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Rushing attack works for Ravens in loss to Redskins

Rice, Pierce pace run game that racks up 186 yards on 35 carries

By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

7:43 PM EST, December 9, 2012

LANDOVER —

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Ray Rice had just topped 100 rushing yards in a game for the first time since early October, but the frustration showed on his face. As the Ravens packed their bags before making the short drive back to Baltimore, he couldn't help but feel as if they had left yards and points — and a victory — out on the field.

"It's the way you finish games," Rice said. "As a leader on this team, I like to finish teams out."

The Ravens rushed for a season-high 186 yards on 35 carries Sunday, including 121 from Rice, his highest total of 2012, and a career-high 53 yards from rookie backup Bernard Pierce. But even though both backs averaged more than 6 yards per carry against the fourth-ranked rush defense of the Washington Redskins, turnovers and missed opportunities again doomed the Ravens in a 31-28 overtime loss.

The Ravens scored just seven points in the second half and overtime.

"We made a couple of bad plays, costly plays. That's obviously what killed us," center Matt Birk said. "It's too many mistakes."

The Ravens led, 21-14, at halftime, but they gave away the football on consecutive drives — first inside their own territory and then inside the Redskins' 20-yard line — to start the third quarter.

Redskins outside linebacker Rob Jackson got a step on left tackle Michael Oher and batted the ball out of the hands of quarterback Joe Flacco. The Redskins turned the recovered fumble into three points.

On their next drive, the Ravens advanced to the Washington 11-yard line with eight straight running plays. But on their first pass of the drive, Flacco was hit by Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan as he threw and inside linebacker London Fletcher intercepted the deflected pass.

But unlike the fourth quarter of last weekend's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens let Rice carry the ball in the fourth quarter — and Pierce and fullback Vonta Leach, too — and his 7-yard touchdown run finished an eight-play, 62-yard drive that gave them a late 28-20 lead.

"It was a regular base offensive run in our playbook," Rice said of his scoring run up the middle. "We had Vonta leading up on the linebacker and I had a three-way go."

Sunday's workload was reminiscent of last season when Rice, who received just 14 carries against the Steelers, got at least 20 carries in six of the Ravens' seven games in December and January.

Flacco handed the ball to Rice on their first three plays of the game, and Rice ran off right tackle for 5 yards, around left end for 46 yards, and off right guard for 12 more. He was one Torrey Smith block away from busting his second carry for a long touchdown run, but he was tackled in the open field.

With Leach leading the way all afternoon, the Ravens stretched out the Redskins defense with Rice and then hammered them between the tackles with Rice and Pierce, whose 21-yard carry in the third quarter tied for the longest of his career. Overall, the Ravens averaged 5.3 yards per carry and had more rushing yards (186) than passing yards (173) for the first time this season.

"We just stuck with it," said Leach, who had two carries for 3 yards. "We came into the game wanting to run the ball, and that's what we did. That's December football."

Added Birk: "We had a good plan and good execution. It's not rocket science. Mostly, it was just man blocking, man on man. You can talk about everyone winning their one-on-one battles."

Rice has rushed for 993 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games this season.

But the punishing approach also took a toll on the Ravens, as Rice, Pierce and Leach suffered minor injuries, and right guard Marshal Yanda injured his ankle on Rice's only overtime carry.

Swarmed by reporters after the game, Rice wanted to take a positive away from the frustrating loss, too.

"I am definitely proud of the run game today," said Rice, who ran the ball once for 4 yards as the Ravens went three-and-out on their only overtime drive. "Myself and Bernard had a great day running the ball. It felt really good to run the ball today. The running game is something that we will continue to improve on [as we] get ready for the Denver [Broncos] next week."

mvensel@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattvensel

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