Ravens tight end Todd Heap comes from behind to congratulate… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
When Ray Rice punched out more than 2,000 total yards of offense last season, he was a prize catch on every fantasy draft board in the country. When he started out this season with four pedestrian games, the Ravens' third-year running back was getting grilled. On Sunday, he answered the critics. Big time.
"It's funny," Rice said. "People take the fantasy football stuff serious. I try not to let anybody down. At the same time, I've faced some tough fronts this year. So today, fantasy owners that drafted me, I got you some points, now give me some slack."
If anybody deserves slack this week, it's Rice after he propelled the Ravens past the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium, 31-17. Rice rushed for 133 yards, scored twice, caught four passes and was as eloquent afterward as he was on the field.
Fifteen minutes after he stood at a lectern and said he wanted to give a game ball to his offensive linemen, he interrupted fullback Le'Ron McClain at his locker to tell him he earned a game ball, too.
No wonder they call Rice an all-purpose back.
"I ain't going to lie," Rice said. "Today would've been sweeter if [McClain] would've got in [for a touchdown], I would've got in and then Willis [McGahee] got in."
McGahee did with five minutes left in the game, when a kick-out block by McClain sprang him for a 30-yard touchdown run. "Le'Ron McClain was blowing people up today," Rice said.
When the three-headed monster reared its head after a long sabbatical, it featured McClain as the enforcer, McGahee as the finishing dagger and Rice as the grind-it-out back that got the tough yardage inside.
"Ray has proven he can run between the tackles," coach John Harbaugh said. "He does some flashy things when he gets in space, but he ran the ball between the tackles, and we were grinding out yards in the third quarter."
By the second quarter, Rice, not McGahee, was the short-yardage back on the goal line. He finished a 72-yard drive with a 1-yard run to the end zone, and came back in the third quarter to get another behind McClain and pulling left guard Ben Grubbs.
Rice said he appreciated offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling his number down there.
"That's trust," he said. "I couldn't say that he would do that my rookie year. But he trusts that when he puts the ball in my hand, that not only am I going to gain yards, but I'm going to carry the team. ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ I just feel good to know that the coaches trust me enough ... even on short-yardage situations, that I can get the job done."
Rice played last week in Pittsburgh with a bruised knee and made his best contributions as a blocker for quarterback Joe Flacco. He had just eight carries for 20 yards.
Sunday he was good for 27 carries and 31touches. The nasty welt running down his right cheek -- where one of the Broncos snuck a hand under his facemask to test Rice's vision -- was raw testimony.
"I didn't know I had 27 carries," he said. "I thought I had 15 carries. I am just in great shape right now. People were worrying about the knee; the knee isn't a problem."
Rice never quibbled over his modest numbers the first month of the season, unlike some receivers. He didn't worry that the Ravens might change their M.O. from a run-oriented team to a pass-happy team, either.
"I thought my job would be easier," Rice said of the additions at receiver. "Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ they're going to take that extra safety out of the box because we have the play-action pass. ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ Our overall goal is to win. If I have to take less stats and we're winning, so be it."
What the Broncos learned Sunday, though, is that the Ravens haven't lost their physical edge. The Ravens rushed for 233yards and produced 17 of 28 first downs on the ground. Rice collected the seventh 100-plus yard rushing game of his career, including the postseason. And Denver knew what was coming.
"Last year, we were a physical running