Rice is cooking with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard squared his shoulders, setting his cleats as he tried to react to Baltimore Ravens rookie running back Ray Rice's rare quickness and moves in the open field. Howard wound up losing this one-on-one encounter badly, stumbling to the ground as he tried in vain to match Rice's shiftiness.

All he could do was watch from the turf as Rice burst upfield for yet another first down.

It was a multi-dimensional display for the former Rutgers star in the Ravens' 29-10 victory Sunday as he averaged eight yards per rush on eight carries, caught a team-high three passes for 37 yards and returned two kickoffs for 54 yards.

"How many plays did Ray make where he made a guy miss or ran by somebody or ran through an arm tackle and got us a big third-down conversion on long yardage?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I mean, that's just invaluable. That's what good backs do. They leave, Woody Hayes used to say, ‘a trail of pearls.' Guys who've missed tackles. That's what you look for in a good back."

If that's the standard, then Rice is beginning to qualify. After a strong preseason and a few games where he was more of a bystander after losing a fumble against the Cleveland Browns, Rice emerged as a key figure in a wide-open offense Sunday.

He converted third downs with a nine-yard run and a 21-yard reception, with a touchdown catch nullified due to a penalty. And he had a 19-yard run on a crisp option play where he combined with backup quarterback Troy Smith.

"Ray Rice is an incredible back," Smith said. "When you get a running back like him, you just have to give him touches and watch him grow."

During a second-quarter drive capped by a Matt Stover field goal, Rice picked up four first downs with runs of eight yards, 19 yards and 12 yards and a 14-yard reception.

Built low to the ground at 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, Rice is difficult for defenders to locate, let alone tackle.

"He's an ascending player, a growing player," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "I think he took his biggest step the previous week in practice. He learned from missing some cuts in the game. This week, he had his best week in practice and it showed up."

The second-round draft pick averaged 11.9 yards per touch as a runner, receiver and kick returner.

"I felt like a football player," Rice said. "We just continue to expand and grow. Whatever I can do to help our team, I'm ready to embrace that role."

At Rutgers, Rice finished as the Scarlet Knights' all-time leading rusher with 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns.

Now, he is beginning to make an impact in the NFL. For the season, he has rushed for 185 yards and caught 15 passes for 166 yards. He ranks second on the team behind wide receiver Derrick Mason in receptions.

"The new thing for me is catching it," Rice said. "The running feels good because you work on it all week in practice. The catching is something I've always wanted to do and show guys I could do.

"I was a runner in college, but whatever I can do now to help my team, that's what I'm trying to do. It just feels good, especially when you're winning."

NOTE: The Ravens raised more than $100,000 for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake at their annual Halloween party Monday night as quarterback Joe Flacco dressed up as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. The best costume for a player was awarded to rookie offensive guard David Hale, who went as Dog The Bounty Hunter. Wide receiver Mark Clayton was an alien, and tight end Todd Heap was G.I. Joe.

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