Baltimore — During his five years with the Baltimore Ravens, right tackle Orlando Brown has opened holes for Priest Holmes and Jamal Lewis.
He's seen enough of both to know that when the opening is tiny, Holmes will slither through the gap. Lewis will look at the same slice of daylight and plow forward like a bull through an unopened gate.
It is why each is among the best running backs in the NFL and shared the backfield on the 2003 All-Pro team.
"Both of them can cut back, both can run inside," Brown said. "But they're two different guys. Priest is more finesse, and Jamal's got a little bit more weight and power."
At the end of the 2000 season, when the Ravens had Holmes and Lewis, they opted for weight and power, letting Holmes sign as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore has no reason to regret the decision, because Lewis last year had an NFL-best 2,066 yards rushing and carried the Ravens into the playoffs.
"We're winning with Jamal. Who's to say if we'd be winning with Priest?" Brown said.
The Chiefs couldn't be happier with Holmes, whose 4,941 yards rushing since the start of the 2001 season is tops in the NFL. He was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2002, and Lewis won it last year.
Holmes, who played four seasons with Baltimore, returned to town in '03 and failed to reach the end zone while rushing for only 90 yards in 22 carries in the Chiefs' 17-10 victory. The Ravens expect to experience similar success against him in the rematch tonight.
"Yeah, we know how good he is, but we just don't let running backs get 100 yards against us," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We have a lot of great young talent, a lot of young guys ready to step up and make plays. We're going to show the world that we're back again to make a playoff run."
Holmes is ready for the challenge.
"Ray Lewis does a wonderful job of getting his guys excited and ready to run, and they're definitely going to attack," Holmes said. "They're going to have eight-man fronts, and they dare you to run the ball on them."
The Ravens (2-1) allowed only two rushers to top the 100-yard mark last season, and are well aware of how dangerous the Chiefs (0-3) can be if Holmes gets loose past the line of scrimmage. The defensive game plan for tonight is predicated on two simple words: Stop Holmes.
"He's one of, if not the best, back in the league," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. "His patience, the way he can stretch and cut a play, what he can do to you out of the backfield. You clearly have to account for him."
Holmes still cherishes his time with the Ravens, and refuses to take credit for helping make Jamal Lewis one of the NFL's best running backs. Lewis entered the league in 2000 and learned the NFL game under Holmes, who ran for 588 yards during an injury-plagued season while Lewis rambled for 1,364 yards.
Holmes had run for 1,008 yards two years earlier, something he took with him to Kansas City along with his luggage.
"He brought a 1,000-yard rushing season with him, so he had proved he can run the ball," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. "And he brought a great respect for the (Ravens) organization. He's always spoken very highly of everyone in that organization."
The feeling is mutual.
"Priest is a great guy, loving and caring about everybody," Ravens linebacker Cornell Brown said. "He really cares about his teammates and makes them care about him."
Tonight, the Chiefs will care most about winning their first game. After riding Holmes to a 13-3 record a year ago, they have stumbled mightily at the outset.
"You're always more disappointed when your expectations are high. We had no reason to be pessimistic coming off a 13-3 season," Vermeil said. "I think we're realistically thinking we'd be better than we are right now. For one reason or another, we're not, and we've got to solve that problem."