No one is attaching the oft-cited "Thunder and Lightning" label for Ravens running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice. Not yet at least.
That backfield duo injected the offense with a jolt of adrenaline, contributing mightily to the Ravens' 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Despite the unavailability of featured tailback Willis McGahee, McClain churned out career highs in carries (19) and yards (86), and Rice - a second-round pick in the draft in April - gained 64 yards on 22 attempts in his first career start in the NFL.
The offense converted all six of its third-and-one situations on the ground, and McClain and Rice helped the Ravens compile 229 rushing yards against a Bengals defense that ranked 21st (a 118.3-yard average) against the run last season.
"We knew there were some holes in the defense that we could take advantage of," McClain said. "We're going to lose games if we give it away on offense. So we just took pride in going hard at practice all week, and it paid off on game day."
It wasn't clear to McClain and Rice that they would play a significant role in yesterday's game because McGahee dressed for the game despite being limited in practice last week after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last month.
But McGahee, who missed the entire preseason, stood next to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for much of the game and never made it to the field.
"We were concerned about the knee and the fact that he didn't play a lot," coach John Harbaugh acknowledged. "We were hopeful to get him into the game at some point in time, but the way the game shook out, we were unable to do it. He'll practice in a more physical manner this week, and then we should have him ready to go next week."
The offense, however, did not seem to miss a beat with McClain and Rice. Rice used his shiftiness and cutback ability to gain yards on the edges. His only mistake, albeit a big one, was a fumble that Cincinnati cornerback Johnathan Joseph returned 65 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to bring the Bengals within a touchdown, 17-10.
"I think if I had to evaluate it, I wouldn't say that I did great," Rice said. "I'm always going to leave room to get better. But I think I did fairly well, and I look forward to next week."
McClain used his 6-foot, 260-pound frame to bulldoze his way through the middle. His bruising running style was most apparent during the Ravens' final series of the game. With the ball at their own 26 with 7:15 left in the game, the Ravens gave the ball to McClain seven times for 42 yards, and the offense marched to the Bengals' 14-yard line. The Ravens salted away the remaining 1:09 by running out the clock.
"We were all up in the huddle just ready to get to the next play, and their heads were down, just ready for it to be over with," McClain said. "We just started taking it to them."
The offense's ability to finish the game without forcing the defense back onto the field was a welcome sight for the defensive leaders.
"With the injuries to Willis and you watch McClain and you watch rookie Ray Rice, I just think we made a lot of great plays," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But we still have a long way to go."