"On a day like today, I can't regret anything," Lewis said after breaking the league single-game rushing record with 295 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. "It was beautiful, and I'll remember it for a long time. I didn't think it was impossible."
Before Lewis spearheaded a 33-13 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, he signaled the Browns' impending fate during a playful telephone conversation. Lewis said he didn't guarantee he would surpass Bengals running back Corey Dillon's mark while chatting with Browns middle linebacker Andra Davis in a three-way call brokered by former high school teammate Robert Cromartie. However, the 245-pound speedster said he told Davis on Thursday that if he carried the football 30 times, it would create the top performance of his career.
Lewis was obviously correct. Lewis ran roughshod over the Browns (0-2) to join the exclusive company of luminaries Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson, Hall of Fame backs who once held the mark he now owns. "I guess the dude is Nostradamus," Browns safety Earl Little said. "He broke the record and there's nothing we can do about it. Trust me, I have a sick feeling."
Lewis and a resurgent defense allowed Baltimore (1-1) to rebound from an embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lewis dashed 82 yards to eclipse his own record for the longest run in team history on his first carry. He stiff-armed linebacker Barry Gardner to the ground and flashed an extra gear of acceleration while cutting off receiver Travis Taylor's downfield block to finish the decisive jaunt. "He's an explosive guy," offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "He reminds me of a bigger Walter Payton."
The Ravens emphasized all week that Lewis would carry the football more after he was limited to 15 attempts in a 34-15 loss to Pittsburgh. On Sunday, Baltimore improved to 18-2 in games where Lewis has 20 or more attempts. "People forget how fast he is because he was such a power back," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We knew he had the speed. We saw it in college." Baltimore limited Cleveland to one first down in the first half to take a 16-3 lead. By Lewis' second carry, he had over 100 yards, gaining 180 by intermission. "I was going in for the half and Jonathan Ogden said, "Let's go get it. We can get 300 yards. Let's go for the record,'" Lewis said.
Lewis improved to 4-1 against Cleveland with 838 career yards on 120 carries, including four consecutive 100-yard games. Last October in Cleveland, Lewis tied his career-high with 187 yards, but was caught from behind on a long run. It was one year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Now, Lewis' body-fat percentage is down to single digits after spending the summer training in his hometown of Atlanta. Fullback Alan Ricard watched Lewis pay the price with grueling boxing workouts and ascending steep hills.
Ricard has also observed a more disciplined Lewis brag about his healthy diet to lose nearly 20 pounds since minicamp. "I never saw a guy with that much determination and intensity," Ricard said. "He worked out to the point of total exhaustion, where he had nothing left. He ate salads and cut out the junk food. If I was a defensive guy, I'd be scared of him." Lewis added a 63-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter after the Browns had closed the gap to 16-13. He would have had 12 more yards and another touchdown if a 60-yard score in the first half hadn't been negated by receiver Marcus Robinson's holding penalty. It didn't stop Lewis from setting the record with a three-yard run off left guard in the fourth quarter.
Ironically, his phone pal, Davis, made that tackle. "It was awesome," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "That's what offensive linemen live for. It will always be one of the highlights of my NFL career." Lewis' contribution helped make up for rookie quarterback Kyle Boller hurting his leg in the third quarter and being replaced by Chris Redman. Boller struggled again with his accuracy and mechanics in going 7-for-18 for 78 yards and an interception for a 31.0 rating. "It was a tough day for him," Billick said. "He wasn't moving his feet real well and wasn't following through on his throws. He has got to learn from that and he's going to have to play better."
Redman fumbled on his first play as the football slipped out of his hands when he was extending his arm back to pass. That set up the Browns' lone touchdown. The Baltimore defense responded after being shredded by Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. Linebacker Ray Lewis led a defense that held Cleveland to 175 yards, a 2.9 average per play, sacking beleaguered Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb three times. "Yeah, we needed this because of last week's outing," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "That's not how we play." Safety Ed Reed returned his second interception 54 yards for a touchdown as the final seconds ticked off. It was Lewis' running that got Baltimore going, though. "I walked up to him on the sideline and I said, 'Lewis and Lewis, you start it off and I'll finish it,'" Ray Lewis said. "Jamal always sparks us. It was just beautiful. Jamal has come a long, long way."
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times