-- Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis returned to practice on Friday, happy to be back on the football field and happy to have some resolution to his off-field problems.
The NFL suspended Lewis for two games without pay and fined him an additional two weeks' salary late Friday afternoon, one day after Lewis pleaded guilty to using a cell phone in violation of federal law to facilitate a drug deal nearly four years ago. Lewis will play against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday night.
"It's a load off my shoulders and now I can just continue on," said Lewis, who will lose $761,000 of his $3.234 million salary this season. "I don't have to worry about that anymore and just get on with my life and play football."
Lewis has five days to appeal the league's decision, which makes him eligible to play against the Redskins. A Ravens spokesman said that while Lewis has accepted and will not appeal the league's decision, Lewis will use the five-day window to consult with his attorneys. Lewis will miss games against Buffalo on Oct. 24 and Philadelphia on Oct. 31.
The NFL Players Association was non-committal when asked about the possibility of an appeal. "We will be in consultation with [Lewis] and his counsel to see what he wants to do," said Richard Berthelsen, the general counsel for the NFLPA.
A drug-related violation of law is grounds for league discipline, according to the NFL's substance abuse policy, and Lewis could have been subject to a suspension of up to four games. However, there were extenuating circumstances in Lewis's situation. The incident to which Lewis pleaded guilty took place in June 2000, after he had been drafted by the Ravens but before he had signed a contract. Also, Lewis did not -- and did not attempt to -- possess or sell drugs, or profit from the sale of drugs.
Still, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had stern words for Lewis.
"None of this is meant to diminish the seriousness of your guilty plea to a federal felony," Tagliabue wrote Friday in a letter to Lewis. "You have needlessly sullied your own reputation and reinforced unfair and negative public perceptions of NFL players generally. The consequences of your poor judgment include incarceration, suspension from the NFL, and the loss of $761,000 in salary. The longer term damage to your own reputation may well be even greater."
Lewis, under terms of the plea bargain agreement that was accepted by a U.S. Federal Court in Atlanta on Thursday, will be sentenced to four months in a minimum-security prison and two months in a halfway house after the completion of the NFL regular season. Lewis, who faced a Nov. 1 trial date and possible 10-year sentence if convicted of the conspiracy charge against him, said that he is not apprehensive about the future.
"As long as my career's all right, I'm all right," said Lewis, who rushed for the second-highest total in league history last year. "I won't miss any football. I'll be ready, I'll be here next season, this season. It's over with."
The news surrounding Lewis has overshadowed what is usually a week building up the local rivalry between the Ravens and the Redskins.
For the players in the Ravens' locker room, the rivalry is based more on proximity -- their stadiums are only 29 miles apart and they often run into Redskins players off the field -- than animosity. After all, the Ravens and Redskins haven't played often enough to establish a true on-field rivalry; Sunday's game will be only the third regular season meeting between the teams, and the first since 2000. The teams won't meet again until 2008.
"The proximity -- the players sit and read the paper and there's something about the Redskins there every day," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. For the fans, the emotions run deeper. Paul Mittermeier, the co-host of "Those Sports Guys" on Baltimore's WJFK-1300, was planning on having an hour-long call-in segment on "Why I hate the Redskins" on Friday's show.
"Yesterday, I was in the mall, picking out a birthday present for my wife, and this guy came up to me and said, 'You've got to beat the Redskins,' " said defensive end Marques Douglas, who graduated from Howard. "A lot of Colts players are still here, and they still have that sense of pride in the home town, and that carries over to Ravens fans. This is our turf. We have to live up to our expectations."
Lewis said that he'll be ready for the Redskins, despite missing practice on Thursday. He also said that he isn't looking forward to Sunday's game any more than he would any other game.
"I don't have anything to prove to anybody," said Lewis, who had a season-low 15 carries for 73 yards in the Ravens' 27-24 loss to Kansas City on Monday. "What's done is done, it's over with. I'm not going to view this game differently than the Monday night game or the games before that. Nothing's changed, it's just that that part is over with."
Ravens Notes: There were no changes to the Ravens' injury report. Two starters -- center Mike Flynn (collarbone) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle) -- are out. Cornerback Deion Sanders (hamstring), linebacker T.J. Slaughter (hamstring) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (hamstring) are questionable. Starting wide receiver Travis Taylor, who has missed the last three games with an injured groin, returned to practice and is listed as questionable, though Billick said on Tuesday that it was unlikely he would play.
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.