Wow, a "walk-off safety" and the Miami Dolphins beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 22-20, on Thursday night!
Well, that makes the Ravens (3-4) feel a little more special…
After all, it appeared that the Bengals (now 6-3) had the Dolphins just where they wanted 'em. But now a winning effort this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns might be the Ravens' greatest opportunity of the 2013 season to climb back into serious contention for the AFC North divisional title.
It doesn't matter now that I thought the Bengals' QB Andy Dalton was actually down by forward progress at his one-half yard line on Thursday night. The referees called it a safety, and the booth upheld the call.
Good for the Ravens.
Now it's imperative that the Ravens jump all over the gift from Miami and come off their bye week with a big win against a tough Browns team in Cleveland.
A key to that critical game in Cleveland will be the re-emergence of Ray Rice as a running back who kills the Browns.
As Ryan Mink described in his recent Ravens.com forum, Rice has historically played very well in Cleveland, is traditionally strong after the bye and feeling healthy after dealing with a hip flexor strain.
“I don’t know what the deal is in Cleveland – the grass or something like that, I don’t know,” Rice said with a laugh. “I always look forward to playing these guys. They’re a very tough front.”
Rice is averaging a career-low 2.8 yards per carry this season. In Cleveland, however, Rice has averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He’s played five games there and racked up 637 yards (127.4 per game).
As a rookie in 2008, Rice had his breakout game in Cleveland, running 21 times for 154 yards. In 2011, he had the biggest game of his career with 204 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Last year, the Ravens were in a similar position to this year and needed a win in Cleveland following their bye. Rice was the catalyst, rumbling a season-high 25 times for 98 yards and a score.
“It’s a divisional opponent. We know every win counts,” Rice said.
There are a few other factors that could lead to a big day from Rice.
First, the Browns’ defensive strength is their secondary, so the Ravens could focus their attack on the ground. Cleveland is allowing just 216.8 passing yards per game, the sixth-best mark in the league. They’re ranked 12th in rushing defense, surrendering 103.6 yards per game.
Rice is also finally feeling healthy. He crumbled to the turf with a strained hip flexor injury when facing the Browns in Week 2. That kept him out of one game, and Rice said it limited him in others. But he’s felt better each week, and the bye week paid dividends.
“I felt myself turning the curve after the Pittsburgh game,” Rice said.
Rice has historically been good on extra rest. Since being named the team's featured back in 2009, he has averaged 91.5 yards rushing in the game following the bye and scored two touchdowns in those four games.
It’s no secret that in order for Baltimore to turn things around, Rice needs to get hot and play a major role down the stretch. Rice said he doesn’t feel additional pressure, however.
“Yes, you want the touches, but you want to be successful as well,” Rice said. “The overall goal is to win. We’ve won a lot of football games around here. That’s what I’m used to, and obviously, I’m used to contributing. So, that’s what I’ll look forward to going forward.
“Being that I am getting back healthy, obviously, I can put my best foot forward out there and just try to put my team in a position where we can win games. With that being said, I’ll just need to be Ray Rice on Sunday. I don’t need to do anything more, anything less. [If] an opportunity comes, I’ve got to make the play."