Ravens 23, Bengals 9
The questions were starting to come for the Baltimore Ravens and running back Jamal Lewis earlier this week. Lewis, who rushed for the second-highest yardage total in NFL history a year ago, had been stifled in the Ravens' first two games: He had only two runs of more than 10 yards, he was averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and he had only 119 total rushing yards.
Were they concerned about Lewis's production?
The answer was always an emphatic no. Lewis preached patience, and his linemen vowed that it was only a matter of time before Lewis broke loose.
That time came Sunday, as Lewis rushed for 186 yards on 18 carries against the Cincinnati Bengals. He drove the offense, safety Ed Reed had two interceptions for a defense that didn't allow a touchdown, and the result was a 23-9 victory for the Ravens in front of 65,575 at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I told [Jamal Lewis], we ride off you," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We can cut it any way you want to cut it, but our team rides off you. When Jamal is running, our defense knows that [the offense is] going to eat up the clock and they want us to go three-and-out and get them back the football."
Lewis's 186 yards helped him achieve two significant milestones. He has 5,062 career rushing yards in 51 games, and is the fifth-fastest to reach that level in NFL history. He ran for more than 100 yards against the Bengals for the seventh consecutive game, which ties the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games against one opponent. (Denver's Terrell Davis had seven straight 100-yard performances against Seattle from 1996 to 2001.)
Lewis's performance against the Bengals was reminiscent of his 2003 season, when he rushed for 2,066 yards (finishing second to Eric Dickerson's record 2,105). He burst through the line on his very first carry and stiff-armed a defender on his way to a 32-yard gain. He turned a short pass into a 46-yard pickup by spinning out of a tackle. He scored his third touchdown of the season on a 75-yard run in which he avoided two would-be tacklers.
"I just got into a good mode," Jamal Lewis said. "The tempo was great. That zone really came. It was like everything was moving in slow motion. I was just reading the blocks. The big guys up front -- they blocked great."
Baltimore completed its first swing through the AFC North with a 2-1 record. Dominating wins over Pittsburgh (2-1) and Cincinnati (1-2) came after a frustrating season-opening loss at Cleveland (1-2).
"Any time you can win on the road, it's huge, particularly in the division," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "With the missing parts we had, it's a big, big win."
The Ravens took the field on Sunday without five starters and one high-profile reserve. Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin) -- two of quarterback Kyle Boller's favorite targets -- were out, as was center Mike Flynn (collarbone). The defense was without nose tackle Kelly Gregg (knee), Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware (knee, physically unable to perform list), and nickel back Deion Sanders (hamstring). It didn't seem to matter.
Wide receiver Randy Hymes -- who missed all of last season with a knee injury -- started in Taylor's place and had four catches for 61 yards, including the Ravens' first touchdown reception of the year, a 38-yard catch and run in the second quarter. Linebacker Adalius Thomas, who has been starting for Boulware, had a sack and forced a fumble (on the same play).
"A lot of our starters are out," Jamal Lewis said. "That makes it pretty scary for a lot of teams, when we can go in there with guys that are second- or third-string guys who can really go in there and step up. I think guys are going to have to start respecting that."
Boller, the 19th pick in the 2003 draft, was solid, completing 11 of 18 passes for 126 yards. He continued to make plays running the ball, and he scored the Ravens' first touchdown on a seven-yard run. It was the first rushing touchdown of Boller's career, and it capped a drive that was set up by a 63-yard punt return from rookie B.J. Sams.
But Boller did have two costly fumbles. He looked as if he was going to score on a 21-yard run early in the second quarter, but instead was stripped from behind by linebacker Nate Webster at the Cincinnati 2-yard line. In the fourth quarter, Boller knocked the ball out of his own hands with his knee on a keeper, which led to the Bengals' final field goal.
"Like I said last week, sometimes when they give you those holes, you just have to take off and run," Boller said. "Today it was just needing to cover the ball up."
Boller's counterpart, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer -- the top pick of the 2003 draft -- completed 25 of 52 passes for 316 yards, all career highs (though he was making only his third career start). He threw three interceptions and was sacked four times for a total of 27 yards. Linebacker Terrell Suggs, a former Arizona State standout, was responsible for two of the sacks.
Two Cincinnati drives ended with Reed interceptions inside his own 10-yard line; he returned them for 90 yards. The Ravens had nearly as many yards on interception returns (108) as the Bengals had rushing (109).That stifling defense -- combined with power running -- is a familiar formula for the Ravens.
"That puts us back to the year of the Super Bowl," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "When we run the ball well and the defense is solid like we usually are, we can't be stopped."
Ravens Notes: Baltimore wide receiver Kevin Johnson finished without a reception for the first time in his six-year career, ending a streak of 81 games with at least one catch. . . . There were no major new injuries, though linebacker T.J. Slaughter and fullback Ovie Mughelli both injured their hamstrings. . . . Billick called for a two-point conversion following Jamal Lewis's 75-yard touchdown run, which gave Baltimore a 14-point lead, 23-9, in the fourth quarter. Boller's pass to Hymes was incomplete. "I started in college as an engineering major, and obviously, as you can see, I'm too stupid to add, so I switched to journalism," said Billick, who has a communications degree from BYU. "I thought it was 15 when it was 14."