Ravens' Jamal and Ray Lewis make history

OWINGS MILLS -- One year ago, Jamal Lewis was practically hobbling along compared to the streamlined stride he demonstrated this football season. <P> The Baltimore Ravens' running back was almost fully recovered from his second reconstructive knee surgery after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Aug. 8, 2001 in Westminster.

And All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis finished last year on injured reserve at after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Fast forward to the present and both Lewises put together banner seasons in emerging as the first teammates in league history to be named the Associated Press' NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

While Jamal Lewis almost surpassed Eric Dickerson's NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards with the second-most prolific season ever by gaining 2,066 yards, Ray Lewis set a career-high for tackles with 225.

Ray Lewis also intercepted a career-high six passes for the AFC North title winner that will host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in an AFC wild-card game at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The beauty of that is what we set out to do at the beginning of this year," said Ray Lewis, who won the defensive award three years ago. "The same thing as in 2000, we said that if me and Jamal are healthy, we have a great chance of going back to the Super Bowl. Once again, we're healthy.

"It's hard to walk into a game and game-plan against both of us. You have to deal with Jamal, who can run all day. And then you have to deal with me, who can talk all day. It's a great 1-2 tandem that we have."

Jamal Lewis is the fifth player in league history to gain 2,000 yards. He defeated San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in balloting of a panel of reporters and broadcasters who cover the NFL, 50-29, to become the eighth running back in a row to win the wire service's offensive award.

"It's a great honor, it's everything that I worked for in the offseason, everything that I strived for," Jamal Lewis said. "It's like everything is coming together. I'm actually showing I'm a premier back in this league." Jamal Lewis underwent a rigorous offseason training regimen of boxing, running up hills in his hometown of Atlanta and imposed a strict diet on himself over the summer.

The bruising 5-foot-11, 245-pound runner cut down on fried foods, eating more lean meats and increased his intake of fruits and vegetables. On Sept. 14 against the Cleveland Browns, Jamal Lewis set the single-game rushing mark with 295 yards.

Months later, he finished 40 yards shy of overtaking a record Dickerson established in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams. Jamal Lewis and his blockers also overcame stacked lines of scrimmage with defenses designed specifically to limit the running game's output.

"Not attaining that record, that's going to be my motivation from now on," Jamal Lewis said. "Because I came just that close to breaking it, I know it's possible. I feel like 2,000 yards is attainable yardage. I can do that."

He acknowledged how hard it was to break through a path littered with obstacles, though. "The last 14 weeks we've been running against 9- and 10-man boxes. I'm shocked we got 2,000 yards against those defenses."

Jamal Lewis had 12 games of 100 yards or more, proving that his left and right knees once again are healthy enough for him to cut back against the flow of pursuit and finish long runs without being caught from behind.

Last season, Jamal Lewis was able to ramble for 1,327 yards, but often found his progress curtailed because of fatigue and not hitting his full stride.

"I amy much better physically now," Jamal Lewis said. "I just did my conditioning. It's been a long season, a lot of yards, a lot of miles on my legs, but I have to keep going just to get that second wind."

Now, Jamal Lewis is set to take on the Titans' top-ranked run defense.

Tennessee (12-4) has limited opponents to 80.9 yards on the ground per contest.

Only Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James gained over 100 yards with a 120-yard outing against the Titans on Sept. 14.

However, Jamal Lewis can run against the Titans without thinking about how many yards he has gained, or needs to gain for an individual record that Baltimore emphasized as a team-oriented goal.

"I can breathe again," Jamal Lewis said. "None of the yards matter. The only thing that matters now is winning. That is a lot of pressure off my back and I can just play football."

Back in the summer, Lewis set a goal of 2,000 yards. General manager Ozzie Newsome advised him to take a cautious approach, reminding him that he had yet to put together two consecutive healthy seasons since being drafted fifth overall in the 2000 NFL draft out of the University of Tennessee.

Jamal Lewis didn't change his approach, though, running with his trademark reckless abandon and playing through nagging shoulder and wrist injuries.

"I'm more happy for him than I am for myself," Ray Lewis said. "I was his roommate when he blew his knee out. I always told him, sooner or later we'll be healthy together again, and it's going to be sweet all over again."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories