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.

Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach plowed cornerback Tim Jennings with a devastating lead block during Rice's 1-yard touchdown run.

"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.

"Peppers does a good job of mixing it up," Monroe said. "When you play against a guy like that with the ability to press upfield, you have to be ready for all of it."

Ngata, Brown sidelined

Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata and wide receiver Marlon Brown were inactive because of knee injuries.

Ngata declined an interview request after the game, but wasn't limping noticeably.

Ngata didn't practice all week because of a left knee injury suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals and was listed as questionable. He attempted to practice Friday, but was unable to go.

"I'm not sure how to answer that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked how close Ngata was to playing.

The Ravens started Terrence Cody at nose tackle with Ngata sidelined. Cody had one tackle.

"I think I did a good job," Cody said. "I made some plays out there and disrupted some things. All that matters is because we didn't come out with a win. We hope Haloti's back soon. If he's not, I got to carry the load."

Reserve defensive linemen Brandon Williams and DeAngelo Tyson were both active.

Brown tested his knee during warmups, but didn't appear confident while making cuts. Brown tore his anterior cruciate ligament a year ago playing for Georgia, and the knee still occasionally bothers him.

Brown predicted he'll return Sunday against the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I'll be fine this week," he said. "It's just bruised. I'll be good."

Brown was added to the injury report Friday as questionable. Only four wide receivers were active — Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson.

All other Ravens listed as questionable — strong safety James Ihedigbo (toe), middle linebacker Daryl Smith (hamstring) and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (groin) and Jimmy Smith (groin), were active.

Dumervil penalized

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had a quiet game with the exception of a penalty in the fourth quarter.

Dumervil was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved Bears quarterback Luke McCown to the ground, a play ruled as a late hit.

"They're supposed to give you a step-and-a-half," Dumervil said. "I was definitely within the step. I thought that was a weak call."

One week after leading the Ravens with a season-high three sacks, Dumervil had no tackles.

"They made more plays than we made," Dumervil said. "Give them credit."

Beaten by Forte

Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 83 yards on 18 carries, but it was a catch out of the backfield that represented his most-important contribution.

In the fourth quarter, Forte scored on a 14-yard screen pass that staked the Bears to a three-point lead with 10:33 remaining.

Middle linebacker Smith and cornerback Corey Graham both missed tackles on the touchdown.

"He's a good player," Smith said. "They had a little screen play. I got there first, couldn't quite get him. I don't know who else had a shot. They got in there for the touchdown. That hurt us."

Tucker ties it up

Although the Ravens lost the game, kicker Justin Tucked proved capable in the clutch once again.

On a sloppy field, Tucker hit a 21-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime.

In the first quarter before a nearly two-hour delay, Tucker booted a 52-yard field goal. For the season, he's made 20 of 22 field goals and has connected on his last 18 kicks.

"We expect the game to come down to our feet," Tucker said. "When it does, we're ready to rise to the ocassion. We're happy to go kick extra points. Fortunately, we were able to pull through and keep the game alive."

End zone

Reserve cornerback Asa Jackson was active for the first time this season since returning from an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy. … Besides Ngata and Brown, the Ravens scratched wide receiver Brandon Stokley, safety Omar Brown, center Ryan Jensen, linebacker John Simon and running back Bernard Scott. Scott has been inactive since being signed to a one-year, $715,000 contract. .. The Bears scratched quarterback Jay Cutler (high-ankle sprain), linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin), defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf), Jonathan Scott and James Brown.

awilson@baltsun.com

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