By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
8:39 PM EST, January 20, 2012
Many players on the Ravens roster are saying the right things heading into Sunday's AFC championship in New England, insisting that they aren't leaning on the team's convincing victory over the Patriots in an AFC wild-card playoff game in 2010.
But for fans, it's difficult to forget that 33-14 victory, which got off to a rolling start when running back Ray Rice took a handoff 83 yards for a touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage.
The Ravens began on their own 17-yard line after a kick return by Jalen Parmele. Rice took the handoff from quarterback Joe Flacco's right hand and ranged to his left before going back to his right.
The play was designed to go to the left with fullback Le'Ron McClainlined up on that side and tight end Todd Heap motioning there, too. But Rice always has the option to go against the grain, center Matt Birk said.
"We were running left, and then Ray just cut it back up in there," Birk said. "It was just a great feel by Ray. Whether he saw it, I think he just felt it. Just felt that was where the hole was and could cut it back."
The running lane opened courtesy of blocks by McClain and right guard Marshal Yanda. McClain stopped defensive end Gerard Warren, who got a step on right tackle Michael Oher, and Yanda ripped a textbook combination block by helping Birk move nose tackle Vince Wilfork to his right and then engaging linebacker Gary Guyton.
"I just got up to the backer and blocked him," Yanda recalled. "It was nothing magical. I did my job. I'm not saying it was anything great on my part. I made a block, and I would say that Ray made a better cut and then made the safety miss. A lot of backs get to the safety all the time and then they don't have those big runs. Ray makes a lot of guys miss."
On the left side of the line, left guard Ben Grubbs pulled off his own combination block, assisting left tackle Jared Gaither with defensive end Jarvis Green before releasing and engaging linebacker Jerod Mayo.
"It was a zone play," Grubbs said. "He was in my zone, and I just took my track and blocked him."
With Yanda and Grubbs into the second level of the Patriots' defense, Rice had a hole over the spot where Yanda had stood moments ago. Had Rice run straight ahead, cornerback Shawn Springs was lurking a few steps away.
But Rice cut back to his left, avoiding Springs' potential momentum-turning tackle. Rice said he went that way after correctly assessing that safety Brandon Meriweather — the last line of the defense — was moving too fast and aggressively to stop and change his angle of pursuit.
"When I saw the safety, I saw the angle that he was taking, and I wanted to break his angle," Rice said. "He was coming up and by the time I hit it full speed, I squirted to the left. So he was already in chase mode. I wasn't looking at the corner. The corner was the least of my concerns. The receivers take care of them. The safeties are the guys that we have to take care of."
In a span of 13 seconds, Rice had the second-longest run in NFL postseason history and the longest in the franchise's playoff history. He would finish with a Ravens postseason-best 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Not surprisingly, Wilfork said that play has no resonance with the Patriots heading into Sunday.
"It doesn't have any relevance to what we're doing," Wilfork said. "That was back a couple years ago, and this is a new ballclub. I'm pretty sure they have guys on their team that weren't there, and I know we have guys on our team that weren't here. So really, that plays no factor."
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