For the record, the guarantee made by Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis wasn't that outlandish. He was playfully trash-talking during a three-way telephone conversation last week with high school teammate Robert Cromartie and Cleveland Browns linebacker Andra Davis, who knew Lewis through Cromartie. All Lewis told them was that if he carried the ball at least 30 times on Sunday, he would have a career game against the Browns, a team he had averaged 135.8 rushing yards against in four previous meetings. There was no bluster for the Cleveland bulletin board about breaking Corey Dillon's single-game NFL rushing record of 278 yards. Lewis simply stated what then became obvious during Baltimore's 33-13 victory at M&T Bank Stadium: He's feeling good about his game this year.
That's exciting news for the rest of the Ravens, who watched Lewis erase Dillon's mark with 295 rushing yards on 30 carries. He won't make history every week, but Lewis will make life easier for an offense that is struggling to be consistent. With a rookie at quarterback, first-round pick Kyle Boiler, and an underwhelming cast of receivers, the passing attack was inept in a season-opening 34-15 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was clear the offense would have to be more dependent on Lewis. "I want to take the pressure off [Boiler]," says Lewis.
Lewis gained 1,364 yards as a rookie on Baltimore's 2000 Super Bowl champion team and 1,327 last year (in '01 he tore his left ACL in camp and missed the season), but thanks to a rigorous off-season program he's a more dynamic runner than ever. While training with other NFL players this summer, he started running hills, participating in boxing workouts and eating healthier food. The results are impressive. The 5'11" Lewis, who weighed 260 pounds in minicamp in June, has dropped 17 pounds. "I worked out with him, and I never saw a guy with that much determination and intensity," says Ravens fullback Alan Ricard.
Lewis, whom Baltimore selected with the fifth pick in the 2000 draft, hopes to put questions about his durability behind him. (He tore a ligament in his right knee as a sophomore at Tennessee, dislocated his left elbow as an NFL rookie and then tore that ACL the next season.) He has also regained his breakaway speed, as evidenced on Sunday by touchdown runs of 82 and 63 yards. "People forget how fast he is because he was such a power back," coach Brian Billick says.
Lewis's speed should be on display in coming weeks. Following the loss to Pittsburgh, in which he carried 15 times for 69 yards, Billick vowed to increase his big back's workload. Lewis knew he was up to the challenge and proved it. "I guess the dude is Nostradamus," says Cleveland free safety Earl Little. "He did his thing, and there was nothing we could do about it."