I’ve been known to fawn all over a football player or two during my life.
There have been NUMEROUS times since the Ravens franchise entered our lives that I have looked at the TV screen and uttered the words “Thank God ______ plays for the Ravens.” The most frequent names I’ve used in that sentence have been Michael McCrary, Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis, Chris McAlister and Derrick Mason.
On Sunday night, I found myself uttering another name; a name that I have been praising since the season began.
“Thank God Ray Rice plays for the Ravens.”
With another 155 total yards (88 rushing, 67 receiving) in a 20-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ray Rice has now gone over 100 total yards of offense in 8 consecutive games. He has 1,403 total yards on the season (821 rushing, 582 receiving); and warrants even more praise than what John Harbaugh could think of after the game. (“He’s a player” is what the coach exclaimed.)
I don’t mean to turn this into a drool session, or an awkward “man crush” revelation; but it is hard to avoid such things when I look at this game. When this team most needed him, Ray Rice ran a perfect play; and turned from a game-extender to a game-changer.
Facing a 4thand 5 with 3:31 to play in the 4th quarter, a 17-14 deficit and just 1 timeout remaining; Joe Flacco found Ray Rice in stride for a first down.
And then some.
Ray moved the ball all the way down to the 10 yard live of the Steelers, a gain of 44 yards. The Ravens would ultimately cash in a Billy Cundiff field goal; which would tie the game and send it to overtime. But the significance of the play cannot be underestimated.
It wasn’t JUST a 4th down catch. A 4th down catch that gained 10 yards would have been easily forgotten had the Ravens failed to get another first down on the drive and suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of their AFC North rival.
Instead, Rice moved forward-dodging defenders-until the Ravens were in absolute scoring position. It was the type of play that changed the attitude of every person inside M&T Bank Stadium.
It isn’t the first time he’s been asked to make a play in the clutch, either. Rice has been targeted in key situations throughout the season; including just a week ago-when Joe Flacco looked to him late in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts; only to have Gary Brackett make an interception. But faced with a similar situation Sunday night, there was no fear in going right back to the man who has been the team’s most productive offensive player.
The Ravens wanted to run their offense around one player this season. Cam Cameron wanted the offense to be based around one man, who could carry the football team in every situation they faced. They took out the gadget (or “Suggs Package”) plays with Troy Smith because they didn’t want the game out of the hands of their most productive player.
And while Joe Flacco has played a little under expectations, they’ve gotten the offensive game-changer they so badly desired. He wears #27.
Credit Mark Clayton, Paul Kruger, Michael Oher, Jared Gaither, Billy Cundiff and a number of other Ravens who made VERY significant contributions in a VERY significant win. But in the most important moment of the most important game of the season; it was Rice delivered once more. With the bright lights of NBC’s national “Sunday Night Football” broadcast on him, he answered the call.
And come Monday morning, he’ll be the biggest reason why this team is 6-5 and tied for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
That’s the definition of a team MVP.
-Hear from John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Paul Kruger, Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Jarret Johnson, Billy Cundiff and Ray Lewis in the Audio Vault at WNST.net following the win.
-The Ravens reported FB Le’Ron McClain (abdominal strain) and LB Prescott Burgess (hamstring) were team’s only injuries stemming from the win. No further information was available for either player. QB Joe Flaccosaid he “re-rolled” his injured ankle during the game but felt better after he re-taped it. LB Ray Lewis was heard VERY AUDIBLY saying “My foot is killing me” with media members standing near his locker; but claimed it was “good” when asked about it after the game.
-The Ravens reached double digit points (14) in the first half for the first time since a win over the Browns in Week 3.
-At 6-5, the Ravens are now tied with the Steelers and Jaguars for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
-This is the first overtime win of Joe Flacco’s career; also the first win over the Steelers.
-Harbaugh was quick to deflect any questions about the Steelers playing without Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu, and credited Dennis Dixon as “a player” who the Ravens really liked coming out of college.