Sun., Dec. 13: Rice, Ravens Set Records In 48-3 Blowout
TEAM DRAWS CLOSER TO PLAYOFF BERTH WITH RECORD WIN
By Joe Platania
Sunday, December 13, 2009
At times, the 2009 Ravens haven't looked hungry.
Spoiled by previous trips to the postseason buffet, Baltimore has seemingly waddled back to its seat thinking that its plate was already full.
That's been the problem through most of this team's history. Even though it has been blessed with several playoff appearances, it has advanced to the postseason in back-to-back seasons only once, in 2000 and 2001.
Fat and happy has been the Ravens' unintentional-but-inevitable m.o. in post-playoff years.
But on Sunday afternoon, it was a leaner, meaner version of the Ravens that devoured the visiting Detroit Lions, 48-3, before an announced crowd of 70,673 at rain-soaked M&T Bank Stadium that numbered barely a third of that figure by game's end.
It was the kind of performance the Ravens (7-6) needed in their December stretch run, which features four straight games against teams with losing records. They have won eight of their last nine games when favored by a touchdown or more.
The win also drew Baltimore to within a half-game of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
The Ravens and Jaguars, who lost to the Miami Dolphins Sunday, both have 7-6 records, but the Jags' 6-3 conference record -- the first tiebreaker -- is a half-game better than the Ravens' 6-4.
Jacksonville plays the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night. If they lose that game and the Ravens go on to beat the Chicago Bears in next Sunday's home game, Baltimore will have one of the two wild-card berths with two games remaining.
But not only did the Jags lose, fifth-seeded Denver fell to Indianapolis and AFC North-leading Cincinnati also lost to Minnesota, giving the Ravens a slim-but-still-there chance to catch the Bengals, leaders by two games with three weeks to go.
"We started looking at the scoreboard," linebacker Terrell Suggs admitted. "We said, 'OK, who's doing what? Who's winning what?'"
Head coach John Harbaugh naturally focused on his own team's effort.
"It really was a team victory," the coach said. "All three phases stepped up. It was really the first time all year we put it together in that kind of fashion.
"We executed, that's the bottom line. Throws were made, catches were made, we broke tackles. That's what makes a game plan look good."
The Ravens tied a pair of team records with the 48 points and the 45-point margin of victory. Both were accomplished against Green Bay in a Monday-night home game in December, 2005, when the Ravens donned black jerseys and won by the same score, 48-3.
Baltimore also posted a team-record 548 total net yards -- breaking the 501-yard standard set in this year's opener against Kansas City -- ran for 308 yards, second-most in team history, and had five rushing scores, a new team mark.
RICE FRIES LIONS
As for the Lions, making their first trip to Baltimore since Barry Sanders' final career game in 1998, they had to feel like five plates of rice had been shoved down their collective throats.
Actually, it was running back Ray Rice who supplied an anxiety release for Ravens fans and a bad case of indigestion for a Lions' run defense that had shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, but missed approximately 20 tackles on this day.
Rice earned a comparison to Sanders after the game.
"(Sanders) had that type of ability," Ray Lewis said. "Those guys are built to where all the power is in their legs. All of the plays, he's so low to the ground.
"(Rice) really reminds you of Barry Sanders."
Despite their 2-11 record, the woeful Lions -- now holders of a sickening 19-game road losing streak, just five short of their own record set earlier this decade -- had held Green Bay's Ryan Grant, Cleveland's Jamal Lewis and Cincinnati's Cedric Benson to just over three yards per carry.
But they were no match for Rice, last year's second-round pick who continues to establish himself as one of the true multiple threats in the entire league.
"It wasn't a surprise they were giving him the ball," a disappointed Baltimore native and Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz said of Rice. "We did a poor job of handling him.
"I thought that in preparation... everyone was ready to play. I was way off-mark there. (This performance) is not us, it's not going to be us and there is going to be some accountability for us."
With 166 yards on 13 carries (one TD) and 53 yards on four receptions, Rice passed Lewis for the third-best combined-yardage total in Ravens history and landed a few other benchmarks as well (see "Rice Cooks; Lions Burned," below).
For one thing, Rice now has 1041 yards, his first-ever thousand-yard season. He also now has ten games with at least 100 combined yards from scrimmage.
Rice's 204 yards at halftime were the second-most in team history and his single-game combined total of 219 yards bested his career high, set with a 194-yard effort at Minnesota earlier this year.
"I'm always trying to make a play," Rice said through his megawatt smile. "All the stuff you see (on Sunday), it happens all week during practice.
"I'll be able to cherish this moment. It's definitely special."
