Running back JAMAL LEWIS of the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker WILLIE MC GINEST of the New England Patriots, and punter CRAIG HENTRICH of the Tennessee Titans are the AFC Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week for games played the sixteenth week of the 2003 season (December 20-22), the NFL announced today.
Baltimore's Lewis added to his towering rushing yard total with an NFL Week 16-high 205 yards, including two touchdowns, on 22 carries (9.3-yard average) in a 35-0 victory at Cleveland. With the win, the Ravens control their playoff destiny and can earn their first division championship with a win Sunday night at Pittsburgh.
The visiting Ravens held a 7-0 advantage at halftime and increased their lead as Lewis sprinted to 164 second-half yards on only eight rushing attempts with touchdown carries of 72 and 24 yards. The NFL's rushing leader, who set the NFL's single-game rushing record (295) against Cleveland in Week 3, ran for 45 yards on his first carry after his 72-yard third quarter score.
Lewis, who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last week, needs 154 yards Sunday night against Pittsburgh to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (2,105 in 1984) and claim the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season.
"We're going to need every bit of whatever number he needs to get the record, whether it's 2,000 or above, to beat the Steelers," says Ravens head coach BRIAN BILLICK. "We're going to run the ball. I'll be surprised if they even put anybody out on the wide receivers."
In his fourth season from Tennessee, this is Lewis' second-career Player of the Week Award (Week 3).
New England earned its franchise-record 11th consecutive win Saturday in a 21-16 victory over the New York Jets. The Patriots' McGinest led his team with 11 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and chalked up his first interception of the season, which he returned 15 yards for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
McGinest's interception-touchdown was the second of his career and marked the team's NFL-best sixth defensive touchdown on the season. McGinest and his New England teammates forced five New York interceptions.
"Coach (BILL BELICHICK) always tells us that turnovers need to mean points," says McGinest, whose team controls its own destiny for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. "So that (interception-touchdown) was a big one."
In his 10th year from USC, this marks McGinest's fourth-career Player of the Week Award and is his first since 1999.
In Tennessee's 27-24 playoff-clinching victory at Houston, Hentrich matched his season high with seven punts for a 45.9-yard average and a 40.7 net average. The AFC All-Star now leads the conference with a 37.5 net average.
Five of Hentrich's seven punts had a hang time of 4.1 seconds or better and three kicks were in the air for at least 4.79. Houston was limited to 16 return yards on four returns and also settled for a fair catch on their own 15-yard line. The Texans had an average drive start of their 21-yard line after each Hentrich punt.
The Alton, Illinois native booted an important 56-yard punt from his own 16 midway through the fourth quarter, backing Houston to its 28, where the team went three-and-out.
For Hentrich, in his 10th season from Notre Dame, this is his fourth Player of the Week Award and his second of the season (Week 1).