In what has proved to be a worse injury than the Ravens initially thought, Jamal Lewis' sprained ankle likely will sideline the Ravens' All-Pro running back for Sunday's clash against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, a league source said.
Lewis went down in the first quarter of Sunday's 30-10 rout of the Dallas Cowboys and did not return. Although Lewis said he would start Sunday, he walked around the locker room with a severe limp. He underwent a magnetic resonance imaging test yesterday and later met with a specialist.
According to the source, there is some concern the injury could keep Lewis out four to six weeks, which would put his season in jeopardy. His status will officially be announced tomorrow when the Ravens receive the results of his tests and a definitive prognosis.
Asked if it's an injury that could force Lewis to miss a couple of weeks, coach Brian Billick said, "It could be. I have to wait and see what the doctors say."
The loss of Lewis would not only change the Ravens' backfield but also their long-established offensive identity.
Even with Lewis, the Ravens have failed to establish their once crushing rushing attack that has become a staple under Billick. In a matter of five games, their ground game has plummeted from No. 2 in the NFL to No. 13.
A week after professing the Ravens would remain a dominant running team, Billick made no such declaration yesterday in light of Lewis' injury, hinting they might have to become more pass-oriented.
"We're not running the ball as well as we need to, and that's a concern," Billick said. "We threw the ball 34 times [on Sunday]. That may have to be the equation for us."
Over the past four games, quarterback Kyle Boller has averaged 34 throws and the Ravens have called passing plays on 60 percent of their snaps. Last season, the Ravens ran the ball nearly 55 percent of the time.
Boller has assumed control of the offense in that shift in philosophy, completing 61 percent of his passes, averaging 202 yards and throwing five touchdowns. The increased throws have not led to more mistakes. Boller has been intercepted just once (a failed Hail Mary attempt) in his past 138 passes.
"I just think that we need to let Kyle take over this team," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said.
Boller might have to take over the team by default. Eight starters have missed games because of injury this season, including five on offense.
Now, the Ravens are down to one healthy tailback, Chester Taylor. Just 11 plays after Lewis limped off the field, No. 3 running back Musa Smith broke his leg, which ended his season.
Team officials said they could sign a veteran free agent or a running back off another team's practice squad this week to add depth at running back. Return specialist B.J. Sams could also play at running back, but the Ravens don't want to put him at risk because he's so valuable on special teams.
As the Ravens brace for the loss of Lewis, they will regain another Pro Bowl player in cornerback Chris McAlister. Billick said McAlister is expected to start after sitting out Sunday with a stinger.
Tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and nickel back Deion Sanders (toe) are considered questionable.
"Our mantra has been this year, the next man has got to step up," Billick said. "At some point, you keep thinking that it's going to even itself out and we're not going to have to address that from one week to the next. So far, that hasn't been the case."
Despite the season-long run on injuries, the Ravens have persevered to the franchise's first 7-3 record.
If the playoffs started today, the Ravens would draw an AFC wild-card spot because they have a head-to-head edge over the New York Jets. Under that scenario, they would have to play the entire postseason on the road.
The Ravens will certainly be road-tested by playoff time if they can survive their final away games at New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, all of which are division leaders.
But Billick said he prefers the challenge of being the underdog in New England on Sunday rather than being the heavy favorite against Dallas.
"I had a great time [Sunday] but you don't enjoy those games, the games you should win and need to win," Billick said. "I was standing next to Jim [Fassel] about the middle of that fourth quarter and just observed: `This stinks because I'm already thinking about the next game.' So it's a great challenge to go up to the world champions. That's what gets you up as a coach."