- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

BALTIMORE — The game was meaningless, but Jamal Lewis’ pursuit of a 19-year NFL record was not.

Lewis gave a yeoman’s effort — he rushed for 114 yards on 27 carries — to finish 40 yards shy of breaking the NFL single-season rushing record in the NFL’s last regular-season game last night before a national television audience and the largest crowd (70,001) to ever watch a game at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Lewis, whose effort gave him the second-best rushing season ever with 2,066 yards, rolled, but it was kicker Matt Stover who snapped a five-game losing streak for the Baltimore Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Stover nailed a 47-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Ravens to a 13-10 victory.

“I knew how close I was [to breaking the record],” Lewis said. “We were trying to get it but not concentrating on it. I’m not disappointed. The opportunity was there and we ran good.”

Having already clinched a playoff berth earlier in the day, the game wasn’t a “must-win” for the Ravens as it could have been. Instead, the Ravens wanted to use the game as a momentum builder heading into the postseason.

The Ravens play host to the Tennessee Titans (12-4) in an AFC wild-card round game Saturday at 4:30p.m. at M&T; Bank Stadium. The Ravens have won the last five meetings and six of the past seven games against the Titans.

Ending their losing streak against the Steelers (6-10) meant plenty to the Ravens.

“We had to get this monkey off our back,” Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “We’re just a football team that plays old-school football.”

The Cleveland Browns, Ravens owner Art Modell’s former team, delivered Baltimore its first AFC North title earlier yesterday with their improbable 22-14 win at the Cincinnati Bengals.

Modell, 78, was Cleveland’s most-hated man when he moved the Browns to Baltimore before the 1996 season. Yesterday, Cleveland gave Modell a farewell gift — in the form of a playoff berth — in Modell’s 43rd and final season as an NFL owner.

With the Ravens securely in the playoffs, all attention turned toward Lewis’ quest to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984.

Lewis, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound workhorse, ran through Pittsburgh’s proud defense with impunity in the first quarter. He had never rushed for more than 100 yards against the Steelers in five previous games, but exploded for 73 yards on eight carries in the opening period.

Coming into the game, Lewis, the NFL’s leading rusher, was just 48 yards shy of becoming the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in one season. He needed 154 yards to top Dickerson. An early 25-yard touchdown run put him among the NFL’s elite and gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead.

Ed Reed’s record-tying seventh interception of the season gave the Ravens great field position at the Steelers 34 with eight minutes left in the first quarter. After a 9-yard burst up the middle on first down that put Lewis at an even 2,000 yards, he moved into third among the NFL’s all-time single-season rushers on his next carry.

From the Steelers 25 Lewis blasted up the middle behind the Ravens massive left side of guard Edwin Mulitalo and Jonathan Ogden, cut left and raced untouched down the sideline into the end zone. With his scoring run, Lewis passed O.J. Simpson (2,003 yards) and Terrell Davis (2,008) for third place.

But that was the extent of Lewis’ production in the first half. In the second quarter, Lewis carried the ball just three times for 4 yards.

Lewis passed Barry Sanders in the third quarter for second place on the NFL’s single-season rushing list with an 11-yard run. However, it was a Lewis fumble deep in Steelers territory that led to Pittsburgh’s first points of the game.

After Ray Lewis intercepted a Tommy Maddox pass at the Pittsburgh 25 and returned it to the 12, Jamal Lewis fumbled at the Steelers 10 and Pittsburg defensive back Mike Logan recovered. Then on fourth-and-1 at their 19, the Steelers faked a punt when punter Josh Miller found backup safety Chris Hope in the left flat. Hope did the rest going 81 yards and tied the game 7-7. Later in the quarter, kicker Jeff Reed gave the Steelers a 10-7 lead with a 42-yard field goal.

Pittsburgh accumulated only 79 yards of total offense in the first half against the Ravens stout defense. Quarteback Tommy Maddox was sacked twice for minus 11 yards and Jerome Bettis, who passed Jim Brown last night for sixth place on the NFL’s all-time career rushing list, gained just 21 yards on nine carries.

Notes — A scheduled halftime ceremony to honor Modell was cancelled because Modell had a respiratory infection and was unable to attend the game. Modell was to be inducted into the team’s “Ring of Honor.” The ceremony has been rescheduled as part of Saturday’s halftime festivities. … Ravens four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware was inactive with a sprained knee. He was replaced by rookie Terrell Suggs.

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