"There was definitely that nerve going into our first game together and here we are five years later still playing as a duo," said Rice, who rushed for 4 yards on the first play that afternoon.
The Ravens went 11-5 in 2008, improbably advancing all the way to the AFC championship game. Rice, who was part of a three-pronged rushing attack with McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, only started three more games. Flacco avoided critical mistakes, guided the team to two road playoff wins, and earned the faith of his teammates with his poise and his play-making ability.
"You saw games of brilliance when he just went out there and did his thing," said linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who cited Flacco's 38-yard touchdown run in the 17-10 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 as the moment when he and many of his teammates started to believe in the quiet quarterback.
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The early success of Flacco and other rookie quarterbacks has since emboldened teams to throw their first-round quarterbacks into the fire, too. In the past five drafts, 15 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Fourteen are starting for their teams today. The other is New York Jets backup Tim Tebow, who was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos and now plays behind 2009 first-rounder Mark Sanchez.
And the Browns weren't alone in starting a pair of rookies in the backfield in Week 1. The Washington Redskins rolled with Griffin and Alfred Morris, making the Browns and the Redskins the fourth and fifth teams in the past 44 years — and the first since the Ravens — to do so. As center Matt Birk put it, "it's all about instant gratification" in this modern era of free agency.
That's why Shurmur and the Browns front office might not be around long enough to see if the Weeden-Richardson experiment is a success. A new ownership group is taking over control of the team, and new owners like to hire new coaches, especially when the old ones aren't winning many football games.
Pressure is already mounting on these Browns. Some were calling for McCoy to replace Weeden after Weeden threw four interceptions in a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. And after the rookie impressed with 322 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Bengals, Weeden chucked a pair of picks last weekend. Richardson has run hard, but his linemen have gotten tossed around by defenders.
The Ravens, who will be grumpy Thursday after a short but tiresome work week, don't plan on cutting them a break. They praised the rookies for their poise, but they admitted that Weeden has at times been illiterate when it comes to reading complex NFL defenses, and while they know it may take a few defenders to drag down Richardson, they are confident they can take away the Browns' running game.
But the Ravens can look at the success they have had with Flacco and Rice since 2008 and know that it could one day happen for the Browns with Weeden and Richardson, too, even if it doesn't immediately.
"They're going to make some rookie mistakes, but it can happen for them, no doubt about it," guard Marshal Yanda said. "Those two guys are gifted and they can definitely be successful."