BALTIMORE – Ray Rice smiled at his victims as he bolted upfield, dodging and embarrassing linebackers while eluding their grasp on his way to the end zone.
The Baltimore Ravens’ diminutive running back was more than dangerous during a rain-soaked, chilly 48-3 victory over the hapless Detroit Lions on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Rice was practically untouchable, leading a total stampede over an overmatched defense whose nerve and will was shattered.
Rice rushed for a career-high 166 yards on a mere 13 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with a minor chest injury, rushing for 151 yards by halftime. His 12.8 average per carry broke Jamal Lewis’ team record, and he piled up a career-high 219 yards from scrimmage.
“He reminds me of a lot of guys, but the way he spins out of tackles, he’s so low to the ground, he really reminds you of Barry Sanders,” Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “With his quickness, he reminds you of Eric Metcalf. He springs like a cat, and he has a heart like a lion.”
Behind Rice’s prowess, the Ravens wound up racking up a franchise-record 548 yards of total offense that included 308 yards gained on the ground with a new record established with five touchdown runs. The rushing yardage total is the second-most in team history.
It’s the most points the Ravens have scored since a 2005 rout of the Green Bay Packers, tying another franchise record and sending the Lions to their 19th consecutive road defeat.
After several weeks characterized by slow starts, the Ravens built a 20-3 halftime lead and figuratively stepped on the Lions’ throat in the second half. And they did it without three injured starters in free safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Jared Gaither and wide receiver Mark Clayton.
“It was obviously a team victory, I think all three phases really stepped up: offense, defense, special teams,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Maybe the first time we put it together in that kind of fashion, and that is encouraging. The offensive line blocked exceptionally well. We broke tackles. I’m just proud of our players for the way they played.”
Rice also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark having gained 1,041 yards for the season with seven touchdown runs. He also leads the Ravens with 68 receptions for 652 yards.
Rice’s total yards from scrimmage, which ranks sixth in Ravens single-game history, marks the 10th time this year he has eclipsed the century mark for all-purpose yards.
His 204 yards from scrimmage by halftime is the fourth-most in a half gained by any player in the league since 1991.
“It kind of hit me by surprise,” Rice said. “I knew it was in the back of my mind, but 1,000 yards is very special in the league. Especially it doesn’t come often for guys. It will be something I cherish for my life. It’s definitely special.”
By steamrolling the Lions (2-11) in embarrassing fashion, the Ravens (7-6) remained in the thick of the AFC wild-card playoff hunt.
With the Denver Broncos (8-5) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) both losing Sunday, they still remain in possession of the first and second wild-card spots. The gap has been narrowed, though.
And the Ravens are tied with the Miami Dolphins (7-6) and the New York Jets (7-6).
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was alone in his admission that he was watching the scoreboard as the Dolphins defeated the Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts handled the Broncos.
“We started looking at the scoreboard, ‘Okay, who’s doing what, who’s winning what?’” Suggs said. “We saw that Miami beat Jacksonville, and Indy beat Denver. Those are the two big ones, so all we’ve got to do is handle our pressure first.”
Rice’s epic performance and the Ravens’ brutal assault against a beleaguered defense began early.
Rice rumbled for 52 yards off rookie left tackle Michael Oher’s seal block in the first quarter.
Three plays later, though, Rice lost his second fumble in the past two games when linebacker Larry Foote punched the ball out of his hand.
“That rain was coming down, and I’m a guy that always tries to make a play,” Rice said. “I’m not a fumbler. I’m just glad I was able to bounce back. I’ve got a short memory. It was definitely a wet ball.”
After opening a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter on Billy Cundiff’s 38-yard field goal, the Ravens struck deep on a slant pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason.
Mason ricocheted off a big shot to the chest from safety Marvin White that helped free him from the tackle attempt of cornerback Philip Buchanon. Stunned momentarily by the hit, Mason bounced off and accelerated up field for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
In the end zone, Mason was in some obvious pain after staking Baltimore to a 10-0 lead and what proved to be the game-winning margin early in the second quarter.
