Runners' duel shaping up between Ravens, Chiefs

OWINGS MILLS - The surge of two heavyweight offensive lines churning at the line of scrimmage. Darting cleats carrying powerful bodies downfield. A constant wrestling match involving muscle, speed and will. <br><br> It's an elite runners' duel between embattled Baltimore Ravens star Jamal Lewis and Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Priest Holmes, Lewis' one-time mentor, staged before the nation Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium. <br><br>

This game is also an example of two football teams headed in opposite directions.

Undefeated in three previous Monday night games, Baltimore (2-1) wants to prove it's worthy of Super Bowl contention against the winless Chiefs after winning the AFC North title last season. Kansas City (0-3) is the last team to defeat the Ravens at home with last year's 17-10 win on Dante Hall's clinching kickoff return.

"A lot of people who know the Ravens, if we get in the playoffs, that's when they really truly figure out how good we are," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose team has won seven home games in a row and plays another nationally-televised game next Sunday at the Washington Redskins. "Until then, it's just, 'The Ravens are good, the Ravens are good.' I truly believe this Monday night as well as the Sunday night behind it will show how great we are.

"We have a lot of great talent. It's going to expose to the world that we are back again, ready to make this run."

The Chiefs, meanwhile, were expected to represent the glitterati of the NFL after a 13-3 season with nine returning Pro Bowl selections. Bad defense was their downfall last postseason, and the trend has continued despite the return of veteran coordinator Gunther Cunningham as the Chiefs are off to their worst start in two decades.

"It would be fun to turn around our season on a Monday night because all the experts have probably already written us off," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said.

The Ravens would like nothing better than to pound the Chiefs into submission behind a powerhouse running game headlined by Jamal Lewis and his hefty blockers. Kansas City ranks 29th against the run, allowing 150.3 rushing yards per contest.

Jamal Lewis is coming off a season-high 186 yards in a 23-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Yet, he's days away from a plea-bargain agreement that will resolve drug conspiracy charges without a trial or jail time during football season. And his NFL future is uncertain since the league could suspend him before the season ends.

Lewis said Saturday he won't be affected by the legal turmoil even though his remaining games this season could be numbered depending upon how NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the management council view his impending guilty plea and previous two strikes against the NFL substance-abuse policies.

"It's Monday night football, prime time, the national stage," Lewis said. "This is my life, this is my career. That pretty much says it all."

Jamal Lewis will be competing indirectly against Holmes, the versatile runner who used to school him as a rookie on Thursday nights during the Ravens' Super Bowl season.

"He helped me out a lot, teaching me how to actually read defenses and study tape and how things work in the NFL coming in as a rookie," Jamal Lewis said. "You can go out and try to compete and try to outdo the other guy, but that's not the focus I take. It's about going out there trying to dominate their defense."

The 5-foot-11, 245-pound Jamal Lewis has rushed for 305 yards on 62 carries for three touchdowns. Holmes is tied for the AFC lead in scoring with four touchdowns and ranks second in the AFC in rushing with 351 yards.

"The production on the run offense is going to be crucial knowing Jamal is going to be giving a heavy dosage of the rushing attack," Holmes said. "Alongside that, I'm going to be a heavy dosage of the rushing game. So, it's going to be combination of which one of is ready to play and which one is going to break that big run."

A year ago, Jamal Lewis rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Kansas City. Holmes was limited to 90 yards on 22 carries.
"Priest Holmes is probably 80 percent of what they do," Ray Lewis said. "If you take him out of the game, you make them do other things. I believe our success against Priest is the same success we've had against all running backs. We take pride in stopping the run, and Priest is another great back."

Watching the bruising Jamal Lewis and the gliding Holmes is always a study of contrasting styles with both runners representing top-flight production.

"He's more of a finesse guy, he can pound it when he has to," Jamal Lewis said. "I think I'm more of a between-the-tackles, downhill, physical runner. I can finesse it if I have to."

Between the Chiefs' desperation, the Ravens feeling the surge of decisive consecutive wins and a stingy Baltimore defense likely to have nickel back Deion Sanders and nose guard Kelly Gregg back from injuries, it's shaping up as a charged atmosphere.

"It's exciting," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has 15 career sacks and will be chasing Chiefs quarterback Trent Green. "This is what you grew up with. It's the only game on, so it's time for me to show the world what I can do."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.
 


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