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Ravens struggle to utilize rushing game in loss

Instead of trying to resurrect their slumbering running game, the Ravens abandoned it Sunday despite the return of starting running back Ray Rice from a strained left hip flexor.

The Ravens only ran the football nine times for 24 yards with a 2.7 average per carry during a 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. They passed the ball 31 consecutive times at one point during the second half with just two runs after halftime.

It marks the fewest carries in a game in franchise history, breaking the previous low of a dozen runs three times previously. The rushing yardage is tied for the second-worst in franchise history, matching the 24 yards they were limited to in a 1998 game against the Chicago Bears.

"When you get behind, it's hard to pound the rock," Rice said. "We were trying to score quickly, so the passing game we needed to ramp that up.

"Everybody's got the Ravens marked on their calendar. No one wants to get ran over. Everybody comes in ready to play, and we have to match everybody's intensity."

Rice rushed for 17 yards on five carries, averaging 3.4 yards per carry during his first game back after being out the previous week against the Houston Texans. Backup runner Bernard Pierce rushed for seven yards on four carries, 1.8 per rush.

Having an anemic running game has been a problem through four games with the Ravens entering Sunday with a 77.3 rushing average per game to rank 25th in the NFL and a 2.6 average per carry to rank 31st overall.

"We're not running the ball well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've got to run the ball better."

It was a huge contrast to the Bills as they rushed for 203 yards and one touchdown on 55 carries.

"They're running the ball for four, five yards at a time and putting themselves in manageable third downs, and we're not doing that," Harbaugh said. "That's tough on everybody. That's tough on our passing game. We've got to get to the point where we can execute in the running game."

This is a particularly alarming performance considering that the Bills entered the game as the 30th-ranked run defense, giving up 155 yards per game and allowed unheralded New York Jets running back Bilal Powell to gain 149 yards a week ago.

What's plaguing the Ravens? The backs aren't breaking many tackles and the offensive line got manhandled at the point of attack by an aggressive Bills defense.

"It's hard to tell when you don't have a substantial amount of attempts," Rice said. "We would have liked to run the ball better, we would have liked to run the ball more. Our problem is not a guy not getting a hat on a hat. It's more of an execution thing. As the leader of the group, we will get better. I'm not pushing the panic button."

There's little push upfront from center Gino Gradkowski and not much movement created by tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher.

"I guess we couldn't get into quite of a rhythm that we wanted to get into," McKinnie said. "When you get behind in a ballgame, you kind of don't run it as much as you planned to because you're trying to play catch-up."

The only piece of good news for the Ravens' running backs is that Rice said he didn't aggravate his hip injury.

"Nobody plays the game 100 percent, this is the NFL," Rice said. "Everybody plays a little banged-up and beat up. I came out of the game healthy and I'm looking forward to next week."

Concussion for Thompson

Wide receiver Deonte Thompson suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter when he was hit hard by former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard following a 23-yard catch.

Leonhard was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver.

It was Thompson's first game since spraining his left foot in the first preseason game.

Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb strained his hamstring and wide receiver Marlon Brown also suffered a thigh injury.

Webb isn't expected to be sidelined long and was able to run and backpedal on the sideline, testing out his leg.

"They just kept me out," Webb said. "I'm feeling OK."

Backup inside linebacker Albert McClellan will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam for a right shoulder injury. It's the same shoulder that McClellan had offseason surgery on to repair a torn labrum.

Wide receiver Tandon Doss is dealing with a sore lower back after landing awkwardly on it during the second half, but he remained in the game.

Suggs penalized for hit on Manuel

Ravens rush outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was penalized for unnecessary roughness in the final minute when he tackled quarterback EJ Manuel and knocked his helmet off.

Manuel was in the process of kneeling down to try to run out the clock, but he didn't immediately go to the ground as Suggs defended the play, unsuccessfully trying to force a fumble to get the ball back.

When asked if referee Jerome Boger explained the thinking behind the call, Harbaugh replied: "Not a very good one."

Harbaugh defended Suggs' actions.

"I think the quarterback is responsible for taking a knee there," Harbaugh said. "He's got to get his knee down. He should do it more quickly and not burn more time off the clock. That is something we hear from the league all the time.

"His knee was not on the ground. I'm just disappointed that Terrell wasn't able to cause a fumble there. He definitely did the right thing in that situation."

In the locker room following the game, Suggs said that Boger told him that he had safety in mind when he called the penalty.

"Jerome Boger actually said he's got to err on the side of safety," said Suggs, who recorded a game-high 17 tackles, one sack and three quarterback hits in a losing cause. "He said, 'The thing was that his helmet came off.' Anytime a quarterback's helmet comes off, he's got to look at it. I can't whine about it. It's whatever."

Rough homecoming

Ravens cornerback Corey Graham didn't have the triumphant return he had envisioned against his hometown NFL team after obtaining 35 tickets for family and friends.

Although Graham had nine tackles and an interception, the Buffalo native also allowed a 42-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Robert Woods.

"Obviously, you want to come here and get a victory," Graham said. "I looked at it more like an opportunity for my friends and family to see me play live and in person. I've been very fortunate to be in the NFL, so it's a blessing. I was excited about coming here and playing, but it didn't work out the way we wanted it to work out, though."

Stokley scratched

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley was scratched due to a groin injury after being added to the injury report as questionable Friday.

"It was one of those things where I was hoping to play and it didn't allow me to play," Stokley said. "I tried to warm up on it, and it didn't feel good enough to give it a go."

End zone

Former Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans attended Sunday's game and was greeted warmly by several players, including quarterback Joe Flacco. Evans, who was acquired by the Ravens via a trade from the Bills, hasn't played since dropping a Flacco pass in the end zone during a 2011 AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots in his lone season with the team. ... Rookie defensive tackle Brandon Williams recovered a fumble in his first NFL regular-season game after the third-round draft pick missed the first three games with a right big toe injury. ... Kick returner Jacoby Jones (sprained right medial collateral ligament) missed his third consecutive game, but his right knee is getting better. Jones isn't practicing, but has started some light jogging. ... The Ravens also scratched safety Jeromy Miles, center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery), inside linebacker Arthur Brown (left pectoral strain), nose tackle Terrence Cody (sprained left knee) and offensive lineman Jah Reid.

awilson@baltsun.com

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