CLEVELAND – Ray Rice’s uniform was decorated with heavy stains of grass and mud, and his forearms were dotted with fresh bruises already turning various colors of the spectrum.
The Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl running back absolutely punished the Cleveland Browns’ defense, painting them with a distinctive shade through his explosive runs: red-faced with embarrassment.
Rice steamrolled the Browns on a soggy, blustery Sunday, exploiting their shoddy run defense for a career-high 204 rushing yards and one touchdown on 29 carries during a 24-10 road victory.
It marks the fourth -most single-game rushing yards in franchise history behind performances by Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes.
The Ravens (9-3) trounced the last-place Browns (4-8) through a brutal formula, continually running it down their throats for their seventh consecutive win over them. Their 290 rushing yards is the fourth-most as a team in franchise history, and the 55 carries established a new all-time club record.
"I’ve got to give it to my offensive line," said Rice, who also followed some devastating lead blocks from fullback Vonta Leach. "I know I get all the glory because I had all the yards, but my offensive line and the receivers blocking down the field is how big plays happen. I stick with my fullback, he’s been my best friend. I was staying on my course, following my big men."
Unlike their three road losses to teams with losing records at the time where Rice had a combined total of only 26 rushes against the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks, he was heavily utilized against the Browns’ vulnerable, 29th-ranked run defense.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron stuck with the run, piling up 158 yards on the ground by halftime as the Ravens ran it 28 times to build a 10-0 lead.
"The guys up front did a great job," Leach said. "Ray did a good job of hitting those holes. Obviously with the weather the way it was and the field the way it was, you got to come in here and run the ball. We established the run and we kept with it."
Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone, carrying it 17 times.
"I thought he did a really good job of pressing the play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought he did a really good job of staying behind his blockers. Ray’s one of these guys, he’s got great vision and he’s got a great knack for making big plays.
"You saw both of those things. I think he gave the offensive line a chance to block some plays out and then he made a couple of big plays on his own."
Quarterback Joe Flacco only threw 23 passes for the game, 14 in the first half, as he finished with 158 yards and no touchdowns. That didn’t bother him, though.
"We were running downhill on them all day, and the offensive line was playing a physical game," Flacco said. "That’s the way it goes sometimes. We had success running the ball, so we stuck with it."
Browns return man Joshua Cribbs conceded the obvious point: "We got whipped by a good football team."
It was an effective strategy.
The running game paved the way.
"That’s what we need to do," center Matt Birk said. "It was that kind of game. As an offense, we were able to run the ball."
The Ravens also finally took care of business on the road against a team they were expected to defeat, something they’ll need to replicate going forward as their next three opponents all have losing records.
"We wanted to get a win, all the talk about letdowns and things like that, we passed the test," Birk said. "We were successful."
Involved sparingly in the road defeats, the Ravens got him on track right away.
He bolted 30 yards on his first carry of the game.
And Rice dazzled on a 67-yard run in the third quarter down to the Browns’ six-yard line to set up a one-yard touchdown run from Ricky Williams, who gained 76 yards on 16 carries. It marks Rice’s longest run ever in the regular season.
Rice started out to his left before powerfully cutting to his right and following a dominant block by wide receiver Anquan Boldin to get the Ravens into scoring position.
"I had the safety one on one, I had a couple plays earlier where I made a move too early," said Rice, who averaged seven yards per carry. "I wanted to run up on him and I really didn’t have to make too much of a move. I gave a little body movement and he grabbed one of my legs and I was able to break out of it..
"When he called that play, I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ We had to make a play then and there. That was the turning point in the game."
The Ravens ran the football on 13 of their 16 plays in the first quarter as Rice provided 75 of their 85 yards.
Their first five plays were on the ground before Rice was stopped on a fourth-and-1.
Once the Ravens got the football back, they marched 61 yards on 12 plays to build a 7-0 lead as Rice busted into the end zone from six yards out for his ninth rushing touchdown of the season.
Rice began that drive with runs of seven, 14 and 10 yards, finishing the drive with seven runs for 48 yards.
The Ravens finished with a time of possession edge of 37 minutes and 34 seconds to the Browns 22 minutes and 26 seconds.
"It makes a huge difference when we’re running the ball," free safety Ed Reed said. "It helps the defense. It sets up everything. It sets up the passing game. You control the clock. You give yourself a chance to win."
For the season, Rice has produced 926 rushing yards. And he has caught 56 passes for 547 yards and two touchdowns.
"He’s so shifty," Birk said. "He gets into that secondary, and he’s almost got that quality where he’s juking one way and he almost fools your eyes. That’s one of his strengths as a runner is his niftiness out in space.
"That’s when he’s at his best. Hopefully, we can keep getting him through the line of scrimmage to the second and third levels."
Cornerback Lardarius Webb contributed a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game further out of striking distance.
Playing without All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the third consecutive game due to a right turf toe, the Ravens shut down running back Peyton Hillis and sacked quarterback Colt McCoy three times and intercepted him once.
And they overcame a pair of missed field goals by Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff in sloppy field conditions.
The Ravens piled up 448 yards of total offense to the Browns’ meager 223 yards.
"I think it was won up front on both sides, offensive and defensive line," Harbaugh said. "First, the defensive line, we had to stop Peyton Hillis and that running attack. I think as the game went on we got even stronger doing that.
"Obviously, the offensive line, Vonta, the two running backs, the physical nature of how we played on this kind of a field in these kinds of conditions was a difference in the game."
The Ravens also answered the question about their well-documented Achilles’ heel against supposedly inferior competition.
"It’s a humbling feeling with everything we’ve been through on the road games against teams with a losing record," Rice said. "We couldn’t take them for granted. To get this one on the road, it definitely does something for our team, for our confidence. We know we control our own destiny. Regardless of who we play, we have to take care of business."
The Ravens are now 9-3 for only the second time in franchise history, and are tied for first place in the AFC North while owning the tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers by virtue of sweeping the annual series.
They play the winless Indianapolis Colts (0-12) next week at home. The Ravens are undefeated at M&T Bank Stadium this season.
The Ravens remain tied with the Steelers, Houston Texans and the New England Patriots for the top record in the AFC as they chase home-field advantage in the playoffs.
"We got to No. 9 against a very tough divisional opponent," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We’re where we want to be. It’s a good win, a tough win, but we’re going to get over it and get ready for Indy."