BEREA — After going through a sluggish stretch in the middle of the season, Browns running back Jamal Lewis is peaking for the playoffs.
The former Pro Bowler has reached the century mark in two of his last three games, leaving him just 79 rushing yards shy of 1,000 on the season.
Lewis could reach the milestone on Sunday afternoon when Cleveland hosts the Buffalo Bills in a pivotal AFC matchup.
“I just wanted to go out and run hard this season, and let the numbers add up,” he said Wednesday. “As a running back, you want to accomplish 1,000 yards. If not, you haven’t really had a good season.”
With three games to go, Lewis is well on his way to a “good season.” He has 921 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, three 100-yard performances and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry (his best average since 2004).
Lewis also has logged 200-plus carries for the seventh time in seven full seasons as a pro, and the Browns are 7-0 when he totes the ball at least 17 times in a game.
“If you can’t run in November or December, and you can’t run in the postseason, then you can’t win,” he said. “Especially in our (AFC North) division, as cold as it is.”
The ex-Baltimore Ravens star also has 23 catches and a career-high two receiving scores, which he credits for giving him more room to run the football.
“It’s great because it gives you space to get out there,” said Lewis, who will make his 100th career NFL start this weekend. “Defenses can’t key on one thing when you keep them honest with some passes out of the backfield. But I know my main job is to keep going on the ground.”
Though this is Lewis’ first season with the Browns, he says he feels right at home. The 28-year-old has struck up a friendship with Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, which fuels his competitive fire even more.
“When he says, ‘You ran the ball good, you ran the ball hard,’ you know it means something,” Lewis said. “He’s one of the best, so it motivates myself to see him on the sidelines or at practice or just around the building.”
With 1,000 rushing yards a near certainty for Lewis, the next number on his mind is “1” — as in the one-year contract he signed with Cleveland in March.
General manager Phil Savage said he is open to discussing a longer deal, but it’s unlikely he will do so before the end of the season.
“I would do one-year deals all day long,” Lewis said. “I don’t care, I really don’t. I love this organization, I love what I was able to bring to this team, and I love what this team has brought to me. If we get it done, we get it done. It’s not my focus right now.”
Seven veteran Browns sat out practice, but coach Romeo Crennel said, “Hopefully, we can get everybody to the game on Sunday.”
Sidelined were wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (knee), linebacker Willie McGinest (hip), linebacker Antwan Peek (sprained ankle), defensive end Orpheus Roye (knee), nose tackle Robaire Smith (strained back), guard Kevin Shaffer (knee) and fullback Lawrence Vickers (flu).
Cornerback Eric Wright (knee) is expected to return to the starting lineup against Buffalo, shifting Brandon McDonald back into the nickelback role.
• The Bills practiced without safety George Wilson (broken ribs) and defensive ends Ryan Denney (foot) and Bryan Copeland (knee). Defensive end Chris Kelsay (ankle) was limited.
Quarterback Derek Anderson, who has an apparel contract with Nike, convinced the company to donate $50,000 worth of clothing to people near his hometown of Scappoose, Ore. The region has experienced record rainfall and flooding of late, prompting “D.A.” to reach out.
“I’m just trying to give them some things because their homes have been devastated,” he said. “I just want to do anything I can do to help.”
Anderson said the area is prone to wet weather, but seldom experiences snowstorms.
“Everybody thinks it’s like Siberia out there, but we only get about two big snowfalls a year,” he said. “Usually when it snows here, it rains out there.”
The Browns added linebacker Keith Adams and center Marvin Philip to their active roster, which prompted the releases of center Greg Eslinger and linebacker Colby Bockwoldt.
Adams is a six-year NFL veteran who primarily plays special teams, while Philip spent the past two seasons with the Steelers but did not appear in a game. He was awarded to Cleveland via waivers from Pittsburgh.
The Browns also cut tight end Jonny Harline from their practice squad and signed tight end Brad Cieslak, who previously played with the Bills.
“Don’t read anything into that,” Crennel said, chuckling.
Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild accepted the head coaching job at Colorado State, but will not leave the team until after the season.
“We’re so happy for Steve,” Buffalo coach Dick Jauron said. “It’s a great opportunity for him and his family.”
• Bills cornerback Donte Whitner — a Cleveland Glenville High and Ohio State product — offered his predictions on two Bowl Championship Series games. He picked Ohio State to beat LSU 31-30 and Illinois to top USC 24-22.
Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker will call the Browns/Bills game on CBS. Despite the game having huge playoff implications, it will only be broadcast in Ohio, Western New York and Erie, Pa.
• Cleveland is ranked last in the NFL in team defense, while Buffalo is two spots better at No. 30.
• The Browns have not beaten the Bills in a regular season game since 1987.
“It’s going to be great — a fantastic atmosphere for players and fans — and it has playoff implications. I know Cleveland has great fans and they love their team, but they’re in front of us now, so we have to beat Cleveland.” — Buffalo running back Fred Jackson.
The final word
“No question, we’re right in the thick of it and pretty much control our destiny. They’re right in the thick of it and control their destiny, too. It’s obviously a big game, but it’s also a big game we need.” — Bills wide receiver and Bedford native Lee Evans.
Contact Brian Dulik at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.