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Xs and O's / LONNIE WHITE

Lewis Makes Run at Record

September 21, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Just when it was starting to seem that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their defensive clones were about to gobble up all the power running backs in the league, the Baltimore Ravens' Jamal Lewis broke out with his record-breaking performance against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday.

Starting with an 82-yard touchdown romp on his first carry, Lewis ran for an NFL single-game best 295 yards in 30 carries to lead the Ravens to their first victory of the season.

Lewis not only shattered the record of 278 yards by Cincinnati's Corey Dillon (set against Denver in 2000) with an assortment of bruising big runs, he looked good doing it.

At 5 feet 11, 245 pounds, Lewis has the appearance of a muscle-bound fullback. But there he was, zigging and zagging through the Browns' defense the first time he touched the ball, doing his best imitation of the Minnesota Vikings' Randy Moss.

Yes, Lewis looked that fast and graceful, especially when he stiff-armed and sprinted away from Cleveland defensive backs. Compare the highlights. For one game, Lewis looked as impressive as Jim Brown and Earl Campbell did in their prime.

"Jamal's physicality, his speed, his determination, his willingness to put the team on his back and say, 'Let's go!' That was something," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said.

Lewis leads the NFL in rushing with 364 yards and an 8.1-yard-per-carry average. His next challenge is O.J. Simpson's two-game record of 476 yards.

Lewis needs 181 yards against the San Diego Chargers today to match Simpson, who rushed for 273 against Detroit and 203 yards against Miami in consecutive weeks while playing for Buffalo in 1976.

Chicago's Walter Payton rushed for 467 yards in consecutive games in 1977 (192 vs. Kansas City and 275 vs. Minnesota); Denver's Mike Anderson picked up 446 in 2000 (195 vs. Seattle and 251 vs. New Orleans); and Miami's Ricky Williams gained 444 yards last season (228 vs. Buffalo and 216 vs. Chicago).

Considering San Diego's poor run defense, Lewis has a decent chance of breaking Simpson's mark. The Chargers are 29th in the NFL, giving up 328 yards rushing in two games.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer wanted the Chargers to be a faster defensive team this season, but they've been missing more than their share of tackles. Linebackers Donnie Edwards, Zeke Moreno and Ben Leber are quick, but they often get blocked and that doesn't help a weak-hitting secondary that relies too much on safety Kwame Lassiter to make plays.

The Chargers already have had two poor efforts against quality running backs this season. Kansas City's Priest Holmes didn't have much problem with 85 yards in 18 carries in the Chiefs' opening-day victory over San Diego, and Denver's Clinton Portis was on pace for a career game (129 yards in 12 carries) until he suffered a chest injury late in the first half last week.

Although he hasn't predicted another rushing record, as he did last week, no one would blame Lewis if he wore his uniform to bed Saturday night because he was so excited to play against the Chargers.

Lewis is the deep threat in football that Barry Bonds is in baseball. He had 100 yards in his first two carries against the Browns and had 180 yards by halftime.

With quick up-the-field cuts against the flow of the defense, Lewis doesn't waste many opportunities to turn a basic running play into a race to the end zone.

Lewis, who missed the 2001 season because of a torn knee ligament, carries the ball as if he understands that a running back's NFL career is often short-lived.

It seems like only yesterday that Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson ruled the ground.

And have you seen Eddie George run lately?

Hits take a toll on runners, removing their special burst in the blink of an eye. That's why Lewis, who helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship as a rookie in 2000, attacks with meaning on every carry.

One of Lewis' favorite phrases to his linemen is "Don't forget to block the backside," because he knows that big runs are usually the result of great off-the-ball blocking.

If Baltimore's offensive line, led by former UCLA standout Jonathan Ogden, can control the San Diego defensive front, Lewis may not only have a shot at Simpson's two-game mark, but also his own single-game record.

And if he does, the Chargers may be left asking themselves, "Where are Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison when you need them?"

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