Ravens star running back Ray Rice suffered a strained left hip flexor Sunday during the fourth quarter of a 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns, a potential setback for the offense.
Although the injury initially appeared serious as trainers attended to him on the field, Rice walked off the field under his own power. However, the Pro Bowl runner didn't return. Rice wasn't on crutches after the game and wasn't limping badly.
The Ravens are hopeful that the injury isn't going to sideline Rice long and he's not scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging exam.
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“We’re confident and optimistic right now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to see how he responds.”
With Rice out of the game after rushing for 36 yards on 13 carries and losing one fumble, Bernard Pierce replaced him as the primary tailback and finished with a team-high 57 rushing yards on 19 carries with one touchdown run.
“The running game will keep rolling,” fullback Vonta Leach said. “Bernard did a good job for us and we've got confidence in Bernard just like we do with Ray. Hopefully, it's not that bad. I think we'll be all right.”
Once Rice left the game, Pierce helped the Ravens run out the clock with 21 yards on six carries during a late fourth-quarter drive.
“It was a long fourth quarter, and somebody had to grind out those runs,” Pierce said. “I've just got to keep playing to the best of my ability and keep making plays.
“As long as they keep giving me the ball, I'll keep carrying it. When you're trying to run the clock down, they know you're running. They have to stop you, and we can't let that happen.”
Pierce expressed confidence that Rice won't be sidelined long.
“Sooner or later, he's going to be back,” Pierce said. “Ray's going to be back, I have no doubt in my mind. ..
"I was right next to him and my first reaction was, ‘Get up.’ Once I saw he was getting up, I know, it’s going to be on me now. I just had to take the rest of the carries and hopefully finish the game strong."
In other injury news, rookie linebacker Arthur Brown hurt his left pectoral and didn't return and cornerback Chykie Brown hurt his right knee. Both will undergo MRIs on Monday.
Starting defensive lineman Chris Canty strained his groin and didn't return.
“I don't think it's a big deal,” Canty said. “It's just kind of a situation I got banged up and it was smarter not to go back in.”
Tucker misses twice, Cundiff perfect
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and Billy Cundiff were on opposite ends of the kicking spectrum Sunday.
Tucker uncharacteristically missed both of his field goal attempts, misfiring wide right from 50 yards and 44 yards.
“With any kicker, eventually you're going to miss unfortunately,” Tucker said. “On the second ball, I actually felt like I hit it really well. I saw it on the Jumbotron, I liked what I saw. Maybe I misplayed the wind a little bit.”
Beaten out by Tucker last year for the Ravens' kicking job, Cundiff connected on field goals from 21 yards and 51 yards while being booed by a home crowd that hasn't forgotten or forgiven his pivotal missed chip shot in an AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots.
"We've got the wind," Harbaugh said. "He studied it, but it was moving around a bit, and I think he overthought it a little bit. Instead of just knocking it through the cross wind, it was one way and then it was the other way, you just try to guide it sometimes. I think he was trying to guide it through the wind rather than knocking it through the wind. He didn’t follow through with his usual assuredness there.”
Tucker missed just three field goals last season as a rookie, converting 30 field goals. He didn't seem fazed by the rough game.
"Toward the end of the game, we were looking at an opportunity to hit a 40 to 45-yarder to kind of ice the game," Tucker said. "I never wanted to kick a ball so much in my life. You would expect someone to shy away at that point, but not me, not us. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league."
It became obvious immediately that this game meant something extra to the Browns, especially aggressive nose tackle Phil Taylor.
During the second play of the game, Taylor smacked Rice upside the head and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I usually don't do things like that, but something happened and I still have to keep my composure,” Taylor said.
Taylor was asked if Rice spit on him.
“Look at the film,” Taylor said. “You'll see.”
When asked if he had a previous issue with Rice, Taylor replied: “I don't like any running back that I play against.”
Television replays only captured Taylor's half of the exchange and Rice wasn't available to discuss the incident because of his injury.
Pierce said the Browns played the game with a chippy edge, perhaps because this marked their 11th consecutive loss to the Ravens.
“It seemed like it was very personal, especially on the Browns' side,” Pierce said. “It seemed like they were playing like we had taken something away from them, like we owed them.”
Rookie safety Matt Elam made his first NFL start, replacing veteran Michael Huff at free safety one game after Huff struggled mightily during a 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos.
The Ravens' defensive lineup changes didn't have the immediate desired effect as Browns tight end Jordan Cameron caught a 53-yard pass with Elam, a first-round draft pick, unable to bring him down in the open field.
“It was a great feeling to be out there for the first time,” Elam said. “I felt like I did my job. I did well. I found out late in the week I was going to start. It meant a lot.”
Elam had five tackles, but was also flagged for pass interference.
“They said I hooked the guy or something,” he said. “I didn't understand that.”
For Huff, this benching comes after being signed to a three-year, $6 million contract in March as the replacement for former Raven Ed Reed.
“From the day I signed, I just wanted to win,” Huff said. “Whether it's me coming in on nickel or dime or running down on kickoffs and punts, I'm going to do whatever it takes for the team. Matt's been playing well. I struggled last week. It's noting on the coaches. It's on me.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy Smith was one of the Ravens' two cornerbacks in their base defense, replacing Corey Graham. Graham still played extensively one week after having trouble slowing down Wes Welker last week.
Smith briefly left the game when he appeared woozy and was examined under the NFL concussion protocol before going back in the game.
"The league takes any kind of head injury seriously," Smith said. "They do every single procedure
to make sure I was fine."
Wide receiver Tandon Doss had a crisp game on returns in his first game since rejoining the team last week.
Doss was the primary kick returner with Pro Bowl selection Jacoby Jones still out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Doss averaged 14.3 yards on three punt returns with a long return of 22 yards and two fair catches.
"It felt great obviously just being able to play football again and help contribute to a win," said Doss, a 2011 fourth-round draft pick who was cut during the final major roster cutdown. "I hope that I can continue to do that. It's fun to be back there again and make a play. It felt great whenever they call my name."
After being released, Doss worked out for the Green Bay Packers. He said he harbored no hard feelings toward the Ravens and preferred to play for them.
"It's all business," he said. "You have to be professional about it."
Tight ends struggle
With the exception of an 18-yard catch for third tight end Billy Bajema, it wasn't a productive day for the Ravens' tight ends.
Ed Dickson dropped the only pass thrown in his direction from Joe Flacco during the first quarter.
And Dallas Clark caught the one pass thrown to him, gaining eight yards.
Dickson had said Friday that he couldn't wait for Sunday to get here after dropping four passes against the Broncos the opening week with one reception. Dickson was sidelined for the majority of the preseason with a partially torn right hamstring.
"I missed four weeks with the hamstring and I'm not going to lie, it affected my timing with Joe," Dickson said. "I've been spending time with Joe after practice, catching extra passes."
The Ravens played a lengthy video tribute before kickoff commemorating Super Bowl XLVII, unveiling a championship banner. ... Former Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger had three tackles, one for a loss, and no sacks in his first game against his old team since signing a $40 million contract with the Browns. . ... The Ravens scratched new kickoff returner Shaun Draughn, Jacoby Jones, offensive guard Jah Reid, wide receiver Deonte Thompson (sprained left foot), center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery), defensive tackle Brandon Williams (right big toe), defensive end DeAngelo Tyson. ... Former Ravens offensive guard Oniel Cousins started against his old team.