On the day he set the NFL single-game rushing record, Jamal Lewis' run for glory was matched only by his steely confidence.
The Ravens running back hammered his way to 295 yards rushing in the Ravens' 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns yesterday at M&T; Bank Stadium, shattering the 3-year-old mark of the Cincinnati Bengals' Corey Dillon by 17 yards.
Lewis had predicted the feat three days earlier in a phone call with Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis, saying he would break the record if given 30 carries.
"It was like Babe Ruth pointing to the fence before the home run," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
Lewis was a picture of grace and power, bouncing off linebackers and sidestepping defensive backs while carrying 30 times and scoring two touchdowns. Two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery, he stiff-armed would-be tacklers one moment and out-sprinted them the next to pull the Ravens' record to 1-1.
He delivered big plays by ripping through the middle of the defense, gaining 234 yards on five carries - 82, 23, 48, 63 and 18 yards.
On his first attempt, Lewis collected himself after nearly falling just past the line of scrimmage and bolted a team-record 82 yards for a touchdown. He had 105 yards after his second carry and 180 yards at halftime, when he first realized the record was within reach.
"I was going in at halftime when [Ravens tackle] Jonathan Ogden said, 'Let's go get it. We can get 300 yards,'" Lewis said. "I knew then [my offensive line] was ready to go."
In marching to the record, the 240-pound running back carried the Ravens to victory in their home opener.
The Ravens looked in disarray when quarterback Kyle Boller went out of the game with a leg injury in the third quarter. Backup Chris Redman lost the ball when cocking his arm on his first pass attempt, and the Browns converted the fumble into a touchdown to close to 16-13 with 36 seconds left in third quarter.
On the second play after Cleveland kicked off, Lewis broke two tackles and outran the rest of the defense for a 63-yard touchdown. That run put the Ravens ahead 23-13, but Lewis' day was not over.
The Ravens closed the game by running the ball on 12 of their final 14 plays, with Lewis getting seven carries.
Give the ball to Lewis was the team's battle cry all week after he was limited to 15 carries in the season-opening loss at Pittsburgh. True to their word, the Ravens - which set a team record for fewest pass completions with seven - executed the run-first philosophy to perfection.
"We put it on his shoulders all week," Billick said. "For him to respond that way was very special to watch."
Not only does Lewis own the record; he owns the Browns as well.
In five games against Cleveland, he has averaged 168 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry. His past four games against the Browns have resulted in at least 100 yards each.
Although the Browns knew Lewis would be coming again, they were powerless to stop him.
"This is the most disgusting feeling I've had in my whole life," Browns safety Earl Little said. "He said what he said, he did it and it's in the history books."
Lewis' place in history could have been more substantial if not for a penalty. Lewis would have surpassed 300 yards, but a 60-yard touchdown run was cut by 12 yards after receiver Marcus Robinson drew a penalty for holding.
"On a day like today, I can't regret anything," said Lewis, who is in his fourth NFL season. "I'm going to remember it for a long time."
The record-breaking effort came with 6:52 left in the game and was an otherwise unremarkable run. On a third-and-15, he ran to the left and was mobbed 3 yards downfield.
Lewis' performance placed him ahead of such legendary runners as Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson. It also fulfilled a promise made to Davis, the Browns' middle linebacker, who was connected to Lewis on the phone by a mutual friend.
"Andra told me he wanted me to get the ball 30 times," Lewis said. "I told him if I get the ball 30 times, it's going to be a career day. It was lucky."
The top single-game rushing performances in NFL history:
295 yards: Jamal Lewis, Ravens vs. Cleveland, Sept. 14, 2003
278: Corey Dillon, Cincinnati vs. Denver, Oct. 22, 2000
275: Walter Payton, Chicago vs. Minnesota, Nov. 20, 1977
273: O.J. Simpson, Buffalo vs. Detroit, Nov. 25, 1976