- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

BALTIMORE. — Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick stood in front of reporters after last week’s 19-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and pretty much apologized for being an idiot and giving the ball to Jamal Lewis just 15 times.

“Any game that we only have Jamal carry the ball 15 times is a game that we are probably going to lose,” he said. “That is something that we have to try to not let happen again.”

It usually takes a humble man to learn from his mistakes. Somehow, though, Billick managed to learn anyway.

Billick gave the ball to Lewis 30 times yesterday, and when it was all over the Ravens had a 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns and Lewis had an NFL rushing record. Lewis ran for 295 yards, breaking Corey Dillon’s mark of 278 before a sellout crowd at the newly named M&T-Bank-Stadium-that-should-have-been-called-Unitas-Stadium.;

“It was a great day to be part of,” Billick said, which was big of him considering that his role was to be not as stupid as he had been the week before.

The word of the day in the post-game interviews was “beautiful.”

Ray Lewis: “It was just beautiful.”

Jonathan Ogden: “It was beautiful to see once he got through the hole.”

Jamal Lewis: “It was a beautiful day.”

If you love the aesthetics of football, it was beautiful — right from the first time Jamal Lewis touched the ball.

On the Ravens’ second play from scrimmage, less than a minute into the first quarter, Lewis burst up the middle at his 18 and didn’t stop until he was in the Cleveland end zone 82 yards away.

It was the very definition of a highlight run: Lewis nearly went down but kept his balance and scored, thanks to receiver Travis Taylor running interference near the Browns 20. “I would have been disappointed if I had fallen,” Lewis said. “Luckily, that was my first run, so my legs were still good.”

His legs were good all day. They were good when he ran for 23 yards and surpassed 100 for the day with 10 minutes left in the first quarter.

They were good when he ran for 60 yards with about six minutes left in the second quarter for what appeared to be another touchdown only to lose 22 yards because of a holding penalty on Marcus Robinson near the 12. (If he gets those 22 yards, the NFL record is 317).

And they still were pretty good when he outran the Browns defense at the start of the fourth quarter for a 63-yard touchdown.

The thing is, the Browns knew this was coming: Lewis warned Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis earlier in the week that something big was going to happen. But the Browns still couldn’t stop it.

“He told me that he wanted me to get the ball 30 times, and I told him if I got the ball 30 times, it was going to be a career day,” Lewis said. “I’m not going to say I predicted it, but it was lucky. I lucked up and got it.”

That was insult to injury for the Browns defenders, having to answer questions about Lewis walking the walk after talking the talk. “I guess the dude is Nostradamus,” safety Earl Little said.

The luck for Lewis was that this week his coach didn’t operate under the illusion that he has an NFL quarterback.

Billick remains the unrequited quarterback lover, a passing guru who has never found the golden arm of his dreams in Baltimore.

His latest protege, Kyle Boller, was just 7 for 17 for 78 yards with one interception before a bruised thigh forced him out near the end of the third quarter. That opened the door for another Billick project, Chris Redman, who simply let the ball slip out of his hands for a fumble the first time he went back to pass. He attempted just one more pass after that, a pathetic dump-off that fell incomplete.

The combined quarterback rating for the Ravens yesterday? A whopping 29.4. Why even bother having a quarterback?

“In our Super Bowl year, we had a great defense and a good running game,” Ray Lewis said, referring to the Ravens’ championship season three years ago. Then he laughed and said, “We had a few passes here and there.”

That is all you will likely see from now on — a few passes here and there — as long as Jamal Lewis is healthy. He has come back now from reconstructive surgery on both knees, and if the Ravens have any shot this season it will be on those reconstructed knees.

And if those knees hold up, there is a chance another record could fall: Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards.

Providing, of course, his coach doesn’t outsmart himself again. Not even Nostradamus could predict what Brian Billick will do.

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