All that damage enabled quarterback Joe Flacco (13-for-20, 230 yards, TD, 120.8 rating) to have a coolly efficient game with lots of play-action fakes and plenty of time to throw the ball.
Backup Troy Smith (2-for-3, ten yards, 71.5 rating) entered the game in the fourth quarter, his third contest of the year, for his first action in approximately two months. His 15-yard touchdown run completed the scoring.
But Harbaugh had more to say about Rice.
"He probably does the same things here that he did (at Rutgers)," the coach said. "It speaks to what kind of player he is. And he's a better person than he is a player."
"Nobody works harder."
But early in the third quarter, Rice's work was done. Flacco was then free to implement other offensive weapons that have gone largely unused this season.
On the team's initial second-half possession, a play-action fake resulted in Demetrius Williams' third catch of the year, a leaping grab at the Lions' 3.
From there, fullback Le'Ron McClain (32 yards, six carries, TD) -- for whom fans have been screaming to get the ball in the red zone -- plowed over for a touchdown that extended an already-gaudy advantage to 27-3, thanks to an 11-play, 74-yard drive that knocked over six minutes off the game clock.
Later, Flacco used the play-action freedom a big lead gave him by finding tight end Todd Heap for 31 yards to the Lions' 12.
From the eight-yard line, Willis McGahee (76 yards, 12 carries, two TDs) followed McClain and plowed over the right side for another touchdown that stretched the lead, and the Ravens' fat and happy waistlines, even further.
McGahee's 11th score -- two short of his 2004 single-season career high -- came with less than a minute left in the third quarter on a 19-yard scamper that featured a left-side probe and right-side cutback.
But nobody saw this kind of onslaught coming, especially after the Ravens got off to what looked like another slow start.
COMEDY OF ERRORS
At first, it looked as if the wide variety of mistakes the Ravens and Green Bay Packers made in last Monday night's penalty-filled fiasco would be repeated.
Both teams felt frustrated from the kinds of things that have plagued them all year. For the Ravens, it was untimely turnovers and penalties; for the Lions, another missed scoring opportunity.
At first, Baltimore moved the ball well behind a makeshift offensive line that featured the absence of left tackle Jared Gaither (foot) and the insertion of Oniel Cousins for the first time all season. With Cousins at right tackle, Michael Oher was back on the left side for the third time this season.
One of the NFL's best double-threats from the line of scrimmage, running back Ray Rice, got behind an Oher-Ben Grubbs crossblock and ran through a left-side hole for 52 yards to the Lions' 14.
Three plays later, Rice found room to the same side, but was stripped of the ball by ex-Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote, the team's leading tackler who moved to Detroit so he could play in his hometown. He is the only Lions defender to have started every game this year.
The ball went through the end zone for a touchback, the Ravens' sixth red-zone turnover of the season, third-most in the league.
Not only that, Rice -- who has a chance at the league's third-ever thousand-yard double this year (1000 yards rushing and receiving, following Roger Craig in 1985 and Marshall Faulk in 1999) -- hasn't had a rushing touchdown in three games, the longest drought of his short career.
Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper, starting for the injured Matthew Stafford, has been in the league since 1999 but had never faced the Ravens before Sunday.
The good news for Culpepper (16-for-34, 135 yards, two INT, sack, 33.3 rating) is that he did not have to face safety Ed Reed, who missed a second straight game with multiple injuries. The bad news was that Suggs was back after a three-game absence due to a knee ligament sprain suffered in the win at Cleveland.
Suggs could be seen visibly limping during the game, but Culpepper -- the sixth straight backup quarterback to lose to the Ravens, who have won eight of their last ten in those situations -- still couldn't find lanky wideout Calvin Johnson (37 yards, four catches) on two early throws; the Ravens had him well double-covered.
On one pass, the ball was underthrown so badly that safety Dawan Landry intercepted the ball to stop the Lions' first drive. However, defensive end Trevor Pryce was called for roughing the passer, a dubious call at best since it appeared that legitimate contact was made with the veteran quarterback.
Running back Kevin Smith then was able to key a Lions' drive that ended when a Jason Hanson field-goal try was wide-right from 45 yards away.
However, it was smart for the Lions to get Smith involved, for he has not had 20 carries in any game since early October.
Even though Rice may be younger, he already has a higher profile than Smith. As in the first drive, he found space along the left side and worked off a McClain block for 19 yards to the Lions' 46.
Two plays later, McClain burst up the middle for 20 yards of his own to the 18, and it appeared the Ravens were in business.
But right guard Marshal Yanda was called for holding and Ric dropped a short slant pass when it looked like he would have room to run.
