There`s something to be said for consistency.
Since the season began, whenever Browns running back Jamal Lewis has been asked about the running game, he`s given a similar answer.
"Threes and 4s will turn into 6s and 8s," he says.
Translation: 3- and 4-yard gains early in the game will evolve into
6- and 8-yarders as the game progresses. Lewis` point: The more he carries the ball in a game the more effective he becomes.
He looked like a clairvoyant Sunday during the fourth quarter of Cleveland`s 27-17 win over the Houston Texans.
Lewis rushed 14 times in the fourth quarter for 49 yards. He scored a 1-yard touchdown and took the final 3:11 off the clock by picking up a pair of first downs. He finished with 134 yards, 91 in the second half, as the Texans lost their will to stop him.
"The mental aspect of not being able to stop the run, that wears on a defense," coach Romeo Crennel said. "I can speak to that because it`s been wearing on us all year."
The 29 carries were the most for Lewis in his first season with the Browns. He had 27 when he ran for 216 yards vs. the Bengals in Week 2 - his other 100-yard outing. His only other 20-plus-carry days came against the Ravens.
Those were grudge matches and Lewis had extra incentive facing his former team. But the Nov. 18 meeting in Baltimore, when he ran 22 times for 92 yards, re-energized Lewis. It also gave him a shot of confidence for the final six weeks.
"He runs really hard. He runs with a sense of purpose," Crennel said. "That`s what we need from him every week."
Lewis told the offensive linemen that if they can have success running against the impenetrable Ravens, then they can run against anyone. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski must have been eavesdropping, because Lewis was the No. 1 option vs. the Texans.
"This is the time of year when it`s cold, defenses wear down, they don`t want to tackle," Lewis said Sunday. "It`s kinda my time to run the football, in November and December. We try to mash the gas and keep pressing."
The belief throughout Browns Town is that the team needs a big, strong back to carry the load when winter starts rolling in off Lake Erie. Crennel said the officials do a better job nowadays of keeping the ball dry, so the weather is only a significant factor if it rains or snows during the game or the wind howls.
What`s more important is having the option of a workhorse back when the weather dictates, and finding a balance with the pass the rest of the time.
Defenses had begun to adjust to Derek Anderson`s desire to throw downfield to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. Against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston, the safeties played deep and the linebackers dropped into coverage, taking away the vertical throw.
The adjustment for the Browns was throwing short crossing routes - not Anderson`s strength - and running Lewis. Teams can`t afford to commit a safety to stopping the run, so Lewis doesn`t have to beat eight or nine men in the box.
"I saw that for the last seven years," he said of his days with the passing-challenged Ravens.
Lewis, who has 741 yards and eight touchdowns, signed a one-year deal with the Browns so he could show his stuff to the rest of the NFL and get a big-money, long-term deal. His unspectacular middle of the season didn`t entice anyone, so he has five more weeks - and a possible postseason - to make his point.
If he continues to build on the last two games and the Browns play their way into the playoffs, he just might convince the Browns he`s indispensable.
"I am pretty much in a great little groove right now and I just have to keep it up," he said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.