The fall has come quickly for Rice

Alleged incident is latest concern for Ravens

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome talks about running back Ray Rice's domestic issues with his fiancee, Janay Palmer. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Few pro athletes have fallen out of favor so quickly in Baltimore as Ravens running back Ray Rice.

There have been others who came to town with troubled reputations and lived up to them, and others who came with athletic promise and fell because of injuries.

But none like Rice.

Once a Baltimore golden boy, he just keeps falling and falling and falling.

Rice crashed again over the weekend. He and his fiancee, Janay Palmer, were arrested after an incident at an Atlantic City casino, according to a statement from the Atlantic City Police Department.

Video surveillance showed the two parties involved in a physical altercation, the police statement said. There are various reports of what happened during the fight, but it will all come out because as NFL players often say about video, "The eye in the sky don't lie."

Of course, these are just charges and both still have to go through the judicial process. Regardless, it is another incident involving Rice. The Ravens, the NFL and Rice's corporate sponsors can't be happy.

It all goes against his image. He has always been active in the community, and some of his stories about reshaping lives through his involvement in anti-bullying campaigns will make you cry.

He had become a spokesman for the league and a face of the Ravens because his story of becoming an undersized star was remarkable. He was charming, articulate and corporate. Next to quarterback Joe Flacco and maybe outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Rice had become a voice of the new Ravens once linebacker Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed left.

But a year later, there is a trail of deceit, discontent and a lack of production. There are new questions about Rice and integrity issues. Is the real Ray Rice the one we have seen in the last year?

It is all mind-boggling at this point, but the signs of irrational behavior started last year. Rice was known as a workaholic but reported to training camp overweight and out of shape.

In an interview after the season, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti estimated that Rice had been seven pounds over his usual playing weight of 212 pounds, but a team source confirmed Rice got as high as 225.

It showed, and it might have played a part in Rice suffering a hip flexor injury during the preseason. No one knows how much the injury affected Rice during the regular season because his stories changed as much as the weather.

One day Rice didn't have an injury, and the next day he did. One moment he liked his conditioning program, and the next moment he didn't. One game he felt compelled to play, and then later he shouldn't have played at all.

Rice became drama central.

There was also Spitgate, where Rice was alleged to have spit on Cleveland defensive lineman Phil Taylor during a game Sept. 15. Football is a brutal, violent game but to be even questioned about possibly spitting on another human being is appalling. Video was inconclusive and neither player was fined by the NFL over the incident.

Rice didn't hold anything back, even taking to the airwaves after the season to talk about how conservative and predictable the Ravens had become on offense. It was true, but not typical of Rice, who usually delivered corporate lines.

It was all part of a year that had gone sour, with Rice showing disdain for those who criticized him on Twitter. The criticism was deserved. Rice rushed for just 660 yards and four touchdowns. It was far below the pace of the 5,520 yards and 33 touchdowns he had in the previous five seasons.

Despite being a three-time Pro Bowl performer, Rice appeared sluggish. He had no acceleration and could neither shed nor break tackles. Rice, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and Suggs are three of the team's highest-paid players going into next season but the Ravens didn't want to restructure Ngata or Rice because the salary cap acceleration would hurt more than help.

But after this latest incident involving Rice, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens weren't looking at some type of violation of a morals clause where they could waive Rice and not have major salary cap raminfications.

Before the weekend, the Ravens were hoping Rice would rebound and possibly come close to regaining the form that made him one of the best running backs in the NFL. They were hoping he would be that shy, modest running back he was as a rookie. But it's no longer just about a decrease in productivity. It's about a fall from grace.

It has come so quickly.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

 
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