During the Ravens' 13-10 overtime victory over the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, Lewis gained 114 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for a total of 2,066 yards. It stands as the second-highest total in the NFL's 83-year history ahead of retired Detroit Lions star Barry Sanders, and 39 yards shy of Dickerson's total from the 1984 season. "No, I'm not disappointed," said Lewis, whose previous-best campaign was 1,364 yards during his rookie season when Baltimore won the Super Bowl. "We made a good run at it. I think my line blocked well. The receivers blocked well downfield and it was within reach. I think second is good."
Lewis needed 154 yards to overtake Dickerson's record he set with the Los Angeles Rams during the 1984 season. Although Lewis' path was often blocked by several obstacles at the line of scrimmage, he just kept pounding forward. "Second-leading all-time, that ain't bad," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Came up short, but that's not a real priority for us. "You make a hell of a run at it and it is what it is. I want to win, period. Everything else can be damned."
Clutching his leopard-skinned pillow at his Los Angeles residence, Dickerson admitted in a nationally-televised interview that he didn't want Lewis to break his record. "There was no way we were going to let him break the record," said Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter, who appeared to be fueled by an ongoing verbal feud with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. "We didn't even want him to get 2,000 yards. Not against us. No way."
In a gallant attempt at the mark that ultimately fell short, Lewis used the same bulldozing style he has employed for the entire season. Even though he gained 100 yards for the 12th time, Lewis just couldn't get past a scheme that Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis designed to contain his output. With no playoff implications for Pittsburgh at the end of a rare losing season, the Steelers crowded the line of scrimmage with eight, nine, 10 and 11 defenders depending upon the situation. "It's bittersweet," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "I can't lie. I'm selfish. I wanted him to break the record. We needed the win over that record. "He's the second all-time leading rusher of all time and we take our hats off to him. There are no stats for offensive linemen except sacks and offsides. This is special for us. We set a standard for the future."
Needing 48 yards before kickoff to join the four-man fraternity of 2,000-yard rushers, Lewis reached the mark exactly with a nine-yard run on his sixth carry in the first quarter. On the ensuing play, Lewis stomped his way past O.J. Simpson, the Buffalo Bills' Hall of Famer who gained 2,003 yards in a 14-game schedule in 2003, and retired Denver Broncos runner Terrell Davis' 2,008 yards in 1998. "I love that guy, man," Ray Lewis said. "We tried to get turnovers just so we could see him run. It wasn't about the record. We just like to see Jamal run. We know how great this guy is."
Lewis' 25-yard touchdown run off All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's block gave him a total of 73 yards and 2,025 yards for the season. "They blocked it well," Lewis said. "I think that was one of our best plays of the night. That's a great play, I love it. I think you'll see a lot more of it." Yet, Lewis' momentum ebbed in the second quarter significantly. His first attempt was stuffed for no gain by Steelers outside linebacker Jason Gildon. His next run of the half only went for two yards. By halftime, Lewis had gained 77 yards on 11 carries. "I think they went and made some adjustments," Lewis said. "They dropped a lot of guys down in the box and they wasn't going to let it happen." In the third quarter, Lewis increased his total with 32 yards on eight attempts. Lewis passed Sanders' total of 2,053 yards from the 1997 season in the second half.
Late in the fourth quarter, the record was still within sight, but was never really in Lewis' grasp. "I knew how close I was, but we were trying to win," Lewis said. "We weren't really concentrating on that." Unlike his 295-yard game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 14 to shatter the NFL single-game rushing record, Lewis said there were no negative diatribes from the Steelers. On the contrary, he said Pittsburgh defenders kept wishing him well. "Actually, a lot of guys were out there telling me, 'Good luck' and pushing me on," Lewis said. "They were still doing their job."
Now, Lewis is advancing to the postseason. And he enters the playoff tournament having completed the second-most prolific rushing season in league history. "Great year that is not done yet," Ogden said. "When we sit down at the end of the season, it will mean more. Number-two all-time, what more can you say."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.