CINCINNATI -- Jermaine Lewis was starting to wonder what the end zone looked like.
Through 13 games, the Ravens' rookie wide receiver had broken off a number of long kickoff and punt returns. But with the exception of last week, when he came within inches of bringing a punt all the way back against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lewis had yet to smell the goal line.
That streak ended during yesterday's 21-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Lewis became a last-minute replacement for slot receiver Floyd Turner -- who pulled his right calf muscle during Saturday's practice -- and started his first NFL game.
Lewis made good on his chance, catching three passes for 43 yards, with two of the receptions going for first downs. And Lewis will not forget the other 6-yard reception he made with 9: 40 left, when he slipped behind the Cincinnati defense during quarterback Vinny Testaverde's scramble on third-and-goal, then slid into the right corner of the end zone to catch his first touchdown pass, giving the Ravens a 14-13 lead.
"I've been waiting all year to get into the end zone somehow. It felt great," said Lewis, who played at Maryland, where he set school records for career receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns. "I think I've progressed a whole lot this year as a returner. Today, I had another role, and it was time to get in there and step it up."
"He had to grow up in a hurry today, and I thought he did a nice job making some big plays for us," Ravens receivers coach Mike Sheppard said of Lewis. "We missed Floyd, but this was a good opportunity for Jermaine to get some time."
Lewis was busy early and often, and his jitters showed. On the Ravens' first possession, Testaverde threw three straight incompletions to him, one of which Lewis dropped. He nearly held onto a third-and-10 pass after stretching out parallel to the ground. Those plays originally were scripted for Turner.
"I made a conscious effort to get him the ball early, to get the butterflies out and get his confidence going," Testaverde said. "Anybody is nervous before a game. I still am, and I've been in this league for 10 years. After that [first series], he settled down and had a good game."
"It was a new beginning for me," Lewis said. "Me and Vinny haven't hooked up much this year. I was kind of mad after those first three passes, but I started coming around after that."
Lewis bounced back early in the second quarter. He found a seam in the Bengals' zone defense down the left side, then hauled in a 24-yard reception to the Cincinnati 23-yard line.
Two plays later, Testaverde hit tight end Brian Kinchen on a 23-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.
Testaverde and Lewis later teamed up for a score. Testaverde dropped back, then scrambled to his right and scanned the field. He spotted Lewis, who had broken free from safety Bo Orlando and was running along the end line with his left hand raised. Lewis tightly wrapped up Testaverde's wobbly pass as he fell in the right corner.
Lewis then got the Ravens' ill-fated final drive going with a 13-yard catch.
In addition, Lewis performed well in his customary roles. After Doug Pelfrey's 26-yard field goal gave the Bengals a 13-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, Lewis set up his own touchdown with a 39-yard kickoff return. He also had a 22-yard punt return in the third quarter. On the day, Lewis produced 78 return yards.
"Jermaine always does well on his [receivers] tests, but we hadn't had the chance to get him under fire until today," Sheppard said. "He got some valuable experience, and it will benefit him down the road."
Pub Date: 12/09/96