Back will miss second straight game

Officially listed as "doubtful" on the NFL injury report, Baltimore Ravens star tailback Jamal Lewis is leaving no doubt at all about his status for Sunday's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I'm not playing," Lewis told Baltimore-area reporters on Wednesday. On Thursday, sources close to Lewis confirmed he will miss his second straight game with a sprained right ankle sustained early in a Nov. 21 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It is uncertain when Lewis, the league's leading rusher in 2003 when he became just the fifth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards, will return to the field. But his status is critical for the Ravens, who trail the Pittsburgh Steelers by three games in the AFC North, and whose playoff chances probably now hinge on securing a wild card berth.

Sunday will be the fourth game that Lewis won't play this season. The five-year veteran was suspended by the NFL for two games after pleading guilty earlier this season to reduced charges in a federal drug sting in Atlanta. Lewis had been originally charged in that case with conspiring with a friend to purchase drugs from a woman co-operating with the FBI.

The Ravens are 6-2 in the eight games Lewis started and 1-2 in contests he missed.

Third-year veteran Chester Taylor, who has started all three previous games that Lewis missed, will also start against the Bengals. In his three starts, Taylor has rushed for 228 yards and no touchdowns on 55 carries. His rushing yards have decreased in his past two starts and he managed only 61 yards in last week's defeat at New England.

Legal entanglements, an ankle injury and a dropoff in overall production have made this a difficult season for Lewis, whose 2,066 yards in 2003 were the second-most in NFL history, behind only the record 2,105 yards that Eric Dickerson had in 1984.

The former University of Tennessee star, the fifth overall player chosen in the 2000 draft, has just three outings of more than 75 yards this season. A year ago, Lewis had only two games in which he ran for fewer than 75 yards.

In eight games, he has 159 carries for 651 yards and five touchdowns, and his average of 4.1 yards per attempt is the lowest of his career. The Ravens, who statistically ranked No. 3 in rushing offense in 2003, largely because of Lewis' contribution, are 14th this year.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.