Tailback Jamal Lewis is lobbying to continue playing for the Baltimore Ravens on weekends in November even if he must miss practice time during the week to attend his drug conspiracy trial in Atlanta.
"I feel like I can still go in and play as long as I know my game plan and what I will be facing going into the game," Lewis said following the Ravens' 24-0, preseason-opening triumph over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night at rain-soaked M&T Bank Stadium. "It's not like I will be gone for a whole week or something like that. I'll make it my point so that I can handle my job . . . I will be here. That is all I can tell you.
"One thing Coach [Brian Billick] instills in us is being able to handle things as they come along. Not everything rolls the way you want it to. It's like if guys get injured on the field, we have to go in and handle accordingly. He instills that in us. I will handle this as it comes along."
Earlier Thursday, Lewis's trial date was set for Nov. 1. He was indicted in February and he and childhood friend Angelo Jackson were charged with conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute, cocaine. Lewis faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years if convicted and the alleged conspiracy is found to involve more than five kilograms of cocaine.
Members of Lewis's defense team have told the Ravens they expect the trial to last less than two weeks. Lewis's attorneys have said he is innocent and have told the Ravens they're confident they can prove that in court. The trial would begin the day after the Ravens' Oct. 31 game at Philadelphia. They play the Cleveland Browns at home on Nov. 7 and the New York Jets on the road on Nov. 14.
Lewis is an integral part of a Ravens team with hopes of going deep into the playoffs this season even while starting a second-year quarterback, Kyle Boller. Lewis had the second-highest single-season rushing total -- 2,066 yards -- in NFL history last season. But the Ravens say they're confident in reserve tailbacks Chester Taylor and Musa Smith and they're prepared to play without Lewis during his trial. Billick has said that, because of the thorough, intense preparations required to play a regular season football game, he has doubts that Lewis could shuttle back and forth and continue playing between court appearances. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant played this past NBA season between court appearances in Colorado in his sexual assault case, sometimes playing a game the same day he appeared in court.
Billick was noncommittal late Thursday night, saying: "I understand Jamal's date is set. Don't know anything more about it [and] don't have anything more I can share with you about it. I have no clues about it. I don't know what the course is going to be. Don't know. When I find out more, I'll visit with you about it. There's some finality to it. That's great, and we'll deal with it."
Lewis said there was no plan in place.
"We will just handle it as it comes along," he said. "We will deal when that week and that month come along. We will handle it accordingly."
Lewis started Thursday's game and rushed for 14 yards on six carries. Taylor and Smith took over and combined for 73 yards on 21 carries.
Lewis said he didn't necessarily want to see the trial pushed until after the season.
"I wanted it to happen sooner than later," he said. "For me, I just want to get it out of the way . . . . It's set for November and that's when we have to handle it. I have a long season ahead of me, and we will handle it as it comes along. That is the only thing we can really do."
His teammates expressed support but steered clear of offering opinions about how the Ravens should handle Lewis's playing situation. "We'll just try to win every game before then and then see what happens while it's going on," tight end Todd Heap said. "It's hard for me to comment. That's Jamal's thing. We'll give him all the support we can, but he has to deal with it."
Said middle linebacker Ray Lewis: "Put it in God's hands and move on. He's handling it. He's been handling it. He'll be okay. We'll be okay."
Jamal Lewis already has gotten a glimpse of the sort of media scrutiny that he'll be facing during the proceedings. He was surrounded by a group of reporters three rows deep at his locker late Thursday night.
"I just found out for myself," he said. "I need to check with my lawyers and see how to handle it. There is a process, and I am sure that we will come up with a plan . . . . I just wanted to think about next week. That's all I could think about because I really don't know . . . . I don't know any more than you do right now."
About the only positive Thursday night for the Falcons was that quarterback Michael Vick wasn't injured. Vick had his -- and the Falcons' -- 2003 season ruined when he suffered a broken leg against the Ravens in last year's second exhibition game. He took only three snaps Thursday, handing off to tailback Warrick Dunn twice and then being sacked by Will Demps on a third-and-eight safety blitz.
"I was happy when he came to the sideline and said he was okay," Falcons Coach Jim Mora Jr. said. "I said, 'You're out.' "
Vick wasn't pleased with the Ravens' preseason defensive tactics. "I was upset," he said. "They blitzed me knowing I wasn't going to run. They can do what they want in preseason. I'll see them again one day.'' . . .
Mora let rookie quarterback Matt Schaub, a third-round draft pick from the University of Virginia, play most of the game, as the club gives him an opportunity to beat out veteran free-agent addition Ty Detmer for the backup job.
Schaub had some zip on his throws and moved the ball at times, completing 12 of 24 passes for 108 yards. But he also looked like a rookie in his first exhibition game, being sacked three times and throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned 49 yards for a second-quarter touchdown by Ravens cornerback Fred Weary.
