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Lewis rushing toward 2,000 yards

ROGER MILLS
Published December 21, 2003

He is 253 yards shy of 2,000, one of the NFL's greatest milestones.

And he isn't ducking the pressure that comes with it.

The Ravens' Jamal Lewis has an NFL-high 1,747 rushing yards by outrunning and outmashing defenders. He has been steady and explosive. He has broken tackles, wills and records.

With two games left - today in Cleveland and Dec. 28 against the Steelers - Lewis has a chance to become the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.

The others are Eric Dickerson (2,105 in 1984), Barry Sanders (2,053 in 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008 in 1998) and O.J. Simpson (2,003 in 1973).

To get there, Lewis, averaging 124.8 yards, must average 126.5.

"The chances," Lewis told the Baltimore Sun, "are great."

They certainly seem that way because the Ravens rely heavily on the run and Lewis has been punishing defenders all season.

"As a kid, my dad (a railroad worker) always told me, "Don't let guys hit you. Deliver the blow first,' " Lewis said. "That's my mentality. I like to break people's will and drive them down. That's a beautiful thing to watch them fold."

Lewis ripped the Browns for an NFL-record 295 yards on 30 carries in the second game of the season.

"He's the kind of guy where, if you let him get rolling and get his pads down, he can just rip your arms out of the sockets," Bengals linebacker Kevin Hardy said recently. "He's a big guy with power, but he's got some speed, too, and he's a little bit shifty. When he has momentum ... look out."

Added Lewis: "It's like I'm the sexiest woman in the world back there. Everybody wants to get me."

IN FROM THE COLD: With a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Texans, the Titans aren't about to go in unmanned.

So last week, they called former starter Neil O'Donnell off the couch.

Once the NFL approved the contract, O'Donnell immediately worked with the first team during practice, while rookie Jason Gesser served as the backup.

"After a couple reps, it felt like I never left it. It really did," O'Donnell told the Tennessean. "I feel good, my mind's fresh, and I'm here really more than anything to win a championship."

Starter Steve McNair is nursing a sore calf and an ankle sprain and backup Billy Volek lacerated his spleen in a the 28-26 win over the Bills last weekend.

"If Steve's able to play, then Neil will back up," coach Jeff Fisher said. "But right now, Steve's still struggling with the leg."

A win over the Texans would give the Titans the luxury of resting McNair in the regular-season finale Dec. 28 against the Bucs.

SAY AGAIN?: With injuries to Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns, the Broncos practiced this week with fullback/running back Mike Anderson at the running back spot. That meant they had to move tight end Patrick Hape, a former Buc, to the fullback position.

Asked by reporters what he thought of playing fullback against the Colts, Hape said he might be the "bone locker" left. Hape said he meant to say, "lone blocker.' "

"That's from being the lone blocker," Hape told the Denver Post. "I get hit in the head too much. Now I can't even speak straight."

CALL HIM "THE CLAMP": Ray Lewis comes to mind immediately when thinking of the Ravens defense but cornerback Chris McAlister is no slouch either.

During one seven-game stretch, in which the Ravens decided to let McAlister handle the opposing team's primary receiver, yards and scores were hard to come by.

In successive weeks, McAlister locked down Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Torry Holt, Chris Chambers, Koren Robinson, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson. The seven produced a combined 25 catches for 269 yards and one touchdown.

"Modestly putting it, that's what a shut-down corner is supposed to do," McAlister told the Los Angeles Times.

NOT SO FAST: But one of those victims has a different side of the story. Johnson, who is going to the Pro Bowl and was held to two catches for 15 yards against the Ravens Dec. 7, isn't ready to give McAlister his props.

"For three hours, I had to deal with Chris McAlister and (safety) Ed Reed," said Johnson, who leads the AFC with 1,211 yards. "I'm like, "C'mon, y'all, give me a break now.' . . . No, you didn't shut me down. You and your help did. At some point, players have to be realistic. Leave (McAlister) out there and he'll get exposed."

NFL, ON A ROLL: If the Lions lose to the Panthers today in Carolina they move into the history books. They share the record for consecutive road losses (23) with the Oilers (1981-84). The Lions have not won on the road since a 10-7 victory over the Jets on Dec. 17, 2000. "If we don't get it accomplished - I mean if we don't break the streak in this game - then we may have to answer those questions on the Fourth of July, in August, and in training camp and in minicamp," coach Steve Mariucci said. "I understand that." ... Since 1996, Miami is 13-18 in regular-season games in December. ... Only three times this season have the Lions scored more than 17 points.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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