 lead.

"I'm a little guy. I can squeeze through a little hole," Lewis said. "I saw Bryan pick up a guy and, when I looked down the sideline, I saw the wall forming."

Lewis had 286 return yards in the game, the fifth-highest total in NFL history and second best in Saints history. Including 70 yards on two receptions, he had 356 total yards.

His performance left Redskins coach Steve Spurrier seething.

"There are a bunch of guys who act like they're not really concerned about busting their tails and making some tackles [on special teams]," Spurrier said.

"He broke two big ones on us, so he made a name for himself today," Redskins linebacker Eddie Mason said.

Lewis had in fact already made a name for himself as a returner in the Arena Football League with the New Jersey Red Dogs (1999-2000) and in the Indoor Professional Football League with the Louisiana Bayou Beast (1998-99).

"It teaches you a lot because it's so fast and so small," Lewis said of his indoor experience. "I had a couple of games with 200 all-purpose yards on a 50-yard field."

Lewis, 30, was born and grew up in New Orleans, but he didn't attend college. His success indoors got him on the Saints' practice squad at the end of the 2000 season, and he made the roster last season as a returner. Cut at one point last year, Lewis rejoined the team later in the season and played in eight games.

His stint as a truck driver came during his Arena League days. That became a reference point once he made the Saints.

"Just being out there in the work world lets me know how hard I worked out there," he said. "I just take that and bring it in to football, something I love doing, so it helps out."

Until yesterday, though, Lewis never found the end zone.

"Every week, we're just one block away from returning one," he said. "[Today] we were just making key blocks and the returns were set up right."

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