On third-and-19, a short checkdown toss to Rice landed far short of the first down and Billy Cundiff's 38-yard field goal gave the Ravens a slight edge in an attrition-filled first quarter.
Smith and Culpepper obviously have a rapport, what with both being products of Central Florida University. But in reality, Smith was Culpepper's only option early in the game.
Smith weaved through the middle of the Ravens' defense for 57 first-quarter yards, including a 19-yard gain to midfield to end the first quarter after Cundiff's field goal. He had gained 4.7 yards per carry against Cincinnati's third-ranked run defense, so the Ravens' sixth-ranked unit proved to be no problem.
Even before Smith (69 yards, 21 carries; 19 yards, two catches) was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with what looked to be a serious left knee injury, Culpepper needed something besides his own arm to win. He had never won a start fot the Lions in seven games, nor had he ever lost to Detroit in nine games while with the Minnesota Vikings.
But the Ravens failed to get much pressure on him until a fumbled early-second-quarter snap forced a six-yard loss and a Lions punt.
Then, both teams got snakebit on the same play.
On a second-and-3 from the Ravens' 38, Flacco tried one of his favorite plays, a slant to Derrick Mason, a Detroit native who attended Michigan State.
Mason was covered rather well by cornerback Phillip Buchanon, but gathered in the pass anyway. Safety Marvin White slammed into Mason's chest, knocking the wind out of him.
The problem was, White's hit was so hard that both he and Buchanon fell away from Mason, and the oldest Raven on the roster had enough left to run the rest of the way untouched to complete the 62-yard touchdown to extend Baltimore's lead to 10-0.
With the points and the less-than-serious nature of Mason's injury, the Ravens definitely came out on the long end of that play. But without Ed Reed at free safety for a second straight week, the Lions could go long themselves.
Johnson and ex-Cleveland Brown wideout Dennis Northcutt (39 yards, three catches) caught stretch passes over the middle totalling 34 yards to the Ravens' 34. After the bulky Culpepper plowed over linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for a first down at the 23 and Smith was stopped for a five-yard loss, Northcutt caught a 19-yard pass over the middle at the Ravens' 9.
However, a tripping call stalled the drive and Hanson's 22-yard field goal -- despite a bobbled snap -- got the Lions on the board for the first time with 4:32 to go before halftime.
Rice then applied an early coup de grace by racing to the left side behind Oher, sliding off Sammie Hill's missed tackle and racing 59 yards for a touchdown that stretched the lead to two scores and Rice's game total to 133 yards before halftime, more than any Raven had gained in a game all year.
At that point, tt also gave Rice a season total of 1008, making him the eighth Raven in team history to rush for over a thousand yards.
With all of Rice's production, it didn't seem to bother the soaked fans that wideout Mark Clayton's hamstring kept him out of action and that Kelley Washington got the start. It was Clayton's first missed game since October, 2005; a streak of 69 contests was snapped.
Culpepper finally saw his patience snap on the next series when a deep middle pass was picked off by Chris Carr and returned to midfield. It was time for Rice again.
He went around right end for 15 yards, then took a swing pass and rumbled for 30 more to the Lions' five-yard line.
The Lions defended a short goal-line pass to Rice, but it didn't stop Cundiff from adding three more points on a 25-yard field goal that gave the Ravens a 20-3 halftime cushion despite the Lions' 2-to-1 time-of-possession edge.
It was a pleasant change of pace for the Ravens, who have been outscored in the first half by an 82-29 margin in their six losses.
But for one day, the Ravens' hunger was already more than satisfied.
And there are three square meals left on the schedule... with the playoff buffet still being set.
NOTES: Next week, the Chicago Bears' visit to Baltimore completes a stretch of three games against NFC opposition. The Ravens faced the same kind of scheduling quirk late in the 1998 season, the first in what is now M&T Bank Stadium. Minnesota and Detroit were the last two home opponents, surrounding a road date at Chicago. The Ravens were 1-2 in that span...
Before Sunday, the Ravens and Baltimore Colts were 17-17-2 against the Lions' franchise, including the Ravens' 1-1 lifetime mark against Detroit. The Ravens were tied in their all-time series with the Lions, St. Louis, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Tennessee. In 2009, the Ravens have already broken lifetime ties in their favor against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos...
The Ravens' win was their 90th of the decade, fifth-best among AFC teams and seventh in the league. Indianapolis led with 113 going into Sunday... Fullback Charles Ali was waived over the weekend to make room for 2008 draft pick and wideout Justin Harper, who was promoted from the practice squad... Little-used Demetrius Williams caught two passes for 45 yards...
