J. Lewis tries to get grip on things

Ravens running back looks back at fumbles, looks ahead to Seahawks

November 19, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

With an empty locker room as his background, Ravens running back Jamal Lewis talked yesterday about the offense's recent turnover epidemic and his role in it.

Lewis, who was the only player working out at the Ravens' complex by the middle of the afternoon on their day off, has fumbled three times over his past 45 carries after fumbling just once through the first eight games. His fumble in Sunday's 9-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins led to Olindo Mare's game-winning field goal in overtime.

The two fumbles in the previous game against the St. Louis Rams halted a scoring drive in the first quarter and set up a field goal that effectively sealed the game for the Rams in the fourth.

The source of Lewis' fumbling has been a much-discussed topic, with theories ranging from him possibly wearing down after an extensive first-half workload to botched handoffs.

Against the Dolphins, Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright, starting his first game this season for an injured Kyle Boller, never got the ball cleanly to Lewis, who dropped it without being hit. The sad part for Lewis is that this came after a week in which he focused on protecting the ball.

"Against St. Louis, OK, I fumbled the football, I dropped the ball two times," Lewis said. "And I own up to that. And what I did all [last] week, I concentrated on keeping the ball, and I told the safeties and cornerbacks and linebackers to swing at the ball [during practice]. That's the only thing you can do.

"So I concentrated on it all game, and it never happened. Then on the last play of the game, whether I dropped the ball or fumbled - nobody touched me. But I'll own up to it. But I never had possession of the football. From watching the tape, I never had possession of the football. We'll just go out this week and get ready for Seattle."

Against the Rams, Lewis lost control of the ball after fighting for more yards and, consequently, taking multiple hits.

As is the case in times of trouble, Lewis has been receiving advice from everyone.

"I think some of it is being cognizant of the situation and of the people around him," said Ravens director of player development Earnest Byner, who was a running back in the NFL for 14 seasons. "That comes from mental focus. Those are the things I've been trying to tell him. Think about what it is to feel those extra guys coming."

The turnovers are the only dark cloud in an otherwise Pro-Bowl-caliber year for Lewis. He now believes he will catch a second wind starting Sunday against the Seahawks that will propel him through the stretch run of the season.

Two of Lewis' three lowest rushing totals have come in the past three weeks. In those games against the Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars (Nov. 2), Lewis has also been held to fewer than four yards a carry, the only times that has happened this season.

"You just have to move forward with what's at hand," said Lewis, who remains the NFL's rushing leader with 1,244 yards. "You can't worry about what happened in the past. That one play [against Miami] didn't win or lose the game for either team. You just have to suck it up and go back to practice and get things back on track."

Lewis began doing his part yesterday. He can now lift weights, something he said he has not done regularly since the shoulder injury.

"I don't want to make an excuse for it, but it is a factor," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of the fumbles. "He's feeling pretty good now. [Ravens trainer] Bill Tessendorf is confident that he's over the hump with regards to that."

Lewis figures his return to the weight room will help, especially when it comes to absorbing those pile-on hits.

"You get hit once, twice, three times, four times," Lewis said. "You can hold on to it, but eventually, if you are still up and are fighting and fighting, it could happen. Over the last couple of weeks, since I haven't been working out, my strength isn't where it was in my arms. I'm taking a beating on my hands.

"That's not making an excuse because you still have to hold onto the ball, but now I'm back to the point where I can go into the weight room and lift more and get my strength up so I can take on those five, six hits and still hold onto the ball."

The number of hits Lewis has taken is exactly why people are speculating whether the pounding has caught up with him.

Lewis dismissed the idea and said his rookie year was far worse.

"I don't care about the beatings," Lewis said. "I'm going to last in this game as long as I'm going to last, regardless. Right now, it's about winning, and whatever I have to do to help us win, that's what I've got to do."

NOTES: The Ravens released receiver Dedric Ward and re-signed defensive end Riddick Parker yesterday. Ward was inactive the past three games. Parker is beginning his third stint with the team this year after he was released Aug. 30, re-signed Oct. 7, then released again eight days ago. ... Ravens players, including Matt Stover and John Jones, hosted children from the St. Vincent's Center and the Ronald McDonald House for a screening of Elf at Valley Center Movies last night. Jones and a few other Ravens also spent time with kids from the Ronald McDonald House.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks (7-3) vs. Ravens (5-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

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