OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice dashed away from defenders all season, darting into the open field with his superior elusiveness.
And the Baltimore Ravens’ stocky running back separated from the pack again Tuesday night when he was named to the AFC’s Pro Bowl squad for the first time. He’s a reserve selection.
Behind the strength of his 1,952 yards from scrimmage to rank second in the NFL behind Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson, Rice joined defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as a first-time selection. Ngata, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed and fullback Le’Ron McClain were all selected to the Pro Bowl as starters.
“This is such an honor,” Rice said in a statement.“Even though I’m going as an individual, I consider this a team award. I want to thank all my teammates and coaches who have made this possible. Growing up, I dreamed of playing in the NFL, but making the Pro Bowl is surreal.
“I’ve always played the game in hopes of earning other people’s respect, and knowing that the fans, coaches and players voted for me is humbling. I promise to represent the Ravens organization and city of Baltimore by continuing to do nothing but my best.”
Rice leads the Ravens with 1,269 rushing yards to rank sixth in the NFL, setting a franchise single-season record for most catches by a running back with 74 receptions for 683 yards. He has generated at least 100 total net yards from scrimmage in a dozen games.
Snubbed a year ago despite his 77 tackles and two interceptions, Ngata’s work was finally recognized.
The athletic 6-foot-4, 345-pounder has registered 40 tackles, 1 ½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, helping the Ravens to rank sixth against the run and first in least yards allowed per carry.
“I’ve been working so hard to be one of the best ever since I entered the NFL,” Ngata said. “This is unbelievably gratifying and a great honor. As a player in college, you just want to get to the league. If you’re fortunate enough to make it to this level, everyone then dreams of going to the Pro Bowl.
Ngata thanked his teammates and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.
“Without the other D-lineman on our team, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do,” Ngata said. “I’m thankful for guys like Kelly Gregg, who has taught me so much about technique and been a great role model. Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards have helped me grow, and they push me every day.
“Coach Brooks is somebody who makes me better and constantly demands the best out of me. None of this is possible without any of these guys, so that’s why this is a group award.”
For Lewis, making it to the Pro Bowl never gets old as he was selected for the 11th time in 14 seasons.
Although the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has faded some toward the end of the season, Lewis has been extremely productive with 152 tackles, three sacks, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for the NFL’s third-ranked defense.
“This is always an honor,” Lewis said. “I don’t take it for granted. To be recognized by your peers, the coaches and the fans is a privilege.”
The Pro Bowl is set for Jan. 31 in Miami after being held for the previous three decades in Hawaii. The balloting is split between players, coaches and fans.
Reed was tabbed for his sixth Pro Bowl despite missing the past four games with a groin injury.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has 51 tackles, three forced fumbles and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Last season, he intercepted nine passes to lead the league.
During his weekly WBAL radio program Tuesday night, Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated that Reed is expected to practice today and is going to try to play in the team’s regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.
“I think we have a great chance to see Ed in this game,” Harbaugh said. “The same would be said of Jared Gaither (foot). We’ll have to see how they do in practice this week. We’ll have a chance to get those two guys back and possibly Tavares Gooden (groin).”
This marks McClain’s second Pro Bowl selection as the AFC’s starting fullback one season removed from leading the Ravens with 902 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Ravens are averaging 130.7 rushing yards, ranking seventh in the NFL in rushing with 19 touchdown runs.
Offensive guard Ben Grubbs, despite injury problems and a rough outing against the Green Bay Packers, was named as a first alternate. He could be named to the team if there’s an injury at his position.
The Ravens’ other alternates are outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, center Matt Birk and safety/special-teams ace Tom Zbikowski.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.