Days after chalking up the lengthy amount of time running back Ray Rice was relegated to the bench Sunday to strategic reasons, Ravens coach John Harbaugh now says he doesn't have a strong explanation for why the three-time Pro Bowl selection wasn't on the field.
During a 34-17 season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Rice was replaced by backup running backs Bernard Pierce and Bernard Scott following the Ravens' opening drive where he rushed for one yard on his lone carry. He went back in the game for the final series of the first half.
Rice's absence and Harbaugh's lack of clarity today certainly raises a few questions.
Was it because of Rice's quadriceps injury? Was it because of the lack of effectiveness of Rice who finished with his lowest career totals since he became a starter with 660 rushing yards and a 3.1 average per carry
"I really can't explain that adequately, in all honesty," Harbaugh said when asked today why Rice wasn't playing. "That was something that happened during the game that, when I looked over and saw it, I put him back in the game. I don't have that answer for you right now. He should've been out there."Rice went back in the game after some pass-blocking breakdowns from Pierce, finishing with six runs for 15 yards and seven catches for 35 yards and a game-tying two-point conversion run in the third quarter.“That was a decision with really the offensive coaches," Harbaugh said Sunday after the game. "When we were backed up, we didn’t want to put him in those backed-up situations. We didn’t feel the need to do that.”In the second year of a five-year, $35 million contract that includes a $15 million signing bonus, Rice struggled with a strained left hip flexor and didn't display his usual explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability. On Sunday, Rice said he was prepared to play.
"I was ready to go," Rice said.There was a lot of situational football. We were backed up and we had to put the guys in that gave us a chance to get out. I was fully ready to go. I had the legs warmed up. I was like a little jitterbug. I could get up and go.
"When you have muscular deals, you can't crank it up right away. We thought both Bernards gave us a shot to get out of situational football. In the second half, I went out there. I was ready."
Rice exuberantly hugged Harbaugh after his two-point conversion run, jumping up to embrace his coach.
As players cleaned out their lockers Monday, Rice emphasized that he gets along well with Harbaugh.
"We've been fine," Rice said. "We’ve got a lot of wins together. That’s one thing, we share a lot of wins. We’ve got a great relationship. There is no friction between me and coach. We understand each other, and we respect each other as well."
The Ravens rushed for a franchise-record worst 1,328 yards and 3.1 yards per carry, breaking the previous lows of 1,589 rushing yards and 3.8 average per carry established in 1997.
Rice has repeatedly vowed to come back in excellent shape and rededicate himself to regaining his old form.
"My expectations for Ray Rice are to be one of the very best running backs in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "That's the standard for Ray. The great thing about Ray is, and I just had this conversation with him this morning, that's his standard for himself. The thing I love about it, talking to him, is he has a plan to make sure as his career extends here, that he's that guy for a long period of time.
"Nobody works harder than Ray. The numbers weren't there this year. There are different reasons for that. Ray Rice fought through some things. There were probably some issues he had with his legs that other players wouldn't have even played with, just would have said, 'I'm out.' That's not who Ray is. I'm very confident when he says he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and be better than ever, I'm confident that he's going to do exactly that."
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