Cleveland's meal ticket

CLEVELAND – As Jamal Lewis quietly reveled in the Cleveland Browns' latest victory, a grinding battle in Iditarod-like conditions, he had big plans for a celebration dinner.

It was time for some free-range chicken from Johnny Mango's.

Free-range chicken? That's a joke, right? Just like the idea that any 250-pound running back who makes a living by pounding opponents into submission would dine at a restaurant with the word "Mango" in its name.

Lewis, as has been the norm in his seven-year NFL career, played the role of musher in Cleveland's 8-0 win over Buffalo at Browns Stadium on Sunday. His 163 yards on 33 carries helped the Browns improve to 9-5 and put them in position to win the AFC North if Pittsburgh (also 9-5 but has swept the Browns) stumbles over the final two weeks.

Beyond the stats, Lewis braved the freezing temperature, the 43-mph gusts and the blizzard-like snow. The elements also helped conspire for the first 8-0 result in the NFL since the Chicago Cardinals beat the Minneapolis Red Jackets on Nov. 10, 1929.

Considering all of that, you'd have to think Lewis deserves a serious steak. At the very least, Lewis should be chomping on giant carnival turkey legs, one in each hand.

With all due respect, though, Lewis will pass on the red meat.

"Had to give it up and I love a good steak," he said, talking about the diet he adopted before the 2006 season and a regimen that has paid serious dividends this season. "I'm trying to keep my weight down, and red meat just doesn't help me. I still have it sometimes, but I'm pretty strict about it. Once every couple of weeks maybe.

"The way I look at it, my body is a machine. I want to put good fuel in it."

If all of that sounds a little strange, here's another twist to what Lewis has done in his first year with Cleveland after being discarded by Baltimore: He's a leader and a calming influence. Yes, a guy who once played the role of distraction after getting in trouble with the federal government for drug trafficking is now a mentor to this up-and-coming team.

"Jamal is unbelievable," said wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, one of the Browns' lunch-pail types who augments the superior talent of Lewis, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. "For anybody who said that he didn't have anything left in the tank, they need to check themselves. … He has been instrumental to what we're doing here."

That's certainly the case from a statistical standpoint. Lewis has topped 90 yards in four of the last five games, all of those performances leading to victories. On Sunday, he was especially important as the game wore on.

Cleveland used a pair of impressive field goals by Phil Dawson, including a 49-yarder that screw-balled its way through the tricky wind, and a safety in the first half to grab the lead. The Browns then worked the clock in the fourth quarter, Lewis toting the ball 12 times as they called 15 runs in their final 18 plays before Derek Anderson's game-ending kneel down.

"That guy is 250 pounds of pure muscle," Winslow said. "Nobody is going to want to tackle him for four quarters. It was his type of game."

But Lewis' value goes beyond functional.

"He's a guy you feed off," Jurevicius said. "If you can't muster up some energy when he runs so hard and busts a couple of tackles, you don't get being out there."

There's a certain workmanlike seriousness that Lewis takes toward the game now. He realized he needed to change his approach after the 2005 season, the only one in which he has been held to less than 1,000 yards rushing (he topped the milestone again Sunday).

Proof of his all-business attitude is his diet, a factor that players such as backup running back Jason Wright have noticed.

"He really knows how to prepare himself," Wright said. "He works really hard at it because he knows he plays a physical running style and he knows he needs to be able to produce at this time of the season. I see how what he does pays off by how he's played the last three weeks. The fact he's performing better than any other running back in the league is no surprise to me.

"He eats organic food only and all sorts of vitamins. He knows when to rest and when to work out, what joints need to be taken care of at which time. He's doing that so every game he's ready."

Part of the routine includes omitting meats from farm-raised animals and opting for naturally grown chicken, fish and turkey.

"I don't want all that stuff they put in the chickens, like the steroids to beef them up, or the preservatives," Lewis explained. "It's everything I can do to make sure I'm as healthy as possible."

Even Winslow, who is such a health nut he can tell if he's even a pound or two overweight, has been aware of Lewis' new regimen. "There's some stuff I've taken note of," he said.

What the NFL should now take note of is that the Browns are an interesting force as the playoffs near. They survived on Sunday after the conditions reduced their passing game to nothing special. They were able to do so by confidently feeding the ball to Lewis.

"What do you want to try to take away from us?" Winslow said rhetorically. "We have Braylon and myself in the passing game. We have Jurevicius as Mr. Every Down. Now we have Jamal to pound people with. You can't take away everything."