Ravens, Rice run over Browns By Aaron Wilson 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."
Ravens notebook: Lardarius Webb breaks loose for a touchdown
Ray Lewis sidelined for third game in a row
CLEVELAND - Lardarius Webb has believed for weeks that he was getting close to breaking loose on a punt return.
His vision became a reality Sunday as he returned a low, short Brad Maynard punt 68 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore Ravens' 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Webb busted through an arm tackle before dashing away from the defense and doing an acrobatic tumble into the end zone to punctuate the score.
"My guys did a lot," Webb said after the first punt return for a score of his career. "All 10 guys, everybody got a guy. We've been working on it all week. Everybody get their man and we could make something happen.
"That's just how important a punt return is, how it can change the game. The guys did a great job of blocking their guys and staying with them. They did a great job of getting me in there."
Doubling as the Ravens' top cornerback, Webb hadn't scored on a return since running back a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown as a rookie.
"Huge, impressive, that keeps showing me how committed he is and how much love he has for the game," free safety Ed Reed said. "The guy is a player. I knew that coming in. He's really been standing out. He changed a lot of things in the offseason. I'm real happy it's paying off for him."
Webb entered the game averaging only 7.2 yards per punt return with a long return of 29 yards.
Now, he finally got the big play he's been chasing.
"I just knew that this punt return team, it wasn't doing what we usually do and how we play," Webb said. "We need that phase of the game because everything is not always going to go right. If we have a punt returner that could go the distance, we have to use it in the game. We just showed what we can do.
CUNDIFF MISSES TWICE: Usually reliable from short distances, Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff pushed two field goals wide right while dealing with sloppy field conditions.
He missed from 34 and 41 yards.
The 34-yarder is the lone field goal Cundiff has missed from under 40 yards this season. It's his shortest miss since an errant 30-yard against the Chicago Bears two seasons ago.
"There's some things technique wise that I already know what happened," Cundiff said. "I just have to continue to practice and get better. I know I can kick. The kicks that I missed weren't impossible kicks. The frustration is more from letting the opportunity slide.
"Mentally, I felt like it was there if I got another chance I would take advantage of it and I would connect. I was really disappointed about the ones I missed."
Cundiff has converted on 26 of 34 field goals this season.
After the misses, he made a 21-yarder in the second quarter.
Cundiff acknowledged that the wet field was an issue.
"It's pretty bad, it's raining all day," Cundiff said. "If you look at the way Matt Stover kicked early in his career, he morphed into the type of kicker he became in Baltimore because of the conditions he had to deal with in Cleveland. I kick a certain way and I'm going to have to do the opposite and figure out what it takes to be successful.
"The good thing is we won. It's nice to know if one side of the team is lacking the rest of the team can pick me up. There might be other games where we might have to carry the team."
A former special-teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Cundiff was dealing with a tough set of circumstances.
"It was the worst possible situation," Harbaugh said. "We would have liked to gotten him in a little better situation there, maybe on the left hash. What you had was really bad footing. You had a cross wind coming from that corner, the Dawg Pound. We knew we weren't going to be able to go really deep because of the crosswind coming from that corner.
"So, we had him on opposite hash with the wind coming from that corner and bad footing. The other one that we got him close, he almost took it to the left because he overcompensated with the wind to the right. That was how much trouble he was having keeping his plant foot down to get the ball where he wanted to."
R. LEWIS OUT AGAIN:
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was sidelined for his third consecutive game due to a right turf toe injury.
Dannell Ellerbe filled the void at middle linebacker, tying inside linebacker Jameel McClain with seven tackles to lead the defense.
Ellerbe contributed heavily to the Ravens limiting Browns star running back Peyton Hillis to 45 yards on 12 carries.
"Yeah, I feel like I played pretty well," Ellerbe said. "After the first half, they didn't really come at me. It's always great to fill in for a great like Ray Lewis. The coaches had trust in me."
Ellerbe also emerged unscathed in terms of injuries, not aggravating hamstring and groin problems that sidelined him against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I felt great out there," he said. "No pulls out there, no pain, glad to make it out healthy."
The Browns only rushed for 59 yards as the linebackers reacted quickly to shut down runs.
"Hillis had some good runs early in the game," Ellerbe said. "We settled down and stopped him."
Ellerbe diagnosed a screen pass to running back Chris Ogbonnaya, running past blockers to make the tackle to prevent a potentially long gain.
"I was just playing my position and doing my part," he said. "I saw it on the film and that's what we do on defense. You've got to go for it."
Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith made his first NFL start, lining up at left cornerback.
The first-round draft pick intercepted his second pass of the season in the second quarter, reading a Colt McCoy pass meant for wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi for a 32-yard return down to the Browns' 15-yard line.
"It was a deep out," Smith said. "I knew it was coming and I jumped it."
Smith also allowed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Evan Moore as he and Webb bit on a fake.
"It was a miscommunication," Smith said. "It was a mental error on our part. It's something we can easily clean up and fix."
Webb had a similar take on the breakdown.
"I really don't remember what exactly happened," Webb said. "We didn't communicate. Me and Jimmy, he's young and he's growing up. If we're on the same side, we have to communicate with each other because he's still learning this game.
"It's all about communicating. He got it right, I got it right. We'll get better next week."
The first-round draft pick was in the game at the start of the first quarter along with cornerbacks Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb since the Browns lined up with three wide receivers.
Webb shifted inside to play the nickel and Smith and Williams lined up against the outside receivers.
"It felt good to be out there," Smith said. "I just want to help the team any way I can."
NFL DEBUT: Rookie backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor made his NFL regular-season debut, taking his first snap during the second quarter as the Ravens ran a variation of the old Troy Smith package.
