The Ravens were not only happy to earn a 31-17 win at home against the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, they were also content in how they did it.
One bright spot in the Ravens’ performance Sunday was their 233 yards rushing; highlighted by the play of running back Ray Rice, who got the ball from the start, rushing the ball 29 times for 133 yards and two scores.
The two touchdowns were not only his first two scores of the season-they were his first touchdowns since last December’s 48-3 victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 14 of the 2009 season.
Rice had been nursing a bruised knee that he suffered in the Ravens’ Week 3 victory over the Cleveland Browns and it had severely impacted his running style the last several weeks in game and in practice.
While Rice did suit up in last week’s 17-14 victory over the Steelers, running back Willis McGahee got the start over Rice and neither back really looked perfect, and Rice still seemed hobbled, crippled, and not 100 percent.
Not on Sunday. From the get-go, Rice appeared healthy as can be-making his signature cuts and moves with ease, and Rice said he felt as comfortable as he ever has been.
Rice’s longest run went for 18 yards, and he had two other runs of 12-yards, his second being the run with 11:45 remaining in the fourth that put him over the century mark for the first time this year.
And he got all the help he could ever need from an offensive line that opened lanes and a fullback in Le’Ron McClain who delivered several bone-crushing hits on Broncos MLB D.J. Williams, who did finish the game with 15 tackles, mostly on Rice downfield.
“That was all offensive line,” Rice said. “They got me to the safety.”
“I’ve never seen a group work harder,” Rice added. The stats haven’t shown the last few weeks, but today, if I was to give a game ball, I’d have to give it to them.”
The Broncos defense had actually came off a pretty good game in their Week 4 victory over the Tennessee Titans, in which the Denver defense held Chris Johnson to 53 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“I’m not sure what Tennessee tried to do against them last week, but we wanted to attack them up front,” Rice said. “We wanted to get them moving.”
“The littlest guy they have in their front seven is D.J. Williams, who is a great player. The rest of them were 270, 280 anchoring the front…I know our defense, when they have to play long drives, they get tired.”
The other surprising note about Rice’s scores were that they were both from one yard out-the first being his score with 2:30 left in the second quarter to put the Ravens up 14-0, and the later coming with 14:21 remaining in the final quarter that put Baltimore out of reach of Denver, 24-7.
Most of the time, the goal line duties are relegated to McGahee or fullback Le’Ron McClain, who are bigger backs, but after both showed indecisiveness near the goalline on the Ravens first two drives of the game(especially a turnover on downs on the first Ravens drive highlighted by not being able to score on the 1 yard line), Rice saw action near the end zone and made the most of the opportunities.
Rice said he being put in that situation meant that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had all the faith in the world that Rice was going to show off his skills.
“That’s trust,” Rice said. “You trust that coordinator, whoever is calling the plays, is going to do what’s best for the team. I don’t consider them bad calls down there. It’s about execution…Cam’s just calling the plays. The players, we’ve got to execute them.”
Rice not only was a factor in the running game, but he also got his normal touches in the passing game from quarterback Joe Flacco.
Rice also caught four passes for 26 yards, and liked the balance he saw out of the game-plan Sunday.
“I like to call it a well-balanced attack,” he said. “When you define identity, last year we were a physical running team. The thing about this season so far is that when we needed to pass the ball, we passed it. Today, when we needed to run the ball, we ran it. There was no second-guessing what we were going to do.”
Gaining 233 yards on the ground, the Ravens’ offense looked as if it was from two years ago, when the three-headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain got the Ravens to an 11-5 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
“It’s back,” McGahee said of the three-headed attack. “We’ve been away from it for awhile, but we did a great job today.
“That’s our goal every week,” McClain said of the 233 yards rushing. “We set a high standard level. We want 250 a week. We take pride in that. We got Ray going today.”
And if the Ravens play defense the way they did against the Broncos today combined with the churning of the clock and the opposing defenders today, the Ravens feel like they can beat anybody, anytime.
“I think we can go all the way as long as we don’t hurt ourselves,” McGahee said. “That goes for everybody. The sky’s the limit for us.”
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