NEW ORLEANS -- His legs were sore, exhaustion was setting in, and Jamal Lewis never felt better.
The Ravens running back posted season highs in rushing yards and carries and played a significant role in the team's 35-22 victory over the New Orleans Saints yesterday at the Superdome.
Lewis rushed for 109 yards, gaining 100 for the first time this fall and for only the third time in the past two seasons. His 31 carries were his most since Jan. 2, 2005, when he rushed 34 times for 167 yards against the Miami Dolphins.
Afterward, Lewis was all smiles.
"I was pretty surprised because I didn't know that it was going to be like that," he said. "The plays kept coming in, and he was calling my number. We were getting some good execution up front, so that made it easy. The line was getting a good push, and we were rolling. It felt like old times."
Of course, it helped that the Ravens faced a run defense that had surrendered 119.7 yards a game and was tied for 21st in the league.
Left guard Jason Brown said the offensive line had planned to be physical against the Saints.
"We knew that we had to come out here and pound away hard," he said. "Even if they had a high-ranking run defense, we know that we have to chip away at any defense that we face. We have to set the tempo."
Finding a rhythm has been somewhat rare for Lewis, who hasn't repeated his 2003 performance of 2,066 yards -- the second most in NFL history -- en route to being named the league's Offensive Player of the Year.
Since that season, Lewis had just six 100-yard games, was convicted of federal drug charges, and complained loudly last season that he wasn't being put in a position to succeed.
Before yesterday, his best showing was a 21-carry, 86-yard outing against the Cleveland Browns, and fans and the media had begun to wonder aloud if the team wasn't better served by using Musa Smith or Mike Anderson more frequently.
Yesterday's performance may have allayed those doubts for now, and coach Brian Billick, who has steadfastly backed the seven-year veteran from Tennessee, seemed to enjoy his running back's resurgence.
"He's running hard and physical, and that's the style of running game that we are going to have," Billick said. "It was great to see him running like that."
It didn't take Gerome Sapp long to make a quick impression in his first start this season.
Sapp, who played alongside free safety Ed Reed instead of rookie Dawan Landry, jumped the count on New Orleans' third offensive snap of the game and tackled rookie running back Reggie Bush 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The hit forced Bush to fumble, and the ball was recovered by cornerback Chris McAlister at the Saints' 43-yard line. On their ensuing possession, the Ravens scored on a 5-yard keeper by quarterback Steve McNair.
"That's big for me, especially for a guy who comes off the bench and plays," said Sapp, who finished with three tackles and a deflected pass. "You still have to know that you can play good football, and it was good for me to come in and do that. I let my coaches know that I'm more than capable, and I reminded myself that I'm definitely more than capable."
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said the coaching staff opted to start Sapp over Landry - who was rehabilitating a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee - because Sapp had spent more time with the base defense during practice last week.
Clarence Moore's 4-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter was not a designed play, according to the wide receiver.
Moore, who was in the slot to the right of quarterback Steve McNair, said he noticed that cornerback Josh Bullocks was standing to Moore's right as if to guard against a fade route.
"I knew that he was going to go outside, so I went inside," Moore said. "Steve saw me when I was wide-open and threw the ball."
The reception was Moore's first touchdown since 2004, when he led the team with four scores. "For me, I was just happy to be a part of it again, happy to be out there making plays again and be a part of this team again," he said. "It was great for me."
The Ravens escaped yesterday's game without any major injuries. Defensive end Trevor Pryce suffered a thigh bruise in the third quarter, but said he did not anticipate missing Sunday's home game against the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals.
The biggest injury of note for New Orleans was rookie running back Reggie Bush, who sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter when linebacker Bart Scott tackled him.
Afterward, Bush, the second overall pick in April's draft, said he planned to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday. "It's feeling better now," Bush said.
For the second consecutive week, rookie Derrick Martin suited up for the Ravens as the fifth cornerback.
Martin, who had been inactive for the team's first five games, filled in for cornerback Corey Ivy, who missed his second straight game with a kidney tear.
The Ravens also deactivated running backs P.J. Daniels and Cory Ross, wide receiver Devard Darling, guard Ikechuku Ndukwe, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, linebacker Dan Cody and cornerback David Pittman.
Seen that before
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said he immediately recognized Reggie Bush's halfback option pass in the first quarter.
On first-and-goal from the Ravens' 18, Saints quarterback Drew Brees pitched the ball to Bush, who roamed right before overthrowing rookie receiver Marques Colston in the end zone. Lewis was there to make the grab.
"When I saw him bubble, I just knew that he wasn't going to try to run it," Lewis said. "I just went to the back of the end zone."
Lewis' interception tied him with free safety Ed Reed for the team's all-time lead. Each has 23 interceptions.
With 23 rushing yards, Steve McNair reached 3,500, the fourth quarterback in NFL history to do so. Only Randall Cunningham (4,928 yards), Steve Young (4,239) and Fran Tarkenton (3,674) have more rushing yards than McNair's 3,500. ... McNair, Ed Reed, linebacker Adalius Thomas and return specialist B.J. Sams - all Gulf Coast natives - were the Ravens' captains for yesterday's coin toss.