When Ray Lewis tackled Lions tight end Will Heller after a ten-yard catch on the game's first play, it officially marked his 100th tackle of the year, the 12th time in his career Lewis has reached that milestone... The Ravens are now 15-5-1 in games shown on the Fox network, having won nine of their last ten non-prime-time home games with an NFC visitor...
The crowd represented the 114th consecutive Ravens sellout, covering every home game in team history... The Ravens have now played 123 games without a shutout loss. They have scored points in 219 of 221 regular-season contests and haven't been blanked at home since the 2002 opener. Including postseason, Baltimore has scored in 230 of 232 of their games...
The Ravens wore their purple jerseys. The Lions wore their customary road white jerseys... The Lions won the toss and received... After Sunday's early games, the AFC still leads the NFC, 30-23... Backup safety Tom Zbikowski broke up three passes and Dwan Edwards had five tackles and two quarterback hits. Lardarius Webb had seven tackles and two breakups...
Linebacker Jarret Johnson's consecutive-games streak reached 94, long snapper Matt Katula has a streak of 77 in a row and Mason marked 119 straight, the last 77 of them with the Ravens. The team's career sack leader, Peter Boulware (1997-2005), has the team-record consecutive games streak at 111, but Mark Clayton's streak of 69 straight ended on Sunday...
Mason (94 yards, five catches) needs one game to reach the 200 total games-played barrier. Among receivers, his 119-game streak is second to the Colts' Reggie Wayne (131). His 4788 receiving yards are slightly ahead of Heap's 4760; Heap had 38 yards on two catches Sunday... Mason needs one more catch for 850 grabs; he would be the 16th to reach that plateau...
All season long, Ravens programs, parking passes and other paraphernalia are marked with a different Ravens photo and slogan for each home game, culled from the ten slogans that appear on the cover of the team's media guide. For the Lions game on Sunday, the slogan of the day was "Finish" and safety Ed Reed, who missed his second straight game, was in the photo...
Quarterback John Beck was deactivated for his 30th straight game, including one playoff contest last year. Besides Beck, Gaither, Clayton and Reed, the other inactive players were tight end LJ Smith (knee), guard/center David Hale (head) and defensive linemen Brandon McKinney and Kelly Talavou. For the first time all season, tackle Oniel Cousins was active...
The Lions sat down Stafford as the emergency quarterback. Ex-Maryland center Melvin Fowler also didn't dress; the same was true for defensive linemen Andre Fluellen and Dewayne White, tackle Corey Hilliard, running back Jerome Felton, tight end Casey FitzSimmons and defensive back Jahi Word-Daniels... Ex-Maryland tight end Dan Gronkowski started...
Tackle Jeff Backus made his 141st straight start, the most among active NFL offensive linemen and tied for the fifth most among all active players. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre leads the latter category with 282 straight starts... The Lions had allowed 41 plays of 20 or more yards before Sunday. Against the Ravens, they allowed eight more, while Baltimore yielded none...
Lions kicker Jason Hanson is the fifth player in league history to play at least one game for 18 seasons with the team that originally drafted them. Sunday was Hanson's franchise-record 284th game and his 1809 career points are seventh on the all-time scoring list... Since 2001, the Lions have blocked a league-high 23 total kicks, including an NFL-best 16 field goals...
Besides Gronkowski, the Lions' roster is littered with players with local ties, including Fowler, ex-City wideout Bryant Johnson and Owings Mills native Eric King, a cornerback now on injured reserve, as is ex-Raven tackle Damion Cook. Running back and 2008 draft pick Cedric Peerman is on the practice squad; tight end Jake Nordin was promoted to the active roster...
According to the seating chart, the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears were the only teams to send scouts to watch the Lions play the Ravens. The Bears not only travel to Baltimore next week, they are also the opponent for the Lions' season-ending game. The Cards and Lions meet next week... Chris Myers filled in for Sam Rosen (leg infection) in the Fox booth...
The officiating crew was led by rookie referee Don Carey, working his first-ever Ravens game. His brother, Mike Carey, was the first African-American referee to work a Super Bowl when he called the New York Giants' upset over New England in Super Bowl XLII. Mike Carey was also the man in the middle of the Ravens' 21-penalty game in Detroit four years ago...
The Ravens' 13th annual High School Coach of the Year award was presented on the field, and the winner was Linganore head coach Rick Conner... A UH-60 Blackhawk flyover preceded the game... The Punt, Pass and Kick contest was held; the winners will be listed in Monday's "Ravens Report"... The gametime temperature was 36 degrees with rainy, damp conditions.