Taylor lined up in the shotgun formation and ran for two yards to the right as quarterback Joe Flacco shifted out to wide receiver.
Running back Ray Rice scored a six-yard touchdown on the next play.
This marked the first time since Smith played against the Bears two years ago that anyone besides Flacco had taken a snap at quarterback.
MILESTONE: Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught the 700th pass of his career during the third quarter.
Reaching the mark in 123 games, he's the third-fastest player in NFL history to do so.
INJURY REPORT: Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk left the game briefly with a right shoulder sprain, but returned after one series where Andre Gurode stood in for him.
"It will be all right," said Birk, who went to the locker room to have his shoulder examined. " Luckily, I don't have too many muscles. It's not that serious."
The Ravens reported no other new injuries.
QUICK HITS: Besides Lewis, the Ravens deactivated rookie wide receivers LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss, cornerbacks Chris Carr (back) and Chykie Brown, rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) and linebacker Sergio Kindle. ... The Browns deactivated quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, safety T.J. Ward, former Ravens offensive lineman Oniel Cousins and offensive lineman Steve Vallos, tight end Jordan Cameron, linebacker Quinton Spears and defensive lineman Auston English. The Browns started Usama Young in place of Ward. ... Harbaugh is awarding a game ball to WBAL radio personality Ron Smith. Smith retired last week and is dealing with pancreatic cancer. Smith spoke to the team on Friday.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter, returning for the ensuing series.
Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked McCoy twice and now has six sacks for the season. "I think I played pretty good," said McPhee, a fifth-round draft pick. "I had a couple good rushes. They kept drawing up a blocking scheme and we got a little pressure. Things are going very good, but I really want to get to double digits and win a championship."
Baltimore Ravens' Report Card
Joe Flacco was only asked to manage the game on a dreary day where passing was difficult and he wasn't asked to do much. He completed only 10 of 23 passes for 158 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a mediocre 66.9 passer rating. His worst mistake was a lost fumble, his 11th of the year and the sixth he's lost. For what Flacco was needed to do Sunday, he did fine.
Running back: A
Ray Rice had an electrifying 67-yard run, the longest of his career during the regular season. He gained a career-high 204 yards and scored one touchdown on 29 carries. It's the fourth-most yards rushing yards by a running back in a single game in franchise history. He dominated the Browns at every turn. All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach delivered some devastating lead blocks. Ricky Williams contributed 76 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Offensive line: A
They opened up gaping holes for the backs to roam through. And Joe Flacco was only sacked once and hit twice. They were physical at the line of scrimmage and pushed around big defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor. In particular, right offensive guard Marshal Yanda was effective on pulling plays. The offensive line was dominant.
Their downfield blocking, particularly wide receiver Anquan Boldin, was their most impressive feat. Tight end Ed Dickson was the leading receiver with three receptions for 47 yards. The game plan was intended to run the football, and that's what the Ravens did for the most part. There were some dropped passes and generally they were out of sync with Joe Flacco.
Defensive line: B-plus
Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked Colt McCoy twice and now has six sacks for the season. All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata deflected two passes, dropping into a passing lane to disrupt a swing pass. Cory Redding was active at the line of scrimmage.
Starting at middle linebacker with Ray Lewis sidelined for the third consecutive game, Dannell Ellerbe recorded a team-high seven tackles. The Ravens contained rugged running back Peyton Hillis. He wasn't much of a factor after a decent first quarter, rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs recorded his 10th sack of the year. Jameel McClain tied Ellerbe with seven tackles.
They had a mental bust between rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb that led to a touchdown pass. Colt McCoy completed 17 of 35 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown. However, Smith picked him off once for his second interception of the year. They limited him to a 63.0 quarterback rating. However, they should have had an even easier time against the struggling young passer. Webb is having a stellar season. Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams had four tackles apiece.
Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff misfired on two field goals, flubbing kicks wide right from 34 and 41 yards. He came back to hit a 21-yarder at the first half. Footing seemed to be an issue with Cundiff in terms of his plant leg on a soggy field. Lardarius Webb ran back a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, the first of his career. Sam Koch averaged only 36 yards on three punts. The Ravens contained Browns star return specialist Joshua Cribbs. He averaged 23.8 yards on four kickoff returns and had one punt return for nine yards.
Ravens overrun Browns in 24-10 victory
CLEVELAND -- For the seventh consecutive time, the Baltimore Ravens handled their business Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Manufacturing a convincing 24-10 victory over the last-place Browns, the Ravens improved to 9-3 and remain in first place in the AFC North and are tied with the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Texans for the top record in the AFC. Here's how they did so:
The Ravens set a franchise single-game record with 55 rushes and gained the third-most yards in a single game in team history with 290 yards. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice ran roughshod over the Browns' 29th-ranked run defense, rushing for a career-high 204 yards on 29 carries. He set a regular-season personal record for his longest run ever with a 67-yard dash that set up a Ricky Williams touchdown run in the third quarter. The Ravens only had Joe Flacco attempt 23 passes, relying on the running game to wear the Browns out.
Although Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff missed two field goals in sloppy field conditions, the special teams contributed to the win. Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game further out of reach.
Playing without All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the third consecutive game due to a right turf toe injury, the Ravens stonewalled bullish running back Peyton Hillis. He rushed for only 45 yards on 12 carries with a long run of nine yards. With the exception of a miscommunication in the secondary that led to a Colt McCoy touchdown pass to Evan Moore, the defense contained the young quarterback. He passed for 192 yards, completing 17 of 35 throws and was intercepted once by rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith.
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