BEREA, Ohio (AP) -The leaves have fallen, the temperature's plunging and the daily weather forecast usually includes the bone-shivering phrase ``lake-effect snow,'' a phenomenon that can last six months around here.
Baby, it's cold outside.
Just how Jamal Lewis likes it.
``It's my time of year,'' the Browns' bruising running back said. ``It's time to run the football.''
And that's just what Cleveland did Sunday as Lewis rushed for 134 yards on a season-high 29 carries in a 27-17 win over Houston, whose players struggled in the brisk, blustery conditions.
Not Lewis. With his legs churning up the turf and the Texans, the 245-pounder had his second-best game since joining the Browns, who signed him to an incentive-laden one-year free agent contract in March.
This was exactly why they got Lewis, who used to overpower the Browns on a regular basis while with Baltimore. During six healthy seasons as a Raven, he went over 1,000 yards four times and ran for 2,066 yards in 2003.
On Sunday, Lewis posted his most impressive numbers during the second half, when he and the Browns' offensive line began to assert their will on Houston's front seven.
After gaining just 43 yards on eight carries in the first two quarters, Lewis ran for 91 after halftime, picking up 49 in the fourth period as the Browns (7-4) ran out the clock.
Standing on the sideline, Browns coach Romeo Crennel watched with satisfaction as the 28-year-old Lewis put the finishing touches on Cleveland's fifth straight win at home. The former defensive coordinator can appreciate the demoralizing effect when a team knows what's coming and still isn't able to stop it.
``It hurts the opponent both physically and mentally,'' Crennel said. ``But probably the mental aspect of not being able to stop the run, that wears on a defense. As soon as you start ganging up on the run, then you're able to throw the ball down the field if you need to. That wears on a defense, and I can speak to that because it's been wearing on us all year.''
It was vintage Lewis, who used to relish closing out wins with the Ravens and hopes to do more of the same with the Browns.
``We haven't finished a team off like we should have,'' said Lewis, noting Cleveland's close calls in recent weeks. ``We needed to show we can finish.''
Lewis has been a perfect fit for Cleveland and vice versa.
The Browns were desperate for a dependable, proven back and Lewis more than matched their profile.
Lewis, who had a falling out with coach Brian Billick in Baltimore, was searching for a team committed to improving its offensive line and running the ball.
With the calendar soon switching to December, the Browns may be forced to keep the ball on the ground more than ever.
Lewis' production had dropped off considerably following a 216-yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 16. He rushed for just 56 yards against Oakland and 64 against the Ravens before a foot injury sidelined him for two games.
He went three weeks without getting more than 61 yards before picking up 92 on 22 carries in Baltimore. When he got to practice last week, Lewis was pleased to hear the Browns would try to run the ball on Houston.
``But sometimes you never know,'' said Lewis, who has 741 yards and eight touchdowns. ``It depends on the game situation. We just stuck with it and we came out with some 5-yard and 6-yard runs and that just opened things up.''
Lewis' take-on-anyone-in-my-way running style was expected, but he also shown good outside quickness, something he credits to staying light by eating properly. Lewis sticks to a strict diet of health food during the season. He ingests only vitamins. No pretzels, chips or any other junk.
On Thanksgiving, he ordered his holiday dinner from a natural food store, and didn't indulge.
``Mom didn't come, so that helped me out a lot,'' he joked.
Lewis, though, has experienced some growth since arriving in Cleveland. In just a few months, the Browns have gone from outsider for success to one of the league's feel-good stories.
``We're a team,'' Lewis said. ``If you look back at all the championship teams, they were all teams - one unit. You didn't have individuals. There are no individuals on this team.''
A few of the players are standing out, however. Lewis is one of them.
He has given the Browns both yards and an attitude. With every cornerback he crumbles by lowering his shoulder or every linebacker he flattens with a stiff-arm, he's showing his teammates the way to win.
``He runs with a sense of purpose,'' Crennel said. ``That's what we need from him every week. They know he runs hard. It's not like he tells them he's going to run hard this play. They know he's going to run hard on every play.''
Lewis has no intention of letting up either.
``Right now, I'm feeling it,'' he said. ``I'm in a little groove.''

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