A week after going out with a whimper in Oakland, the Ravens regained control of the division with a snarling attitude in a 35-0 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns yesterday.
A Ravens victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night or a Bengals loss against Cleveland would secure the first division title in the franchise's eight-year history. (A division title is the only playoff path for the Ravens with the AFC wild-card berths clinched yesterday.)
Speaking of history, Lewis' 205 yards rushing yesterday put him in line to crack the 2,000-yard milestone and possibly break the NFL's single-season rushing record. The Ravens' defense followed suit by reaching back into its own glorious past, forcing four turnovers to polish off its first shutout in two years.
"I think with this profile we're good enough to win a Super Bowl," center Mike Flynn said. "In the NFL these days, it's all about who gets hot."
No running back is hotter than Lewis, who needed a little more than a half to warm up.
On his first 17 carries, he gained 54 yards. On his last five, he galloped for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
When Lewis broke free, so did the Ravens. Their lead was 7-0 midway through the third quarter until Lewis put his teammates on his back.
Against a defense that put all of its energy into stopping him, Lewis made a game-turning cutback to his left, buckling all of the Browns who over-pursued to the right. His 72-yard dash to the end zone ignited a 28-point outburst over the final 21 minutes, 14 seconds.
"I think that broke their will," Lewis said of the second-longest run of his career. "They said, 'Well here it goes again.'"
Once again, Lewis demoralized the Browns (4-11), who yielded a single-game record 295 yards to him on Sept. 14. In two games against Cleveland this season, Lewis had 500 yards on 52 carries and four touchdowns.
After their first game with the Ravens, some of the Browns said Lewis' record was a fluke.
"I don't know what their excuse is going to be now," said Lewis, whose 226 yards from scrimmage were more than Cleveland's total offense as a team (211) despite sitting out the final 11:55.
Lewis is the first back to have two 200-yard games against one team in the same season since O.J. Simpson, who rushed for 250 and 219 yards in 1973 against the New England Patriots. With one game left, Lewis has 1,952 yards and needs 154 to eclipse Eric Dickerson's mark of 2,105.
"It's hard not to think about it," Lewis said of the rushing mark. "But we have to worry about a win so we can go to the playoffs. I think it's attainable, though. I know the offensive line is going to be all psyched up. If it's meant to be, it will be."
The Ravens' defense was psyched up since Wednesday, when, during its meeting, coach Brian Billick challenged the unit to create turnovers. It responded with three recovered fumbles and an interception, which led to 21 of the Ravens' 35 points.
While the defense paved the way to the end zone for the offense, it stonewalled the Browns. The Ravens allowed Cleveland inside the 20-yard line once and wouldn't budge past their own 37 beyond that.
It marked the first shutout since Dec. 23, 2001, when the likes of Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams and Rod Woodson roamed the defense.