Flacco Took Over With Rice Slowed

Usually the key to stopping the offense is slowing Ray Rice. That wasn’t enough Sunday.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink, Week 9 vs Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers doubled Ravens running back Ray Rice Sunday night. At times, they tripled him.

It’s a formula that has worked in suffocating the Ravens’ offense before. Shut off the air to Rice and the Ravens have gone flat.

But despite a tough night sledding on the ground, Baltimore’s offense flourished regardless.

Quarterback Joe Flacco showed Sunday night in Pittsburgh that he can still make the Ravens’ offense run efficiently, which may be important if Baltimore is going to take the next postseason step.

“When you play good teams, you have to be able to win in a lot of different ways,” Flacco said. “I think we’re moving towards that. We’ve got a lot of playmakers on this offense and we’re getting better.”

When Rice hasn’t found his footing in the past, the Ravens have usually had a tough time winning.

The Ravens’ two losses this year came when Rice ran for 28 yards against Jacksonville and 43 versus Tennessee. In the Ravens’ five losses last year (including the playoffs), the Pro Bowl running back averaged less than 60 rushing yards per game.

Rice averaged just 2.4 yards per carry in Pittsburgh. He had 43 rushing yards on 18 carries.

So Flacco and the Ravens took to the air. Trailing, 20-16, with four minutes, 59 seconds remaining, Baltimore turned completely to Flacco and the passing attack.

He threw three straight passes, all incomplete, on their first attempt at a game-winning drive. Then, starting at his 8-yard line with 2:24 left, Flacco caught fire. The rest is history – a 92-yard, game-winning drive capped by a gorgeous 26-yard pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith with eight seconds left.

The fourth-year quarterback’s final stat sheet was 28 of 47 for 300 yards, a touchdown and an 85.4 quarterback rating. Bigger than numbers, he hoisted the team onto his shoulders.

Head Coach John Harbaugh gave out one game ball afterwards. It went to Flacco.

“It says the same thing I have been saying every week about him,” Harbaugh said. “You guys have been here every week, you have heard what I have said about him – I haven’t changed.”

Flacco’s ability to take the reins like he did in the second half against Arizona and in Pittsburgh may be especially pertinent in the playoffs. Just take a look at the Ravens’ last two playoff exits.

Last year, Rice was held to just 32 rushing yards on 12 carries by the Steelers. The year before, the Colts checked Rice all game and held him to 67 yards on 13 carries.

In both of those games, Flacco also stumbled. He was 16-for-30 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Pittsburgh. The year before, he was 20-for-35 for 189 yards and two interceptions in Indianapolis.

Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said Flacco did take a step on Sunday night.

“It’s part of the process. It’s part of becoming a great player,” he said.

But like Harbaugh, Cameron also didn’t wax on about the large-scale impact of what Flacco accomplished. In what has been an up-and-down season for the Ravens’ offense and Flacco himself, it’s on to the next game.

Flacco showed he can put the Ravens’ offense on his shoulders. But he’ll likely have to show it again down the road this season.

“It’s one week at a time,” Cameron said. “Let’s take it for what it was. In that game, on that evening, on that stage, Joe played outstanding in the game. He’s capable of doing that each and every week.”

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