"What stands out are the two interceptions," Mora said. "The positive is on both of those throws, he made the right decision. He threw to the right man. They just weren't good throws."
Vick was supportive, saying: "I told Matt things like this happen to you. It's all about how you bounce back from it, whether you're a player who can [recover] from tough stuff and bounce back from it or just go into a hole. Matt's the type of guy, I think, that can bounce back. As he showed us, poor field conditions and a wet ball, he was still able to go out and maintain his poise."
Said Schaub: "Things just happen so much faster [in the NFL]. Defenses react to what the offense [does]. They pick up on it, so you can't rely on the same things. You have to mix it up and find other guys that are open . . . You have to react quicker, anticipate things a little more. You have to stay calm and have a short-term memory when things might not go right.'' . . . The Falcons hired renowned blocking guru Alex Gibbs in the offseason to coach their offensive line. Gibbs was one of the architects of the Denver Broncos' wildly successful running game, but the Falcons rushed for only 57 yards on 22 carries against the Ravens.
"I don't care if it's preseason or regular season, you have to be a team that wins," Mora said. "It's extremely hard to win in this league when you have 11 penalties, you're minus-two in the turnover ratio, you run the ball for 50 yards and you give up 113 [actually 107] yards rushing and kill drives the way we did with penalties."
Said Falcons rookie defensive tackle Chad Lavalais: "We've still got a long ways to go. There were some positives but a lot of negatives, like the penalties. We dropped the ball a few times. That's why they call it preseason.'' . . .
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the eighth overall selection in the draft out of Virginia Tech, did have a few good moments for the Falcons. He took on Jamal Lewis on a running play, getting the bruising tailback to the ground on a sweep with a submarine-style tackle in the open field. And, locked in one-on-one coverage, he blanketed Ravens wide receiver Randy Hymes and jumped high to knock away Boller's deep pass . . . .
Boller's night was a mixed bag. He looked anxious and uncertain in the pocket at times and the Ravens started sluggishly on offense, managing only five yards of total offense in the first quarter. But Boller led a 95-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter and finished the evening with a passer rating of 111.3 after completing five of nine throws for 56 yards and a touchdown.
"I made some mistakes," Boller said. "I got into a couple bad habits. I had some happy feet in the pocket. But I calmed down and did a few good things as the night went along."
Said Billick: "Any time you can shut a team out, I don't care if it's the preseason, you've got to feel good about it. I just told the guys they need to enjoy the win. We'll pick it apart Saturday in minute detail because there's a lot to pick apart. There's enough things in there to get you beat four or five times. But 24-0 -- we'll take it."
Bengals-Bucs Game In Question
Officials from the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have postponed their exhibition game scheduled for Saturday night in Tampa, Fla., because of Hurricane Charley set to hit the area today. The Bengals traveled Thursday, a day earlier than scheduled, and got to their hotel in Orlando around 2 a.m. today. The game might be played on Monday.
The Miami Dolphins also are scheduled to play a home exhibition game Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars . . .
An NFL source said this morning that tailback LaDainian Tomlinson's contract extension with the San Diego Chargers contains about $21 million in guaranteed money and has a maximum total value of more than $60 million over six seasons. The two sides have agreed in principle to the deal, which will be added to the remaining two seasons on Tomlinson's current contract (with salaries totaling $12 million for the 2004 and 2005 seasons) and keep him tied to the Chargers through the 2011 season . . .
Jake Delhomme is scheduled to start for the Carolina Panthers at quarterback Saturday night against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, but Coach John Fox says he won't decide until game time whether Rodney Peete or Chris Weinke will play next . . .
Green Bay Packers tailback Ahman Green has missed two days of practices because of a sore foot . . .
Pittsburgh Steelers reserve quarterback Charlie Batch could be sidelined at least two weeks after an MRI showed further damage to his surgically repaired knee . . .
The Philadelphia Eagles' starters are scheduled to play into the second quarter in tonight's preseason opener at New England. The Patriots' starters aren't slated to go as long, with quarterback Tom Brady likely to give way early to Rohan Davey . . .
Chargers defensive tackle DeQuincy Scott might have to undergo a hernia operation that would sideline him for a month . . .
St. Louis Rams officials aren't expecting offensive tackle Kyle Turley or center Dave Wohlabaugh to play any time soon but aren't offering any definitive answers about the status of either player. Turley has a career-threatening back injury, and Wohlabaugh is coming off offseason hip surgery . . .
As former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, who's serving as a consultant to Billick this season and tutoring Boller, left the Ravens' locker room Thursday night, he greeted family members by saying: "Now I know what it feels like to get out of there fast. I used to stay in there an hour.'' . . .
When the ESPN broadcast crew went through security entering the stadium Thursday night in Baltimore, a guard turned to former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and said, "You're next, Mr. Namath." Theismann offered a polite correction, according to a person who witnessed the exchange.