The trend continued Sunday as McClain started at tailback for the first time and was the Ravens’ primary option in the running game. The bruising fullback pounded out a game-high 86 rushing yards on 25 carries operating as a halfback behind fullback Lorenzo Neal.
Rookie second-round pick Ray Rice gained 41 yards on 11 carries.
Meanwhile, McGahee, who wasn’t listed on the injury report, was in uniform, but didn’t play a single snap.
When asked if McClain has established himself as the Ravens’ full-time starting running back, Ravens coach John Harbaugh replied: "He was our starter today. He played really well. We have three backs that we’re going to need in December to get where we need to go. I think that all three of those guys are starting quality backs in this league, so we need to use all three of them as much as we can."
Harbaugh insisted that McGahee, who led Baltimore with 1,207 rushing yards last season in being named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement, isn’t hurt. McGahee underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery in August and has also battled ankle, rib and eye injuries this season after reporting to training camp out of shape.
"It’s strategic," Harbaugh said. "We have a plan for Willis. He’s going to be a big part of this team, no question about it.
"Willis can play, and he will play. We are going to put him in the best situation to play, just like we are with Le’Ron and Ray."
Although McGahee’s outlook remains cloudy based on Sunday’s lack of activity and playing a limited role ever since gaining a season-high 112 yards and scoring two touchdowns against the Houston Texans, McClain’s hard-nosed approach is extremely clear-cut.
He grinds out yards by rumbling straight ahead and takes on linebackers in the open field.
"We wanted to pound them a little bit," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Le’Ron gets in there and pounds tacklers."
McClain is now the Ravens’ leading rusher for the season with 545 yards, passing McGahee’s 489-yard total. McClain also leads Baltimore with six touchdowns runs.
"It’s starting to get cold, and I feel like this is my time of year," McClain said. "I left some yards out there since the holes were pretty big and I should have gotten even more. Next time, next time."
McClain was informed early in the week by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery that he would likely play a major role.
During a position meeting Saturday night at the team hotel, McClain discovered that it would basically be his football to carry all game if he was productive.
"They told me I was going to get the first run, and it just kept rolling," McClain said. "I didn’t know that Willis wasn’t going to play. However, they want to work it you just go with it."
As a team, Baltimore rushed for 147 yards on 43 carries. Although the Ravens averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, McClain’s plunges into the line took a physical and mental toll on the Bengals’ defense.
The Ravens dominated time of possession, controlling the football for 38 minutes and 58 seconds to the Bengals’ puny 21 minutes and two seconds.
McClain’s runs simply ate up the clock.
"He’s a tough, physical guy, an old AFC type of runner," said offensive tackle Willie Anderson, who referenced former Pittsburgh Steelers star Jerome Bettis when talking about McClain. "When it comes down to the stretch in December, the teams that have that kind of back and that kind of line usually dominate this division. You need that back that can pound the ball and get you four or five ugly yards sometimes."
INJURY REPORT: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson limped off the field with an apparent sprained ankle or foot injury.
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither banged up his sprained right shoulder and was replaced by Chad Slaughter for one play, but returned to finish the game.
Offensive tackle Adam Terry was held out of the game after suffering a concussion a week ago.
"It was lingering effects from the concussion," Harbaugh said. "He was not cleared to go."
HOMECOMING: This marked Anderson’s first game in Cincinnati on the opposing sideline after being cut in August following a dozen seasons and four Pro Bowl selections.
It was a sweet return punctuated by a Gatorade shower.
"It was different, man," Anderson said. "I always wondered where the visitors’ locker room was. It’s a whole new experience coming in here as a visitor and seeing everybody. It was different, but the win makes it fun and competing is always good."
NOT YET: Massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is still holding out hope that he’ll touch the football at some point this season.
Ngata lined up as a blocking tight end in the red zone, occupying defenders on tight end Todd Heap’s four-yard touchdown pass.
"I was in the pattern, but the guy was in my way," Ngata said. "It’s good that I was able to do that. It’s a lot of fun and I helped clear things out for Todd. I’m still waiting patiently. Whatever they want me to do is fine with me."
SMITH RETURNS: The Ravens reincorporated backup quarterback Troy Smith in the offense, running some single-wing sets as he rushed for four yards on three carries and executed a few handoffs.
"They dialed up pretty much everything they had," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "They had Troy Smith in there and they were running reverse passes and stuff. I think we got to see their whole playbook we were out there so much."
NEVER AGAIN: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis boldly vowed that his team won’t endure another torturous season like this one. Cincinnati is 1-10-1 with four remaining games on the schedule.
"When you get your head kicked in like that, there’s not much to say," Lewis said. "This team won’t have to go through another season like this. "Nor will the fans."
FRUSTRATED: The Ravens deflected several of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s passes, flustering the former Harvard quarterback as he completed just 12 of 31 throws for 124 yards.
"We knew through film study that he has had a lot of passes batted down this year," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He’s a shorter quarterback. In our experience with similar quarterbacks, we knew that he needed a pocket.
“If we could stir that pocket and get a left hand up against a right-handed quarterback, we would have a lot of chances to get a hand on the ball. That’s discouraging for an offense. Not only do they not get to complete a pass, but their receivers don’t even have a chance to make a play on the football."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens deactivated Todd Bouman as the emergency quarterback as well as wide receiver Terrance Copper (neck), wide receiver Marcus Maxwell, cornerback Frank Walker, offensive lineman David Hale, tight end Edgar Jones and defensive tackle Lamar Divens. Walker was a surprise scratch since he wasn’t on the injury report and has started four games. Walker said he was told Monday that he wasn’t going to play. "I wasn’t hurt, it was just personnel," he said. "It was just matchups. I knew all week that I wasn’t going to play. No problem, don’t get me in any trouble."… The Bengals deactivated quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow) and cornerback David Jones, safety Chinedum Ndukwe, linebacker Eric Henderson, offensive linemen Levi Jones, Evan Mathis and Kirk Barton and defensive end Antwan Odom. … The Ravens piled up 20 first downs, a season-high 451 yards of total offense in averaging six yards per play and converted 8 of 17 third downs. … Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo recorded the first sack of his career late in the second quarter. … Harbaugh improved to 2-for-2 on challenges. … Rookie Marcus Smith saw action as the third wide receiver ahead of Yamon Figurs.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.