Running away with it

12-8-03, 10:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

BALTIMORE _ The Bengals' only two losses since the bye week have come at the hands of running backs let loose for big games.

The Bengals had won four straight since Arizona's Marcel Shipp gashed them for 141 yards in a 17-14 loss. On Sunday, Jamal Lewis, the NFL's leading rusher, had the biggest day against them in two years when he rolled to 180 yards on 30 carries in the Ravens' 31-13 victory. He got 96 of them in the second half after he went in for X-Rays for his sprained wrist to wrap up the best rushing performance since the Bears' Anthony Thomas went for 188 on Oct. 21 2001 at Paul Brown Stadium in Chicago's 24-0 victory.

"They're physical, but we were more physical than they were," said Lewis, who has gained at least 100 yards in all six of his career games against the Bengals.

A characteristic Arizona shares with Baltimore is a massive offensive line. The only Ravens' offensive lineman weighing less than 340 pounds is 305-pound center Mike Flynn, and they were working against a Bengals' defensive line that averages about 300 pounds in the middle and defensive ends that go about 270 pounds.

But this is the same defensive line that did such a nice job keeping Lewis in check six weeks ago on 101 yards against the same offensive line, so the Bengals don't buy the size argument.

"It was more him than their offensive line, I'll tell you that right now," said Bengals defensive end

Justin Smith. "He hits the hole so fast, and he's a big, tough guy that goes downhill. In my opinion, there's not a better guy in the league. Running hard, hard-nosed, stuff like that.

"He's not a rhythm back or anything like that," Smith said. "He's an every-play back."

Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated he wasn't pleased with the tackling when he observed that Jamal Lewis can ran through people. On a back-to-back sequence in the third quarter, Lewis bowled over unblocked cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn at the line of scrimmage for a 14-yard gain, and on the next snap he scooted away from outside linebacker Brian Simmons' grasp around right end for a three-yard touchdown run that gave Baltimore a 24-13 lead with 5:31 left in the third quarter.

It looked like the Bengals didn't use their four-linebacker package as much as they did the last time they played Baltimore, plus left outside linebacker Adrian Ross hurt his neck and eventually had to leave the game.

"Once he gets going, he hits the crease so fast," Ross said. "He's hitting it. It looked like this time he was hitting the hole by himself. He wasn't really following the fullback at all like he did the last game."

Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy didn't think size was an issue, but gap control was.

"He just kept getting up on us. We were unable to really gap control like we needed to," Hardy said. "Once he got the ball in is hands, he rushed wherever he wanted to run the ball. We'd see the tendency for a (lead block to the strong side) and it might start out that way, but he might come back the other way. At that point, you have to play football. In that situation, you have to attack and we just didn't get it done."

Of course, not many teams have gotten anything done against Lewis, so the Bengals are in the majority. He went over 1,600 yards with his ninth 100-yard game of the year, and his second best of the season next to his NFL-record 295 yards against Cleveland in the second week of the season.

Hardy had said last week how the game would go would determine how much of a factor Lewis would be. If the Bengals got in front early like they did six weeks ago at PBS (24-7 in the first 25 minutes), would be neutralized. But the Bengals had the lead for less than five minutes Sunday.

STUNTS AND SCREENS: Wide receiver Peter Warrick said he fumbled a first-quarter punt Sunday because it died on him up in the wind and fell about two yards in front of him as he dove to catch it: " was expecting it to turnover and it didn't ." .

For the first time since the bye week, Carson Palmer wasn't the backup quarterback. Lewis designated Shane Matthews because, "At this point in the season and what we're playing for and what's on the line, the weather , the wind, and all the things, you want the guy to get the ball who's (a veteran) if anything would happen." . . .

All Bengals safety Rogers Becket has done since he arrived via the waiver wire is make plays. Sunday, he had a hand in two of the Ravens' three turnovers and set up 10 Cincinnati points. He caused a Jamal Lewis fumble in the first quarter to set up the Bengals' first score, a 25-yard Shayne Graham field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead. Then, in the second quarter, he stepped in front of tight end Todd Heap and picked off quarterback Anthony Wright at the Bengals 45 to start a drive that ended on Peter Warrick's four-yard touchdown catch that cut Baltimore's lead to 14-10. The Bengals' defense had come up with just four turnovers in the previous five games. . .

Defensive tackle John Thornton is another pickup that has produced. He and Hardy had the Bengals' two sacks of Wright, and he's now tied with defensive end Duane Clemons with six for the team lead. . .

It's believed that left tackle Levi Jones' knee injury doesn't involve the anterior cruciate ligament, but there should be more information Monday on his status for the next three games. There should also be an update on Ross' neck injury.

ILL WINDS: It couldn't get much worse for the Bengals' secondary Sunday. Just when cornerback Artrell Hawkins looked to be over his knee problem that affected his practice time last week, he got hit with an upper respiratory ailment that started going through the team Friday. He couldn't go and safety Kevin Kaesviharn barely could. In fact, Kaesviharn said if he felt Sunday like he felt Saturday, he couldn't have played.

But Kaesviharn, who played emergency corner back on Nov. 9 against Houston when Jeff Burris had to leave the game, had to start at right corner in place of Hawkins. And Burris, who hasn't played since the Houston game a week after suffering his second concussion in a month, got cleared to play Friday even though the Bengals were trying to rest him one more week. He pretty much only played on passing downs on the outside, and said he took about a dozen snaps.

All of it probably contributed to some tentative play early in the game, a natural byproduct of change.

"The toughest thing about (Hawkins' injury) is what to do (in the nickel defense)," Burris said. "Since I had practiced this week, it was going to be the easiest transition for me.

"It was a new adjustment. We were able to make it through the game. We weren't as successful as we would have liked to have been," Burris said.

Burris admitted it took him awhile to get his bearings. He lost a battle on Wright's eight-yard touchdown pass over Burris to wide receiver Marcus Robinson in the back of the end zone early in the second quarter that gave Baltimore a 14-3 lead.

"I had my hands on him at the line of scrimmage and I was thinking he was throwing it to the back shoulder instead of turning it up field," Burris said. "He made a good play on the ball."

Kaesviharn, who switched to safety this offseasn, made his 10th NFL start at corner and first since late last season. He couldn't track down Travis Taylor on his big 64-yard catch in the middle of the second quarter, but a blitz situation appeared to also hamper the coverage. That was a huge play because it came three snaps after the Bengals had cut the lead to 14-10, and set up Matt Stover's 22-yard field goal that made it a touchdown-game again.

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