OWINGS MILLS — Being reminded you’re statistically not among the best is a great reason to be motivated.
And this is what got running back Ray Rice going prior to his 204-yard rushing performance this past Sunday against Cleveland.
His fullback and lead blocker, Vonta Leach, noticed Rice was only 14th in the NFL in rushing yards heading into the contest. Leach took a picture of NFL’s leading rushers and sent it to Rice, with a message to the effect of, “Hey, you’re pretty low on the list. We need to get you up there.”
In rainy and wet conditions, Rice and Leach teamed up to help propel the Ravens’ featured back to a career high 204 yards.
“I told (Leach) you really upset me so I needed to get it going this week,” Rice said. “Everything ended up playing out to be a total team performance. But he’s a character, he’s a straight up guy and a leader on this offense.”
With that one performance, Rice leaped up the rushing yards list and is now seventh with 926 yards. He’s also first in the AFC with 1,473 yards from scrimmage (which includes his 547 receiving yards). He sits only behind Bears running back Matt Forte (1,487) in total yards from scrimmage in the entire NFL, and is poised to pass Forte this week since Forte will miss two to four weeks with a sprained MCL.
Rice is arguably having his best season in a Ravens uniform since the franchise drafted him in 2008. Rice attributes a great deal of his success to the team bringing in Leach and running back Ricky Williams during the preseason.
“Vonta, between him and Ricky Williams, is the best thing that’s happened to me since I became a Raven,” Rice said. “I learn a lot from Vonta and Ricky. Vonta is essentially going to take me where I need to be, and that’s in the run game. Usually it’s something as simple as reading him to get to the second level.”
Previously, Rice worked in a backfield with hybrid fullback Le’Ron McClain (now with Kansas City) and running back Willis McGahee (now with Denver). Williams said Rice’s success this season may partly have to do with the new backfield realizing the roles they are there for.
“I think he’s been around some other guys who were more competitive for his carries or his limelight,” Williams said. “So I think he’s around some guys that are more supportive now and he’s doing well because of it.”
Just four games ago, Rice received a season low five carries at Seattle in a 22-17 loss to the Seahawks. Since, Rice has toted the ball 70 times for 367 yards in the past three contests.
The Ravens have shown a re-commitment of sorts to the running game, which has helped lead them to three consecutive wins over Cincinnati, San Francisco and Cleveland.
“There are a lot of situations where we had to run it and didn’t have to run it,” Rice said. “But we know what December and January football is like. Our run game emerged last week. One thing about the run game and total offense is we need all 11 (players).”
Linebacker Ray Lewis (toe), left guard Ben Grubbs (toe), center Matt Birk and cornerback Chris Carr (back) did not participate in practice Wednesday.
Birk injured his shoulder against Cleveland but returned and finished the game. Grubbs suffered a turf toe injury in Week 1 against Pittsburgh and sat out until Week 9’s second meeting with the Steelers. He hasn’t missed a game since.
Lewis is rumored to have a targeted comeback date for next Sunday’s game against San Diego. He’s missed the past three games with a turf toe injury. Carr’s back injury has cost him to miss the past two games. It’s unclear when he’ll return to the field.
By Jason Butt