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Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

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Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It's the time of year when Ray Rice usually begins to feel the effects of being the Baltimore Ravens' go-to guy on offense.

This season, however, has been different. Rice had a combined 318 carries and catches over the 16-game schedule, the lowest total since his rookie year in 2008.

Part of the reason is that the Ravens (11-6) relied heavily on quarterback Joe Flacco, who set a career high in yards passing. In addition, rookie Bernard Pierce logged 108 carries as Rice's backup.

Rice isn't complaining, because he's neither tired or bruised as the Ravens prepare for their 18th game of the season, on Saturday in Denver against the top-seeded Broncos (13-3).

``I'm fresh in the playoffs. I'm healthy,'' the 5-foot-8 Rice said. ``This is the best I've ever felt, but obviously, that's because I've had a guy come in, and when he gets in there, and we don't lose a step.''

Pierce will get his share of carries against the Broncos, but the Ravens will be counting heavily on Rice to help establish ball control and, in the process, keep Denver quarterback Peyton Manning off the field.

``He's a great back and can obviously turn a little play into a 50-yard gain,'' Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda said. ``It's exciting to block for guys like that. You want guys like that on your team - playmakers. He's been doing that for us for five years. We know what he's about and how important he is to our offense.''

Rice had his fourth straight 1,000-yard rushing season and earned his third invitation to the Pro Bowl. His numbers during the regular season are usually impressive, but in the playoffs he's topped the 70-yard mark on the ground only once - a 159-yard effort against New England in January 2010.

``Obviously, I want to be a guy that's remembered by his playoff play,'' Rice said. ``It's time to step it up another level.''

Sometimes, though, his presence in the backfield is all it takes to help Baltimore win.

``There might be times where in the pass game I took out two defenders so one guy can get open,'' Rice said. ``There are times where there's a fake where Joe Flacco can fake it to me, and there's an over route coming across the middle. If it's being a decoy, that's sometimes what you have to be. I like having the target on my back.''

That bulls-eye is being shared by Pierce, who ran for 103 yards last week in Baltimore's 24-9 win over Indianapolis. Although Rice should get the majority of the carries Saturday, Pierce will see playing time, too.

``The fact that the altitude is probably going to be a factor as far as guys who are carrying the ball getting gassed, those two guys are going to take care of each other,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``That's something we've been building on.''

But Rice remains the focal part of the offense.

``Ray Rice is extremely important to this team,'' guard Kelechi Osemele said. ``If you don't have a running game you won't have a passing game. Guys will just pin their ears back and rush. Ray is also a great blocker and can slip out of the backfield and make some plays in open space, too. You can't really replace a player like that.''

During the regular season Rice fumbled only one time, and Baltimore recovered the loose ball. Against the Colts, he lost two fumbles. He accepted blame for the miscues, but vows it won't happen again. Ever.

``As a runner, there's a certain time where you have to be smart, and going to the playoffs, I have to be smart,'' he said. ``As a runner, you learn from it. It's not something that I'm used to doing, obviously. I'm used to scoring touchdowns and making plays. I will continue to try to make plays, but I'll be smarter.''

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Watch the moment Lamar Jackson told John Harbaugh to go for it on fourth down

Watch the moment Lamar Jackson told John Harbaugh to go for it on fourth down

With the game tied late in the third quarter and the Ravens facing a fourth-and-2 from the Seattle eight-yard line, Baltimore had a decision to make.

Initially, the Ravens sent out kicker Justin Tucker to attempt a chip-shot field goal. But as quarterback Lamar Jackson trotted off the sidelines, head coach John Harbaugh had a question for him.

"Do you want to go for that?" the head coach asked his second-year quarterback.

Jackson didn't hesitate. He responded enthusiastically, telling Harbaugh, "Hell yeah, Coach. Let's go for it!"

He then turned to his teammates, asking them, "Do you want to go for it? Let's go!"

Baltimore called a timeout and dialed up a brilliant play-call on the decisive down. Lined up in a heavy, three tight end formation, Jackson took a direct snap eight yards, not just getting the first down but also finding the end zone to give the Ravens the lead.

The touchdown would put the Ravens ahead for good, as they left Seattle with an impressive, 30-16 road victory.

 At 5-2, Baltimore is sitting comfortably in first place in the AFC North, as they have a well-timed bye week before playing host to the undefeated Patriots in two weeks.

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Ravens defense slows down torrid Seahawks in convincing road win

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Ravens defense slows down torrid Seahawks in convincing road win

As Marlon Humphrey scooped up a fumble and ran into the end zone, his teammates followed closely behind to take a group picture. 

After all, they deserved it.

The Ravens defense held MVP-candidate Russell Wilson at bay for most of Sunday’s game in Seattle, and the offense was able to do enough for a 30-16 victory. 

“I felt like nobody really thought we could win,” Marlon Humphrey said. “I think there’s not been many games I felt like, really in my whole career, that no one really felt we could win.”

While Lamar Jackson stole the show, the Ravens defense played its best game of the season when the team needed it most

Marcus Peters, the team's newest addition, returned an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter, and capped with Humphrey’s scoop-and-score, the Ravens' defense nearly outscored the Seahawks offense by itself. 

“I’m just here to do my part, and my part is whatever they tell me to do,” Peters said. “If it’s to go run into a wall, I go run into a wall. I’m not here to complain about nothing, just keep doing my job.”

Wilson, who hadn’t thrown an interception all season before Peters’ pick, was held to 241 yards on 20-of-41 passing. He didn’t eclipse 200 yards until the outcome was no longer in doubt. Over the Seahawks' final five drives, they scored just three total points.

The Ravens’ in-season additions — Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, Jihad Ward and Peters — played significant roles Sunday. 

Fort had an excellent open field tackle in the first quarter on Wilson, Bynes led the team in tackles with eight, Ward was in the rotation on defense and Peters had his pick six. 

“Those guys were good selections,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were just good football choices by our personnel department, led by Eric. We were really stabilized by Josh Bynes and by L.J. Fort. They know how to play, they know how to play the position and they got us calmed down.”

The leader of the defense, however, and the one every Raven played for, was Earl Thomas.

In his return to Seattle, he was the vocal leader on a defense that slowed down one of the NFL’s best teams.

“I told him, ‘We’re going to win it for you,’” Lamar Jackson said. “‘I know you’ve been here years, this is your original home and we’ve got your back.’” 

Thomas didn’t register a ton on the statsheet, but his presence was certainly felt by the Ravens all week long. 

“All week, really, we kept saying, ‘We got you, Earl, we got you,’” Humphrey said. “Seahawks moved on from him, and I think everyone knew they felt like he didn’t have it anymore, that it wasn’t like a happy go-away. It was more like, ‘You don’t got it anymore, we don’t really want you.’ It’s just a game, but for Earl, it’s a little bit more.”

The Ravens defense has seemingly found its stride after a rocky patch against the Cardinals, Chiefs and Browns. 

Tougher opponents await, namely the Patriots after the bye week. But for now, the Ravens defense has nothing to hang its head about.

“For us to come in and get this victory, with Earl on our team, it was really big,” Humphrey said.

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