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Regaining stride, Ravens' J. Lewis ready to carry on

Players like Jamal Lewis, ones who have had elite success in the regular season and beyond, put little if any stock in preseason games.

But, maybe because he had contributed little in the three previous games while running behind an offensive line that created few holes, Lewis spoke of last week's finale against the New York Giants as though it were a December game against a division rival.

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Lewis played less than a quarter Thursday night and finished with just six carries, but those 38 yards he gained did more for him and the confidence of the offensive line than anything else over the past six weeks.

With Pittsburgh looming Sunday in the season opener, one in which the visiting Ravens will start rookie quarterback Kyle Boller and will certainly need an effective running game, the 200 rushing yards gained against New York came at an opportune time.

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"This game was real big for us," Lewis said of the Ravens' 30-24 loss to the Giants. "We put things together and this left us with a good taste in our mouth.

"We had to finish off. We had to have something good to give us that mental edge going into Pittsburgh. Now I think Pittsburgh knows that they have something to deal with."

In the previous preseason game, Lewis gained 4 yards on five carries against the Washington Redskins. He had 51 rushing yards in the first three games combined.

Lewis, though, wasted no time showing he was gearing up for the regular season in his final dress rehearsal. Boller's picturesque 49-yard touchdown to Travis Taylor in double coverage on the opening drive may have been the lasting memory of the game, and ultimately the moment that cemented his status as starter, but it was Lewis' 16-yard run on the Ravens' first offensive snap that set up the play.

More importantly, Lewis' run brought the fans out of their seats and erased the bad vibe surrounding the Ravens after that debacle against the Redskins the previous week. He further proved his readiness by breaking two tackles and running through linebacker Brandon Short for a 7-yard gain on the next possession.

"He was awesome," Boller said. "That fires guys up when he's running guys over. It shows guys are ready to play and can come out and make a statement."

For Lewis, he will enter his fourth regular season having played in every preseason game for the first time.

Last year was the first time Lewis emerged from the preseason uninjured, largely because the Ravens lightened his workload. He was coming off surgery for a torn knee ligament that sidelined him the previous year. He rebounded to rush for 1,327 yards, sixth best in the AFC, and six touchdowns.

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The goal this preseason was to get Lewis to the level where he finished last year. Lewis averaged 6.1 yards on 14 carries in the regular-season finale in Pittsburgh, and the 86 yards he gained were the second-highest rushing total against the Steelers in 2002.

So the team worked him this camp, by far Lewis' most physical. The Ravens often ran him in goal-line situations against the first-team defense as if he was a rookie free agent rather than a centerpiece of the offense.

Chris McAlister's hit at the 1-yard line on Lewis during one of the final days of training camp is still resonating through Westminster.

"It was more than I ever got before," Lewis said of his workload. "It was big for me. Now I'm ready to roll. I'm opened up and ready to go. I'm at my top form, in good shape, not injured, not hurt or bruised up. I'm ready to go on a dead sprint."

As is his backup Chester Taylor. Taylor rushed for 137 yards and averaged 4.9 yards a carry this preseason.

The showdown between him and Musa Smith never ensued, and Taylor will continue to be the third-down back. His 31-yard run against the Giants was the Ravens' longest of the preseason.

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Lewis' longest run was the 16-yarder, but it was as important as any play.

"The line really took control for us, and that was big," Lewis said. "When we open up holes like that, there is nothing we can't do. We can run the ball good, we can throw the ball good, and that gives us a balanced offense. And that's big for us."

NOTES: The Ravens signed defensive end Nate Bolling, receiver Todd Devoe, receiver Marc Lester, offensive tackle Lawrence Smith and long snapper Mike Solwold to their practice squad. All players were with the Ravens during training camp. Bolling, Smith and Lester spent time on the practice squad last season. ... The team resumes practice today after having the past two days off.

Next for Ravens

Matchup:Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in season opener for both teams

Site:Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

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When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Steelers by 5

Coming Thursday:NFL special section previewing the Ravens and the NFL season


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