BALTIMORE -- Having rushed now for 1,622 yards, Baltimore Ravens tailback Jamal Lewis needs to average only 126 yards over the remaining three contests to become just the fifth player in NFL history to go over the 2,000-yard mark.
If he could face the Cincinnati defense every week, Lewis, who brutalized the Bengals in Sunday's big 31-13 victory here, would have a good chance of joining O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis in that elite tailback group.
Lewis, 24, has now faced Cincinnati six times and gone over 100 yards in every one of those meetings. He has 139 attempts, 762 yards and seven touchdowns. That comes out to an average of 127 yards per outing versus the Bengals and 5.5 yards per attempt. His output in a contest that likely determined the AFC North championship represented the ninth 100-yard game of the year for Lewis and, counting playoffs, his 21st overall.
"(If) they want to give it to me, I'm ready to carry it, no matter how many times," said Lewis, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all but one of his four seasons, in 2001, when he was sidelined for the entire campaign with a torn knee ligament. "I feel like I keep getting stronger, you know?"
And defenses, not just that of the Bengals, typically erode the more times Lewis gets the ball. His play on Sunday was vintage, in that he ran over and around, but mostly through, the helpless Cincinnati defenders. Of his 30 carries, 13 of them netted six yards or more and, while he didn't have a single 20-yard effort, Lewis authored seven runs of 13 yards or more. His touchdowns runs were for one, three and 13 yards.
Notably on the final score, with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game, he brushed off a defender at the line of scrimmage and then broke two more would-be tackles.
"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," said Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "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, and is running 'downhill,' look out."
About the only respite the Bengals got Sunday was when Lewis left briefly to have a sore wrist examined, and, unfortunately, for Cincinnati, the X-rays were negative. For some inexplicable reason, Ravens coach Brian Billick still had Lewis on the field very late in the contest, with just over two minutes remaining, then prudently removed him after one last dash for 18 yards.
Fittingly, it came on a play where Lewis knocked an unidentified Cincinnati defender flat on his back.
Even with the Ravens passing game having opened up a bit in recent weeks, with third-string quarterback Anthony Wright making some plays and wideout Marcus Robinson having resurrected his career, Lewis remains the centerpiece of the Baltimore offense.
As such, he figures to get the 24.2 carries per game over the final three contests of the year that he's averaged in the first 13 appearances. And if Lewis matches his per-carry norm of 5.2 yards, would finish the season with 1,998 yards. No one should bet, though, against him falling shy of the 2,000-yard mark.
The Ravens still own just a one-game lead in the division, are playing not only for the AFC North title but also seeding in the playoffs, and they still have a Dec. 21 date with Lewis' other patsies, the Browns.
"The chances," said Lewis, "are great."
Greater, probably, than even he imagines.