Stuck in neutral throughout the season, the Ravens finally resurrected their running game Sunday.
A bright spot for the Ravens during a 23-20 overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field was rushing for a season-high 174 yards on 41 carries.
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice regained his old form as he exploited the Bears' vulnerable run defense, rushing for a season-high 131 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries. Rice displayed speed, power and elusiveness unseen since last season when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
"We're heading in the right direction," Rice said. "I'd love to get the win, but it's just the way that things have been shaking lately. We are getting better. We've shown a lot of drastic improvement in the run game, and that's something we've been criticized for. For us to go out there and do what we did in the run game, that's a positive."
During the first quarter on the Ravens' first drive, Rice bolted to his left for a season-long 47-yard run. Rice ran away from defenders, a rare sight this season after rushing for just 289 yards through nine games.
Rice had a huge hole to run through as left guard A.Q. Shipley delivered a key block. First, he helped center Gino Gradkowski double-team Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Then, Shipley peeled off to reach the second level and knock rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic out of Rice's path.
Rice hardly knew how to react to such a gaping opening.
"Those guys really got the edge sealed," Rice said. "I kind of made a joke with the guys on the sideline that I didn't know what to do with a hole that big. They got the job done. All of my success really attributes to the offensive line getting a hat on a hat.
"I did what I needed to do when it came to dealing with the safeties. I got my pads down lower. It's just something that we've been working on."
The Ravens entered the game ranked 30th in rushing offense, averaging just 73.1 yards per game. The Bears aren't known for their run-stopping, entering the game ranked 31st in run defense. So, this game had something of a now-or-never element for the Ravens' offense as far as getting the running game untracked.
"I'm pretty sure I'd rather be talking with a win and negative running yards, I'd be a whole lot happier," Leach said. "I think everybody was on the same page. I guess guys got tired of not being able to run the ball the way we can. The offensive line did a good job of opening up holes."
Rice had averaged just 2.5 yards per carry entering Sunday, ranking last in the NFL. On Sunday, he averaged a season-best 5.2 yards per carry as he doubled his previous rushing average.
"Under the circumstances with the weather, we knew we had to run the ball and we did a good job," Rice said. "We just have to take care of business."
Peppers dominates Ravens
The Ravens struggled mightily to contain Bears star efensive end Julius Peppers.
He repeatedly manhandled blockers, doing most of his damage at the expense of left tackle Eugene Monroe.
Peppers finished with a game-high 11 tackles, including eight solo tackles and four for losses as he recorded two sacks.
"I played him before, and he presents a unique challenge," Monroe said. "It was a battle all day long."
Regardless of whether Peppers bull-rushed Monroe or beat him around the edge, Peppers repeatedly pressured quarterback Joe Flacco, who was sacked three times and hit nine times by the Bears.