Ravens run wild with J. Lewis to tame Bengals

CINCINNATI - Jamal Lewis busted past grasping fingertips, shrugged off a skinny arm and dashed away so rapidly with his powerful stride that pursuit became pointless.

If football is centered on attrition, then the Baltimore Ravens' running back is usually the one who wears out his opponent.

"That's the way we are," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We kind of lean on them, lean on them and, at some point, they're going to break." Lewis' 75-yard touchdown jaunt late in the fourth quarter was the exclamation point in the Ravens' 23-9 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals before 65,575 at Paul Brown Stadium. Baltimore improved to 2-1 overall and in the AFC North for first place by leaning on Lewis' season-high 186 yards on 18 carries as quarterback Kyle Boller threw a touchdown and ran for another.

"The tempo was great," said Lewis, who turned a swing pass into a 46-yard gain in the absence of injured Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. "It was like everything was moving in slow motion.

"The offensive line played tremendous and opened some gaps with textbook blocks. When they did get a little bit of penetration, we kind of took advantage of it."

Plus, the defense allowed no touchdowns while pressuring Bengals first-year quarterback Carson Palmer into a fumble and three interceptions among his staggering total of 52 throws. Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed picked off two as the Ravens duplicated their typical winning equation of a bruising running game and a relentless defense.

Meanwhile, it looked like a vintage 2003 Lewis, the season he rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards.

Not only did the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year break out after two subpar games, he also tied the league record of former Denver Broncos runner Terrell Davis' with his seventh 100-yard game against Cincinnati in as many games.

Lewis also became the fifth-youngest player in league history to surpass the 5,000-yard barrier. He joined the exclusive company of Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Walter Payton.

"I just got into a good mode," said Lewis, who had only 119 yards on 44 carries in two games. "I think that tempo really brings the other sideline down. It breaks them down a little bit."

Lewis burst to his right on his touchdown run and cut back to his left to fake out defensive end Justin Smith. The Pro Bowl runner burst through an arm tackle attempt by undersized safety Kevin Kaesviharn and evaded middle linebacker Nate Webster on his way to not being touched until teammates congratulated him in the end zone.

"When they had the long run at the end of the game, when we seemed to be back into it, it was just disheartening," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

After return specialist B.J. Sams' terrific 63-yard punt return, Boller rushed for his first NFL touchdown on a 7-yard scramble in the first quarter to make it 10-0. He threw his first touchdown of the season with a 38-yard pass to Randy Hymes in the second quarter to extend the advantage to 17-0.

However, the second-year passer fumbled twice, including one on a hit by Webster in the second quarter when Boller was two yards away from the end zone after scampering 19 yards. In the fourth quarter, Boller fumbled without contact when his thigh pad struck the football when he was attempting to tuck the ball away.

"He has to hold on to the ball," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Boller, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 126 yards with no interceptions for a 100.7 passer rating. "That's the focus. Then, he has to take the next step."

Palmer completed 25 of 52 passes for 316 yards, but was sacked four times, twice by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. All that yardage only led to three Shayne Graham field goals as Cincinnati went 0-for-3 in the red zone.

Trailing 17-6 in the fourth quarter with the ball at the Ravens' 29, Palmer tried to fire a spiral to Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson (eight catches, 99 yards), but Reed was lurking in the end zone.

"I don't believe that he didn't see me, but I think he had some pressure on him," Reed said. "Our guys did a great job putting pressure on him and making him throw the ball early." Curiously, Billick called for a two-point conversion after Lewis' touchdown with Baltimore already leading by 14 points. Boller's pass to Hymes was unsuccessful.

"I started in college as an engineering major and obviously as you can see, I'm too stupid to add, so I switched to journalism," Billick said. "I thought it was 15 when it was 14. I screwed up." In the final minutes, Palmer's heave to Johnson was picked off by dime back Chad Williams to seal the game.

The Ravens won despite five fumbles, losing two, and Bengals running back Rudi Johnson's 98 yards on 23 carries. A stout defensive stance near the goal line and a running game (254 yards on 34 carries) led by Lewis were more than enough.

"We stuck to our game plan and ran the ball and played defense the way we're capable of," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Cut it any way you want, but our team rides off Jamal."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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