“He made a good hit and luckily I bounced off the guy that was behind me and I was able to stay on my feet,” Mason said. “I didn’t realize it. I kind of just stood there for a quick second and then realized I was still on my feet, so I took off from there.
“He hit me in the chest. I took a good shot and it kind of caught up with me once I got into the end zone. Now that my body is settling down, I’m kind of feeling it now. I’ll deal with it throughout the week and by Sunday it will be gone.”
Rice turned in another highlight play in the second quarter.
After he converted a 3rd-and-10 situation on a 10-yard reception, Rice busted through a gaping hole and shrugged off potential tacklers for a 59-yard touchdown run to his left.
“The way we practiced this week was the same way you saw me busting runs,” Rice said. “I remember on the Thursday practice running the same run to the left side, timing it up perfectly and hitting it and scoring in practice.
“I came into this game just wanting to start fast on offense. That’s a sweet feeling when you work all week, watch the film, you know what you’re going to get and it’s your will against their will. That was more pleasing to me, knowing that I started fast and the game ended the way it was supposed to.”
The Ravens didn’t relent when Rice left the game.
Running back Willis McGahee rushed for 76 yards on 12 carries, scoring touchdowns on runs of six and 19 yards to build a commanding 41-3 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Burly fullback Le’Ron McLain rushed for a three-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
The Lions missed at least 16 tackles.
“We didn’t tackle well,” Foote said. “Mentally, I think we broke down.”
That score as well as McClain picking up a first down in the fourth quarter when he appeared to be stopped in the backfield for a loss infuriated Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who’s considering benching or cutting players after this lackluster effort.
“We had them stopped for a one or two-yard loss, and he wanted it more than we did,” Schwartz said. “That’s what upset me the most. I thought that in preparation everyone was ready to play. I was way off-mark there. We have to make a stand, and this is unacceptable.”
An Arbutus native and Mt. St. Joseph graduate, Schwartz began his post-game interview by saying, “There’s not anybody going live with this, are they? You might want to have a delay if you’re going live.”
The first-year coach displayed admirable restraint by not cursing.
At one point, Schwartz called a timeout in the third quarter to try to rally his team.
The gambit was ineffective, though. Two plays after Schwartz huddled his team, McGahee was in the end zone.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a strategic timeout,” Schwartz said. “I didn’t like the fact that the ball was getting run right down our throats. And I called the team over to let them know how upset I was going to be if they scored the touchdown and tried to rally them, to see if that would make a different. Obviously, it didn’t.”
One game after throwing a season-high three interceptions in a 27-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers, quarterback Joe Flacco rebounded. He managed the game well, completing 13 of 20 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 120.8 passer rating.
“Joe bounced back,” Harbaugh said. “I thought it was gutsy.”
The Ravens showed grit in rebounding from Rice’s early fumble and strong safety Dawan Landry’s interception of a Daunte Culpepper pass being nullified by a roughing-the-passer infraction on defensive end Trevor Pryce.
The Lions didn’t capitalize on the second chance as Jason Hanson hooked a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Backup quarterback Troy Smith capped the Ravens’ scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter in relief of Flacco.
The Ravens’ defense held the Lions to 229 yards of total offense, an average of 3.4 yards per play.
“Let’s go out and be who we are,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “This is December football.”
Now, the Ravens are essentially tied for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Jaguars own a 6-3 AFC record, a half-game ahead of the Ravens’ 6-4 conference mark.
"The bottom line is we have to win," Harbaugh said. "Now, we have to win [three] in a row to have a chance to do what we need to do. We have a Chicago Bears team coming here on Sunday. So, that’s where our focus goes."
Baltimore is one game behind the Broncos , and owns a tiebreaker edge over them by virtue of a 30-7 head-to-head win on Nov. 1.
"If we don’t win the next three games, we’re still going to be scoreboard watching," Lewis said. "Bottom line, we just have to take care of our business."
The Ravens’ remaining games are against three teams with losing records: the Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.
“We know what we have to do,” McGahee said. “We know that we have to win the rest of our games regardless of what happens. And I know we need a team or two to lose a game so that we can jump in there and be safe.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.