Man in the Middle

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice speaks to reporters after leading his team to an improbable win against the San Diego Chargers. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman

San Diego-Big time players come up big when the lights are shining their brightest. Instead of running away from the spotlight, they run to it. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. As the San Diego Chargers can attest, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is one tough hombre to bring down. Hitting Rice and hoping he’ll fall down after the initial contact is like wishing on a star.

Knocking down Rice is akin to trying to put boxing icon Muhammad Ali on his back for the count. Good luck with that one. Watching Rice bounce off defenders is like watching a bowling pin take a licking and keep on ticking. But this isn’t unusual for Rice, who has had a knack of delivering the big play for the Ravens time and time again in a very solid pro career.

And once again, Rice delivered a dagger on an opponent left in his wake. This time around, Rice brought the pain and his punishing running style to the Chargers. That was no more evident on Baltimore’s last possession of the game with a shade under two minutes left in the contest. The Chargers had to be feeling good about themselves at that time and place.

That feel-good vibe wouldn’t last too long for the Bolts.

The Ravens were staring down at a fourth-and-29, and looking very much like a team that was going down to its third defeat of the season. The Chargers were one play away from keeping its postseason hopes alive. Rice then decided to change the script of the outcome of the game. Rice is listed at 5-foot-8 and 212 pounds. In reality, Rice is much closer to 5-foot-6 and about 190 pounds.

But after watching Rice barrel through the San Diego Chargers defense for 29 ½ yards on a fourth-and-29 pass and run play that successfully positioned the Ravens to tie the ballgame at the end of regulation before eventually going on to win the AFC matchup at Qualcomm Stadium, Rice appeared to stand as tall as Superman.

Without a doubt, Rice’s magnetic reception and run has to be the signature play of the 2012 NFL season. Unfortunately, that play came at the expense of the Chargers, who are now teetering on the brink of playoff elimination.  Since coming into the league in 2008, Rice has rushed for over 1,000 yards three times, and is on pace to reach that milestone this season. However, numbers don’t always tell the story about a player’s productivity.

The bulk of Rice’s yardage comes from after being hit by two or three defenders. The Chargers, no doubt, were of this as they kept Rice and the Ravens’ offense from running rampant for most of the afternoon, holding Baltimore to just 10 points until that last series. Rice rushed for 97 yards on 22 carries in Baltimore’s 16-13 overtime win. He also added another 67 yards in pass receptions on eight catches-none bigger than his 29 ½ yards miracle.

Rice played up his game-changing play by offering a not-so-difficult analysis it with a one-liner.

“Checkdown. Hey, diddle, diddle, Ray Rice up the middle,” Rice quipped. “On that play, it was just total will. Once I made the first guy miss, when I cut back across the grain, I actually seen the defense had to flip their hips, then I kept eyeing the first down…I just kept getting up field. I left it in the hands of the officials. I’m not going to say they owed us one, but I’m glad we came out on top.”

 

Ray Rice doing his thing. Photo Credit: J. Gaede

 

 

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