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Too Grand
By Joe Levit
December 25, 2003
 

Recently beaten badly by a fantasy team led by Jamal Lewis, it feels like a good time to talk about his accomplishments this season. In that debacle - the championship game of the inaugural cnnsi.com "experts" league - I lost 140-93, largely because Lewis labored for 205 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns to finish with 34 fantasy points.

Earlier in the year, Lewis torched Cleveland for an NFL-record 295 yards. His 500 rushing yards in two games against the Browns are the foundation for Lewis' attempt to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark this season. That is a milestone only four players have reached before:

NFL 2000-yard Rushers Year Yards
O.J. Simpson 1973 2003
Eric Dickerson 1984 2105
Barry Sanders 1997 2053
Terrell Davis 1998 2008

To comprehend how amazing a 2,000-yard season is, even in this day of arm-tackle tenacity, realize that the top two career rushers in league history, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, never had a 2,000-yard campaign. A player needs to average 125 yards per game for the full 16-game schedule to meet the mark. That means that the player cannot sustain a serious injury, and probably cannot suffer lingering maladies either.

What is impressive about the feat Jamal Lewis will likely complete this week against the Steelers is that he will get those yards after two major knee injuries. He tore an anterior cruciate ligament in college, and then ruptured one again right before his second pro season began. Other recent top runners who have suffered ACL injuries have not done well upon their return. Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson never made it back, and it took Edgerrin James a whole year longer (than he himself expected) to really get rolling again.

As extraordinary as Jamal Lewis is this year, take into account that O.J. Simpson reached the 2,000-yard total in 1973 in only 14 games - eight full quarters fewer than guys have to work with today! Simpson had to average 142 yards per game to get to 2,000.

Lewis will close the season against the same team he started it against - the Pittsburgh Steelers. He gained only 69 yards against them, in what was his second-lowest rushing total of the season (68 against Jacksonville). The Ravens will be eager to give Lewis enough carries to hit 2,000 yards, but Pittsburgh, after a frustrating year, won't lie down for Baltimore. The Steelers are not eager to have a season rushing mark set against them.

Here is a game by game* look at what Jamal has done rushing the ball this season:

Jamal Lewis - 2003 Rushing Totals  
Team Total
Pittsburgh Steelers 69
Cleveland Browns 295
San Diego Chargers 132
Kansas City Chiefs 115
Arizona Cardinals 131
Cincinnati Bengals 101
Denver Broncos 134
Jacksonville Jaguars 68
St. Louis Rams 111
Miami Dolphins 91
Seattle Seahawks 117
San Francisco 49ers 78
Cincinnati Bengals 180
Oakland Raiders 125
Cleveland Browns 205
Pittsburgh Steelers ?

* Information courtesy of NFL.com

Jamal Lewis has posted fewer than 100 yards only four times this season, carrying many fantasy squads to and through championship games. He ran for at least 100 yards in six straight games early in the year, and never rushed for less than 100 yards in any consecutive games. In my opinion, Lewis will wind up with his 2,000-yard season Sunday, perhaps even passing Barry Sanders' mark, but will fall short of Eric Dickerson's all-time total.

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for www.cnnsi.com and www.thehuddle.com. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be contacted at lavishjetpoet@aol.com.