In funk, J. Lewis looks for rhythm

Raven aims to start humming again by extending his run of 100-yard games when facing Bengals


The first sighting of the old Jamal Lewis came earlier this week in Pittsburgh.

The legs were churning. The hits were being inflicted rather than being absorbed. And the focus was on gaining yards and not on a new contract.

But the true test of whether the Ravens running back has fully returned will be administered Sunday against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, a team that he has so thoroughly dominated that it can be looked up in the NFL record books.

Lewis has gained more than 100 yards in every one of his seven career games against the Bengals, which ties the league's longest such streak against one opponent.

"I hope he keeps that trend up," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And it's going to be important that we do. We need to hold on to the ball a good long time. We don't want to give them too many opportunities."

The Ravens have waited for Lewis to snap out of his season-long funk, and the Bengals could be the perfect remedy for him.

Lewis collected his first career 100-yard game against the Bengals in 2000 and he hasn't stopped since.

His track record against Cincinnati reads like this: 116, 109, 135, 121, 101, 180 and 186 yards.

Asked about this incredible run versus Cincinnati, Lewis relied on the old adage that familiarity breeds success.

"It's one of those games where it's all about being physical because both teams know each other," Lewis said. "It's always the same type of game: We're going to hit each other in the mouth."

When it comes to these physical battles, Cincinnati has been the one down for the count.

The Bengals have the 22nd-ranked run defense and have given up 4.7 yards a carry, which is third-worst in the league.

In their two losses, they surrendered 181 yards rushing to Jacksonville and 221 yards on the ground to Pittsburgh. The Jaguars and the Steelers only had to complete a combined 19 passes.

"We have to do a better job of defending the run," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

"We can't hide or run away from that. It is important [because] we are playing a great running football team this week and it is important that we improve in those areas."

Just like Billick has struggled to establish a passing game that resembles his attack in Minnesota, Marvin Lewis has yet to develop a run defense as stout as the one he had with the Ravens. The Bengals ranked 25th against the run in 2003 and 26th in 2004.

The Ravens' game plan would seem to be clear cut.

Why would they want to throw the ball against a Cincinnati pass defense that leads the NFL with 20 interceptions when they can pound the ball against a leaky Bengals run defense.

If the Bengals had their way, they wouldn't see a heavy dose of Jamal Lewis.

"We're going to need some points to take them out of that," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "We don't want to sit there and bang with them all day."

Since Jamal Lewis began his torrid streak, the Bengals have gone through four middle linebackers in five seasons (Armegis Spearman, Brian Simmons, Kevin Hardy and Landon Johnson).

Rookie second-round pick Odell Thurman is now starting in the middle, but the problems haven't changed.

Poor tackling, which allows so many yards after contact, is the main reason why Cincinnati is giving up an average of 125 yards rushing a game.

The Bengals could be catching Lewis at the wrong time.

He is coming off his most physical effort of the season, grinding out 61 yards with his trademark punishing running style.

There is a sense that he is ready to break out of the worst rut of his career and finally crack 100 yards after failing to do so in the first seven games.

"I think he's recognizing that he's got to get back to that [physical style] a little bit more," Billick said.

"I think he was anxious before about popping the big run and passing up some of the physical yards that are there for him. He knew that he was going to have to do that against Pittsburgh. He knows he's going to have to do that against Cincinnati, as well.

"Kind of like turnovers, [the big plays will] present themselves. If you're ready for it, you'll take advantage of it. But if you press, sometimes you are your own enemy that way."

7 times 100

Jamal Lewis has rushed for 100 yards in all seven of his games against the Bengals, an NFL record:

Date Att-Yds Avg TDs

9/24/00 25-116 4.6 1

11/5/00 22-109 4.9 0

11/10/02 21-135 6.4 2

12/1/02 22-121 5.5 0

10/19/03 19-101 5.3 0

12/7/03 30-180 6.0 3

9/26/04 18-186 10.3 1

Totals 157-948 6.1 7

Note: Lewis did not play in last season's final game against Cincinnati because of an ankle injury.

Bengals@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bengals by 3

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