It wasn’t easy early on for Ray Rice.
At halftime, Rice only had 16 yards on eight carries. But in a speech he delivered to his team at the intermission, he said the offense had to pick up the slack and gain some momentum. That it did, as Rice finished Baltimore’s 29-14 win over Houston with 101 rushing yards — adding an additional 60 receiving yards as well.
“My speech at halftime was simple,” Rice said. “I don’t care whether we run it or pass it. We need to execute. Today was the day that it didn’t look pretty at first, but in the second half we got it all together.”
The Ravens adjusted its zone stretch scheme — modeled after the Texans and Redskins schemes — to allow for more inside runs in the second half. The outside runs weren’t there in the first half as Rice had trouble getting to the edge. Fullback Vonta Leach pointed this out at halftime, and with the adjustment came success.
In the fourth quarter, in particular, the Ravens were able to control the clock with their running game. In that final period, Rice had runs of 27, 13 and 9 yards to prolong drives. Backup running back Ricky Williams scored his first touchdown with Baltimore late in the ballgame.
“To run the ball like we did … to all of a sudden come out and start running it like we were able to do was big,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Conversely, the Texans struggled running the football, which is what their offense is predicated on doing. Running back Arian Foster — the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010 — was held to 49 yards on 15 carries and wasn’t pleased about his performance post-game.
“I played terrible,” Foster said. “I didn’t play a good game, it was obvious. That will never happen again. I played a bad game. It doesn’t matter what the variables are, I played a bad game. As a football player, I didn’t bring my A-game.”
Baltimore’s defense kept Foster from breaking outside for the most part, limiting him to carries between the tackles.
“We knew what we had to do,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Last year, playing them down there, they really came back and did some things in the second half that really didn’t sit well with us. You know, sitting int he meeting rooms, that was kind of one film we didn’t watch.”
Foster ran for 100 yards against Baltimore a season ago, but was held to less than half that this year.
The win is Baltimore’s fifth over Houston as the Ravens have never dropped a game in the series.
After forcing Houston to punt, the Ravens marched downfield for a touchdown on a methodical 97-yard drive that ate 8 minutes and 47 seconds off the clock. Quarterback Joe Flacco capped the drive off with a 1-yard sneak for a touchdown.
But it wasn’t easy for the remainder of the first half for Baltimore. Flacco had 127 yards while the running backs combined for 22 rushing yards at the half. The Ravens were also clinging to a 10-7 lead. A 48-yard Billy Cundiff field goal put Baltimore up 13-7 in the third quarter before Houston answered with a touchdown score, on Baltimore’s biggest defensive breakdown of the game.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub faked a handoff to Foster and rolled to his right. His target, receiver Jacoby Jones, was breaking free from safety Ed Reed in the end zone. Schaub lobbed a perfect pass to Jones in the end zone which helped put Houston up 14-13 with 3:10 left in the game. Those were the last points Houston would score.
Cundiff added two more field goals as the Ravens went up 19-14 in the fourth quarter. Houston got to Baltimore’s 38-yard line but elected to punt on fourth down, deciding it was too far to attempt a field goal.
Williams scored his touchdown with 4:05 left in the game to put the Ravens up for good. Cundiff added another field goal — his fifth of the game — with two minutes left on the clock.
“We were able to keep our aggression and really convert on some of those plays with big runs and big passes,” said Flacco, who finished the game 20-33 for 305 yards and an interception. “We were able to move the chains and getting the ball in the end zone at the end was huge.”
By Jason Butt