- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Somehow, Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis is a forgotten man.

Much of the AFC MVP talk centers around Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning or Kansas City running back Priest Holmes. Meanwhile, Lewis is virtually ignored even though he needs only 378 yards of becoming the fifth back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

With three games remaining, Lewis needs to average 126 yards a game to top 2,000. To break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards (1984), Lewis would need to average 161.3 a game.

Yet if the Ravens have a chance to clinch the AFC North before the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Lewis could have a limited role if the team is already assured a playoff spot.

“Yeah, I want to play against Pittsburgh, I would love to play against Pittsburgh because of the first game we played them at the beginning of the season,” said Lewis, whose team absorbed a 34-15 loss against the Steelers in Week1. “I’m still a player and you have to be smart about things and me and coach [Brian] Billick will handle that when the time comes.”

The next two Ravens opponents — the troubled Oakland Raiders (3-10) and the cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns (4-9) — offer Lewis good chances to amass yardage.

The Raiders are the second-worst team in the league against the run, while Lewis ran for an NFL-record 295 yards in Week2 against the Browns.

As a unit, the Ravens offensive line — the heaviest in football averaging out at 329.5 pounds a player — would benefit if Lewis topped 2,000.

“If we’re in the playoffs and he got that 2,000, it would mean a lot to me,” said Ravens left guard Edwin Mulitalo. “Whatever record he gets, that’s kind of our way of putting up stats as offensive linemen. Whatever he achieves is exciting for us, because we’re helping him.”

Since his romp over the Browns, opponents have stacked eight and nine players in the box to try to slow the punishing Lewis. That strategy hasn’t worked of late. The Ravens have taken advantage of man-to-man coverage and gotten the ball to wideout Marcus Robinson, who has caught six touchdowns in the last three games.

“As I’ve said many times, the ability to go deep isn’t as important as the ability to complete deep,” Billick said. “With the profile that we see with eight in the box and what Jamal is doing, time and time again, if you’re going to match-up one-on-one out there, you’ve got to consider what the consequences may be. Again, we’ll see the eight guys in the box and we’re going to have to do some things to make them pay a price for that.”

Lewis is coming off an 180-yard game in Sunday’s 31-13 dismantling of the Cincinnati Bengals. He hopes his stellar season is enough for MVP consideration, though he knows the only thing he can control is his own play.

“The only thing I can [do is] go out there Sunday and run the way I do, try and help this team to win, and do my job,” Lewis said. “That [MVP] is not up to me. It is not up to me where the votes go and things like that. The only thing I can do is go out and do my job, and make them consider me and kind of shake it up a little bit.”

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