Despite mark, J. Lewis in no rush to face Browns again

After a record-setting '03, Raven knows he'll be target

September 08, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The first time against the Browns, Jamal Lewis broke an NFL record.

The next time, the Ravens running back broke their will.

As he prepares to go against them again in Sunday's season opener, Lewis might be trying to break their psyche.

When asked if he looked forward to playing against the team he racked up 500 yards against last season, a stone-faced Lewis said, "That's the last team I want to end up playing because I know they got a target on my back."

Is a running back whose cutbacks allowed him to average 9.6 yards per carry now trying to use reverse psychology?

"I would rather like to play Pittsburgh or somebody like that because they're going to try to handle everyone across the board," Lewis said. "They're [the Browns] coming out after you, and their main focus is not to let you run the ball."

Lewis owned the Browns from his first carry on Sept. 14, when he bolted 82 yards for a touchdown. Ripping through the middle of the Cleveland defense, he went on to set the NFL's single-game mark of 295 yards rushing only days after boasting to Browns linebacker Andra Davis that he would have a "career day."

Three months later, the Browns devoted all their energy toward stopping Lewis and held him to 54 yards on his first 17 carries. Then, he dashed 72 yards for a touchdown - a run that Lewis would later say "broke their will" - and finished with 205 yards rushing.

Lewis' 500 total yards established a league record for most yards rushing against a single team and helped him become the first back to have two 200-yard games against one team in the same season since O.J. Simpson in 1973.

"It's very frustrating," said Ravens receiver Kevin Johnson, who played for the Browns for the first game last season. "You see guys come over the sideline and they don't have an answer for it. He's a heck of a player and when you have a guy doing that, it's scary."

What is scary is how few carries Lewis needed to shred the 15th-ranked defense in the NFL.

He reeled off runs of 82, 72, 63, 48, 45 and 23 yards against the Browns. That's 333 yards on six touches. Soon it'll be easier to track Lewis' yards against Cleveland in miles (for the record, 500 yards is about three-tenths of a mile).

"If somebody comes in and rushes for 200 one game and 300 another, they're sitting there saying, `We don't want to see him no more,'" Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Sunday's game in Cleveland will be a legitimate rematch. There's only one new starter (outside linebacker Warrick Holdman) on the Browns' defense.

"I'm quite sure a lot of guys have confidence in themselves," Johnson said, "and they don't want to be embarrassed like that again."

So far, Jamal Lewis hasn't looked like the back that gained 2,066 yards last season.

It was a quiet preseason for Lewis, who rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries. But a mediocre preseason in 2003 (89 yards on 25 attempts) didn't carry into the regular season, where he compiled the second-most rushing yards in NFL history.

"It's kind of hard for me to get into a preseason game," Lewis said. "I do get things done as far as my fundamentals and knocking the rust. But I don't go out and try to break long runs."

This offseason could soon have an effect on Lewis' season. He was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in February and is scheduled to stand trial on Nov. 1.

Although there are no signs that the case will be delayed, there is still a chance it could be pushed back to after the season. Lewis said he doesn't have a set time for leaving the team to prepare for the case.

"If that's what has to happen, that has to happen," Lewis said. "We'll just have to deal with it when it comes along."

Lewis indicated that he is concentrating on what he can control on the field rather than off of it.

"I think I can focus on the season and that's my main goal," he said. "I'm ready to get this season on."

Upstaging a 2,000-yard season is a challenge in itself. Of the previous four running backs to eclipse that mark, Detroit's Barry Sanders had the best follow-up season with 1,491 yards.

Lewis' road back to 2,000 begins Sunday against a Cleveland team that helped the most along last year's history-making journey.

"It's nothing really special [against the Browns]," Lewis said. "I'm not concerned with going out running for 200 yards or 150 yards. I'm just going to get a win. But if we put our hats in the right places, things can happen for us and I'll get my yardage."

Jamal Lewis vs. the Browns

How Jamal Lewis fared in his two games against Cleveland compared with his totals in 14 games against the rest of the league last year:

Carries ..... Yards .... Avg. TDs TDs over 50 yds ..... Runs over 20 yds.

vs. Cleveland ....... 52 ......... 500 ...... 9.6 .......... 4 .................. 3 ......................... 6

vs. Others ........... 335 ...... 1,566 ...... 4.7 .........10 .................. 0 ......................... 8

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