OWINGS MILLS, Md. — His name is Ray, and he serves as both a playmaker and leader for the Baltimore Ravens.
Ray Lewis? Sure, that works when talking about the esteemed Baltimore defense. On offense, however, those qualities adequately describe versatile running back Ray Rice.
Rice led the Ravens with 1,220 yards rushing and ranked second with 63 receptions, one fewer than Anquan Boldin. Now in his third season, Rice could be a key figure in Baltimore's bid to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday in the second round of the NFL playoffs.
"I think the plus-1,200 yards and plus-60 catches says it all," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "This guy is a great football player."
Rice ran for 57 yards and caught five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown last weekend in Baltimore's 30-7 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs. One week earlier, the 5-foot-8 standout put his leadership skills on display in a 13-7 win over the Bengals.
The Ravens had produced only two field goals in 38 minutes when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata recovered a fumble at the Cincinnati 28. As safety Ed Reed was coming off the field, he pulled Rice aside and asked him to take control in the huddle.
"I went in there and said, 'They gave us the field position. Now let's help our defense out a little bit!'" Rice recalled. "And we did our job."
Rice ran three times in the five-play drive, including a 7-yard carry for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 13-0 lead.
"For me as a young player, when you get a guy like Ed Reed to come up to you and say, 'You know what? It's your turn to go take care of this offense,' I take that with a lot of respect and pride," the 23-year-old Rice said. "I'm talking to men that are a lot older than me, and people respond to me. It just shows that I have a leadership capability. When a guy asks you to do something like that, it means that he has a lot of respect for you."
The two Rays are alike in that they can dominate a game when at their best.
"He gets everything going on the offensive side of the ball," Lewis said of Rice. "It's a snowball effect, because when Ray gets going, our defense gets going. He has that type of ability. He can take over a game anytime he gets ready, just by letting him touch the ball a certain number of times. He has those type of skills."
It's very difficult to run against the Steelers, but that doesn't mean the Ravens aren't going to try. And if that doesn't work, well, there's always the option of hitting Rice with a short pass out of the backfield.
"For our offense, he's a guy that's able to do a variety of things," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "If people want to bring pressure, then he's a back we can leave in there on third down to protect. And if can slip out in the flat, he creates a matchup problem with linebackers because usually 1-on-1 he can beat them."
A year ago, Rice made the Pro Bowl after running for 1,339 yards and catching 78 passes. Although his numbers dropped a bit this season, his importance to the offense has not changed.
The Steelers limited him to 52 yards on 17 carries over two games this season, but Rice can't wait to try again.
"You can't just take the ball and run it right at them. So we have to pick and choose when we run the ball against that team," he said. "Running the ball is going have something to do with controlling the clock, and I think clock management will be big in this game."
The Ravens dominated the time of possession against the Chiefs, yet made only four first downs on running plays. That's where having Rice comes into play.
"I know the problems I can present to them," he said. "They know out of the backfield that I can catch the ball, they know I'm a great screen runner. They know those things. So when I'm on the field it presents a different threat. I know I can do multiple things against Pittsburgh to be successful."
He would love for this season to end on the sport's grandest stage.
"I've played in every kind of playoff except for one, and that's the big dance," Rice said. "That's the ultimate goal."
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