Jamal Lewis will look to continue his domination of the Browns when the AFC North rivals kick off the 2004 season.
Lewis rushed for an NFL-record 295 yards in Baltimore’s 33-13 victory over Cleveland on Sept. 14 in the first meeting with the Browns last season. Three months later, the Browns focused on stopping Lewis and held him to 54 yards on his first 17 carries before he broke free for a 72-yard touchdown run en route to 205-yard performance.
Lewis’ 500 total yards set an NFL record for most yards rushing against a single team. He became the first running back to have two 200-yard games against one team in a season since O.J. Simpson in 1973.
Despite his remarkable success against the Browns, Lewis says he does not relish the thought of facing them again.
“That’s the last team I want to end up playing because I know they got a target on my back,” he said. “I would rather play Pittsburgh or somebody like that because they’re going to try to handle everyone across the board. They’re (the Browns) coming out after you, and their main focus is not to let you run the ball.”
Lewis is averaging 173.8 yards in six career games against Cleveland, rushing 142 times for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns.
“It’s nothing really special (against the Browns),” Lewis said. “I’m not concerned with going out and running for 200 yards or 150 yards. I’m just going to get a win. But if we put our hats in the right places, things can happen for us and I’ll get my yardage.”
While Lewis’ focus will be squarely on football Sunday, that may not be the case later in the season.
The Ravens’ star running back will go on trial starting Nov. 1 on charges that he conspired to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine while also using a cell phone in violation of federal law.
“It’s set for November, and that’s when we have to handle it,” Lewis said. “I have a long season ahead of me and we will handle it as it comes along.”
The Browns will see basically the same Ravens team that outscored them 68-13 in two meetings last season.
Ray Lewis, one of the NFL’s all-time great linebackers, anchors a defense that allowed only 271.3 yards per game last season.
“We’ve come in and we’ve gotten all the pieces together,” said Lewis, the 2003 Defensive Player of the Year. “Just like back in ’99 and how it transferred into 2000, we’ve got that type of team again. It’s going to be special just to watch us.”
While Baltimore has one of the game’s best running backs and a very strong offensive line, the offense remains a concern.
Second-year quarterback Kyle Boller needs to improve on the seven touchdowns and nine interceptions he had last season to ease the burden on Lewis. The wide receiving corps is average at best though tight end Todd Heap has developed into one of the league’s best.
Baltimore also figures to be a much more interesting team with the addition of Deion Sanders, who returns to the NFL at 37 after three years as a television analyst.
“I wanted the opportunity to win it all, and that’s it,” Sanders said. “That’s the only reason I’m here, because I was so comfortable on my property in Dallas.”
Cleveland hopes to have a winning season for just the second time since 1994 and erase the memory of an ugly 5-11 finish in 2003. The Browns split their first six games last season before losing six of eight.
The biggest problem with Cleveland last season was at quarterback where Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb seemed to alternate with each game. There will be no quarterback controversy this season with the addition of Jeff Garcia, now the undisputed starter.
Cleveland’s run defense, 23rd in the NFL last season, will be tested immediately by Lewis.
“I think everybody who has something to do with the Browns is aware that we are playing Jamal Lewis this weekend,” Browns coach Butch Davis said. “We all know what he did to us last season, and it’s important we do a better job this season.”
Cleveland hasn’t won a season opener since rejoining the NFL in 1999.
2003 STANDINGS: Ravens - 1st place, AFC North. Browns - 4th place, AFC North.
RAVENS LEADERS: Offense - Boller, 1,260 passing yards; Anthony Wright, 9 passing TDs; Lewis, 2,066 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs; Heap, 57 receptions and 693 receiving yards; Marcus Robinson, 6 receiving TDs. Defense - Lewis, 120 tackles; Terrell Suggs, 12 sacks; Ed Reed, 7 INTs.
BROWNS LEADERS: Offense - Holcomb, 1,797 passing yards and 10 passing TDs; Green, 559 rushing yards; James Jackson, 3 rushing TDs; Dennis Northcutt, 62 receptions and 729 receiving yards; Andre Davis, 5 receiving TDs. Defense - Andra Davis, 97 tackles; Kenard Lang, 8 sacks; Earl Little, 6 INTs.
2003 RAVENS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 167.1 yards per game (1st in NFL); Passing Offense - 140.9 ypg (32nd); Total Offense - 308.1 ypg (21st). Rushing Defense - 96 ypg (6th); Passing Defense - 175.3 ypg (4th); Total Defense - 271.3 ypg (3rd).
2003 BROWNS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 104.4 yards per game (20th); Passing Offense - 177.1 ypg (25th); Total Offense - 281.5 ypg (26th). Rushing Defense - 132.1 ypg (23rd); Passing Defense - 177.9 ypg (7th); Total Defense - 309.9 ypg (15th).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 20; Ravens, 35-0. At Cleveland, Lewis rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Ravens - RB Lewis has the third-best rushing total in NFL history after 48 games with 4,757 yards, trailing only Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell. … LB Lewis led NFL linebackers with six interceptions last season. … TE Heap has a reception in 32 straight games. Browns - QB Garcia ranks fourth all-time with an 88.3 career passer rating. … Cleveland’s red-zone defense ranked third in the NFL last season, allowing 18 TDs in 48 chances. … The Browns have been outscored 128-58 in their last five season openers.
2003 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Ravens - 3-5 on the road; Browns - 2-6 at home.
INJURIES: Ravens - OUT: C Mike Flynn (shoulder). QUESTIONABLE: DT Kelly Gregg (knee); T Jonathan Ogden (knee); LB Adalius Thomas (knee). PROBABLE: WR Devard Darling (thigh); LB Edgerton Hartwell (thigh); WR Travis Taylor (thigh); S Chad Williams (abdomen). Browns - OUT: TE Steve Heiden (knee); DE Corey Jackson (ankle). DOUBTFUL: RB Lee Suggs (neck). QUESTIONABLE: G Melvin Fowler (ankle); T Joaquin Gonzalez (ankle).