- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Try to stop Jamal Lewis.
There's no secret about what the Baltimore Ravens are going to do today against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. Now, it's up to the NFL's worst team to shut down the Ravens running game.
Saddled with the league's 31st-rated passing attack, the Ravens know if they are to win today's game, it probably isn't going to be through the air.
"I learned something awhile back when I was in college," Lewis said. "When you play Nebraska, you know they're going to run the option and they're going to run the option no matter what you've just got to stop it. [The Bengals are] going to key on me, or look for what I'm going to do, but can you stop it?"
Today at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, Lewis needs just 77 yards to reach 1,000 for the season when the Ravens (5-6) take on the Bengals (1-10) in an AFC North game.
Three weeks ago against the Bengals, Lewis posted his second-best rushing game of the season with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in Baltimore's 38-27 victory. If the AFC's seventh-leading rusher (923 yards on 214 carries) has another big game against the Bengals, it would continue a truly remarkable comeback for Lewis, who sat out all of last season with a torn left ACL after rushing for a team-record 1,364 yards his rookie season.
It's not like the Bengals can stop the run. Cincinnati has the second-worst run defense in the league, allowing opponents 139.3 yards per game. Only the Seattle Seahawks (174.4) allow more.
"One thousand yards isn't that hard to get in the NFL," Lewis said. "I did it my first year. As long as we get some runs and get the ball rolling, yards stack on top of each other, and if I end up with 1,000, that's great, but I would rather get over 1,000."
In three career games against Cincinnati, Lewis has rushed for 360 yards and three touchdowns. He has gained more than 100 every time he's faced the Bengals.
The Ravens strength is a Bengals weakness as Baltimore looks to get back to .500 with three-quarters of the season completed. For the Ravens to qualify for the playoffs, they probably would have to win their five remaining games. During their Super Bowl-winning season two years ago, the Ravens won their final 11, counting Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens trail first-place Pittsburgh (6-4-1) by 1 games and second-place Cleveland (6-5) by one and have games with both remaining.
The combined winning percentage (.427) of the five remaining teams on the Ravens' schedule is lower than both Pittsburgh's (.455) and Cleveland's (.500). Of the 14 AFC teams still in playoff contention, the Ravens' opponents have the lowest combined winning percentage.
After the Ravens were blasted 26-7 two weeks ago in Miami, coach Brian Billick said his team was a "long shot" to make the playoffs. Then came last Sunday's 13-12 win over the red-hot Tennessee Titans, despite missing key veterans like five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerback Chris McAlister, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, and defensive end Michael McCrary because of injuries. Now the NFL's youngest team is suddenly believing in itself albeit perhaps too late.
"When I say it's a long shot, any time you have to rely on somebody else to lose a game, that makes it a long shot even if it's just one team, one game," Billick said. "Anybody that is in our situation right now probably has to have something else happen. Someone will come tell us if we're in; someone will come tell us if we're out."
Added tight end Todd Heap: "If we can get back to .500, I think we will be in the [playoff] race."


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