Ravens regain control of division, beating Browns

CLEVELAND – In intimidating fashion, Jamal Lewis' rapid-fire stride and brawny arms and legs reduced the Cleveland Browns to a figurative pile of ground-up coffee beans.&nbsp;<br> <br> And the Baltimore Ravens rode Lewis' broad shoulders and relied upon a gold-standard defensive effort for a 35-0 stomping of the Browns on Sunday to regain their status atop the AFC North.&nbsp;<br> <br>

After the Ravens registered their first shutout of the season and the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore (9-6) still need to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home next week to clinch a playoff berth and their first division title.

Lewis rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries to give him 1,043 career yards in six career games against Cleveland. He has exactly 500 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries this season against the Browns, proving the legitimacy of his 295-yard single-game mark during the teams' first meeting.

"I don't know what the excuse is now," said Lewis, referring to Browns' defenders that called his prior dominance a fluke, after pushing his season total to 1,952 yards, 48 shy of the exclusive 2,000-yard club that currently only has four members. "I think we played to our strengths and played to their weaknesses, which is they're not good against the run.

"We took it to them, played more physical and came out with a win."

Meanwhile, the Ravens were exhilarated to glance upward at a scoreboard that revealed the Bengals' 27-10 loss to the Rams. That result grants Baltimore a one-game advantage over Cincinnati heading into the final game of the NFL regular season Sunday night against the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It's great to know that control is back in our court," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who was able to remove Lewis and quarterback Anthony Wright in the fourth quarter to preserve their health and energy for the Steelers.

If the Ravens and Bengals (8-7) finish with identical marks, Cincinnati remains the owner of all releveant tiebreakers for who would be awarded the division title and automatic playoff berth. Baltimore hasn't defeated the Steelers at home since its' inaugural season in 1996.

"Every game from now on is a game closer to the crown," said All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, whose defense forced four turnovers. "There ain't no tomorrow. There ain't no yesterday. It's going to be rowdy next week."

Jamal Lewis' success involved the Ravens' adjustment to the Browns' strategies of crowding the line of scrimmage and intricate blitz packages.

As center Mike Flynn explained, the Ravens sealed the Browns off to the strong side, where they were already stunting the majority of their defenders.

Once fullback Alan Ricard was enveloped as a decoy, Lewis cut back against the pursuit and only had one or two defenders to outrun.

This gambit worked to perfection on a 72-yard jaunt by Lewis in the third quarter with Baltimore already leading 7-0 after a first-half shovel pass from Wright to tight end Terry Jones.

Lewis started toward his right, then burst powerfully back to his left for the score.

Now, Lewis is 48 yards shy of joining Eric Dickerson (2,105, 1984), Barry Sanders (2,053, 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008, 1998) and O.J. Simpson (2,003, 1973) to become the fifth 2,000-yard rusher in the NFL's 83-year history.

"It's hard not to think about it," Lewis said of Dickerson's record. "But we have to worry about a win, so we can go to the playoffs. I think it's attainable though, I know the offensive line is going to be all geeked up."

Safety Earl Little missed the tackle badly on Lewis' first score.

"I had a shot at him, but he put a move on me," Little said. "He is one of the old-school running backs like Earl Campbell. We got our butts kicked. We have to stand up and take it like a man."

Lewis ran past flailing rookie cornerback Michael Lehan to finish the touchdown. 

"You stop him, stop him, stop him," middle linebacker Andra Davis said. "Then, 80 yards."

Essentially, the Browns were done at that point.

"I think that broke their will," said Lewis, who was compared to Bo Jackson and Earl Campbell by All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Lewis would ramble for a 24-yard touchdown run to stake Baltimore to a 21-0 lead with 11:55 remaining. The score followed a 45-yard run that followed a similar profile to his 72-yard run.

Lewis' second touchdown was set up by rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs chopping the football out of Browns quarterback Tim Couch's hand for his second of two sacks and forced fumble.

Four plays later, safety Chad Williams read Couch for a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Baltimore limited Cleveland (4-11) to 78 rushing yards, and Couch to a 53.0 quarterback rating in what might be his final home game with the Browns.

Following a perplexing 20-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders a week ago, Billick said he challenged the defense to shut down the Browns. He got a shutout, first-place in the divison and a runner on the cusp of 2,000 yards with one remaining game.

"We can't relax," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "If Jamal gets 2,000 and the record that would be the icing on the cake, but the win comes first."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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