The forgotten “Ray” on the Baltimore Ravens quickly ceded the podium to quarterback Joe Flacco during a news conference Wednesday.
Running back Ray Rice has been deferential when it comes to the spotlight as the imminent retirement of the face of the franchise, Ray Lewis, receives much of the media’s glare leading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
Rice is just as accommodating on the field.
“Stats and all that other good stuff, we put that off to the side,” Rice said at the Ravens’ training facility. “One thing about our group is that we’re very unselfish. Very unselfish. It doesn’t matter who gets the job done.”
That’s not something always heard from a franchise running back, especially one who signed a five-year, $40 million contract last offseason. Rice saw fewer carries (and receptions) during the regular season than a year ago. The fewer touches are linked to an offense that struggled during stretches — leading to the late-season firing of coordinator Cam Cameron — and the emergence of rookie Bernard Pierce as another option in the backfield.
Rice still managed to rush for 1,143 yards in the regular season and was a Pro Bowl for the third time. He can be just as explosive when called upon. (He rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries Saturday in a double-overtime victory at Denver.)
“He’s still making plays,” Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones said. “That’s all I can see.”
In the final two regular-season games and against Indianapolis and Denver in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Ravens have averaged 450.8 yards of total offense — nearly 100 yards better than Baltimore’s regular-season average. The Ravens’ 459-yard average in the playoffs ranks second to only the San Francisco 49ers.
The difference could be in Jim Caldwell’s stewardship as offensive coordinator, although Rice said there was something else to their recent success.
“We as players decided that we had to execute at a high level,” Rice said. “It’s our responsibility. One thing Coach Caldwell has done is that he let us go out there with a game plan. Regardless of the situation, we stick to it.”
And a more cohesive offensive line that gives Flacco time to find deep threats such as Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jones as well as opens holds for Rice and Pierce doesn’t hurt.
“That’s where it starts,” Flacco said. “Those guys are playing well, and we’re playing well as an offense. Those guys have really stepped up.”
The Ravens are 6-0 in franchise history when they have a rusher reach the 100-yard mark in the playoffs. (Rice accounts for two of those.) Rice was held to 67 yards in last season’s AFC title game against the Pats, a game the Ravens dropped 23-20.
It’s pretty clear that while reaching the century mark in the past has assured a playoff victory, Rice cares little how a win and the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth is attained.
“We have been through a lot of adversity this year,” Rice said. “To overcome the things we had to overcome, to be counted out and then to be back in the AFC Championship Game — you don’t get here by accident. We believe in each other. We go out there and play for each other.”