2,000-plus

J. Lewis short of record, but playoff-bound Ravens win, 13-10

Ravens 13, Steelers 10

Nfl Week 17

December 29, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

History prevailed over irony in the Ravens' regular-season finale.

Nearly 4 1/2 hours after the Ravens clinched their first division title with help from the unlikeliest of teams - the Cleveland Browns - Jamal Lewis secured his place in the NFL record books before the largest crowd ever at M&T Bank Stadium.

In the Ravens' 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last night, Lewis crashed onto the single-season rushing list with 114 yards, finishing second all-time and 39 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's league mark of 2,105 yards. After gaining 73 yards on his first seven carries, the league's leading rusher sputtered in the final three quarters with 41 yards on his last 20 attempts.

Matt Stover's 47-yard field goal 3:28 into overtime ended the Ravens' five-game losing streak to their division rival.

Much of the drama was removed courtesy of Cleveland, the city from which Art Modell relocated his franchise in 1996 and has vilified him ever since. The Browns upset the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday afternoon to hand the AFC North crown to the Ravens before Modell's final regular-season game as an NFL owner.

As the AFC's fourth seed, the Ravens draw a wild-card home game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when they'll rekindle an old division rivalry with the fifth-seeded Tennessee Titans (12-4). The Ravens have won five straight times against the Titans, a streak that dates to the Ravens' Super Bowl season.

"I never thought I'd see the day I would be rooting for Cleveland again," said Modell, who missed his first home game in Baltimore because of a respiratory infection and watched from home. "[Browns president] Carmen Policy sent me a late Christmas gift."

With this city's first NFL division title since 1977 (when the Colts captured the AFC East) locked up, the only suspense remaining for the crowd of 70,001 revolved around Lewis. The league's leading rusher delivered focus in an otherwise meaningless game, plowing over Steelers as easily as sidestepping them in the first quarter.

Needing 48 yards to reach 2,000 yards entering the game, Lewis cracked that milestone on his sixth carry, a 9-yard burst up the gut of the defense. He moved past Terrell Davis and O.J. Simpson into third place on the single-season rushing list on his next attempt, cutting to his left and running 25 yards untouched into the end zone.

His 14th rushing touchdown of the season - which was celebrated by nonchalantly flipping the ball over his shoulder - put the Ravens ahead, 7-0, midway through the first quarter. Shown on the stadium video board, Lewis looked at the camera and said, "It ain't over."

But the yards and opportunities were fewer to come by in the last 21 minutes, 40 seconds. Managing just 4 yards on his next four tries, Lewis finished the first half with 77 yards, putting him 77 yards from eclipsing Dickerson's mark.

As the Ravens' offense stalled, the defense placed its own physical stamp on the game. The Ravens delivered bone-jarring hits to quarterback Tommy Maddox, running back Jerome Bettis and an assortment of receivers.

Maddox was sacked twice and nearly had as many passes batted down at the line (four) as completions (seven) in the first half. Coming off their first shutout of the season, the Ravens limited the Steelers to 79 yards of offense in the first half and didn't allow them any closer than the Ravens' 37-yard line.

With its offense silenced, Pittsburgh resorted to trickery on special teams.

Facing a fourth-and-one on the Steelers' 19-yard line, punter Josh Miller waited for the Ravens' Ed Reed to rush and threw to an uncovered Chris Hope in the left flat. Hope zigzagged 81 yards for the touchdown, tying the game at 7 with 7:45 left in the third quarter.

That play ended the Ravens' streak of six scoreless quarters and nearly matched the Steelers' 88 yards of total offense at that point.

The game started to unravel when the Ravens had to punt on the next series and had to improvise with punter Dave Zastudil out with a broken nose. Backup quarterback Kyle Boller's first punt went 29 yards and allowed Pittsburgh to start inside Ravens' territory.

The Steelers only needed to drive 19 yards, five of which came off an illegal use of hands penalty on third down by Maake Kemoeatu, to set up a 42-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright, who was a nonfactor most of the game, answered by lofting a 29-yard pass to Marcus Robinson. Wright's longest pass of the night put them in range for a Stover 46-yard field goal, tying the game at 10 on the third play of the fourth quarter.

The next scoring chance came in the final minute of the fourth quarter, but Stover's 52-yard try fell a couple yards short. The Ravens' last opportunity in regulation ended with similar results as Wade Richey's 51-yard field-goal attempt dropped into the end zone.

The victory marked their first win over their divisional rival at home since 1996.

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