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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jamal Lewisâ€™ workplace demands were finally met, leaving the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ running back more tired than heâ€™s been in two years.
The Ravens officially signaled that Lewis and the smash-mouth I-formation are back in vogue as part of a revamped offense following the former Pro Bowl runner’s season-high 109 yards on 31 carries in a 35-22 victory last weekend over the New Orleans Saints.
Now, Lewis is hoping for more of the same Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in a battle for AFC North supremacy at M&T Bank Stadium.
â€œYour body feels a lot different, itâ€™s been a long time since Iâ€™ve carried the ball that many times,â€ said Lewis, who hadnâ€™t rushed for 100 yards in his previous nine games or carried it that many times since rumbling for 167 yards on 34 carries to conclude the 2004 season against the Miami Dolphins. â€œIâ€™m sure it wonâ€™t be like that every week, but when my numberâ€™s called Iâ€™m ready to go, and Iâ€™m in the condition to do it.â€
This time, Lewis had no complaints to voice. With coach Brian Billick calling the plays for the first time since firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, Lewis carried the football 18 times by halftime.
Lewis acknowledged that he could have gained more yards against New Orleans, a sentiment first expressed by Billick noting missed reads.
â€œI could have had more, Iâ€™d say the same thing after going for 295,â€ noted Lewis in a reference to his NFL single-game record established in 2003.
However, Lewis has only two runs over 20 yards this season and doesnâ€™t seem to finish off runs as explosively as he used to when he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. His longest run this season is a 27-yard gain in the season opener at Tampa Bay.
â€œItâ€™s a matter of time,â€ he said. â€œThat comes with opportunity. The opportunity presents itself and that hole is open and nobody is there. Sometimes, that happens.
â€œLate in the third quarter, thatâ€™s your time to really pound it. The safeties and the linebackers are on their heels, and they donâ€™t want to do it anymore. Thatâ€™s why it looks like we get stronger in that part of the game.â€
Lewis has run noticeably harder and with more purpose over the last two contests, challenging defenders with a more aggressive approach.
â€œJamalâ€™s always running hard,â€ wide receiver Derrick Mason said. â€œNow, heâ€™s gotten the opportunity to carry the load a little bit more. This is what heâ€™s wanted.â€
A similar game plan is likely in store for the Bengals, whose linebacker corps has been thinned by a season-long suspension for middle linebacker Odell Thurman and veteran Brian Simmons downgraded to doubtful Friday with a neck injury.
Although Lewis is averaging just 65.9 yards per contest to rank 23d in the NFL, the Bengals are worried about containing him. In eight of his nine games against the Bengals, Lewis has gained 100 or more yards and three of his top nine career games were against Cincinnati with 186, 180 and 135-yard outings.
â€œI think too much is always made of the running back,â€ Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. â€œThey are the same gifted runners when they get 1,500 yards or when they go for 60 or 70 yards in a game. Too many times you guys take shots at them that way, so Iâ€™m going to let it go at that.â€
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens upgraded tight end Todd Heap (thigh) to probable along with return specialist B.J. Sams (shoulder/thigh). Tight end Daniel Wilcox (back) was a late addition to the injury report and is regarded as probable. Wide receiver Clarence Moore (foot) was upgraded to probable along with rookie tight end Quinn Sypniewski (neck).
QUICK HITS: Beefy Bengals defensive tackle Sam Adams told Cincinnati reporters he wears his Ravens Super Bowl ring once every blue moon, but he hasnâ€™t forgotten his former defensive line coach: Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. â€œRex has a rich heritage of great defense, attacking defense and he knows exactly what heâ€™s doing,â€ Adams said. â€œHeâ€™s been overdue to be a defensive coordinator in this league for a long time. Heâ€™s showing everyone that heâ€™s very capable of putting together a great defense.â€ â€¦ The Ravens have surrendered just 13 sacks, the second-fewest after seven games in franchise history. â€¦ Wide receiver Romby Bryant earned a unique reward, for his efforts on the practice squad: Billickâ€™s choice parking spot.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland