Eyebrows were raised around the NFL when Ravens running back Ray Rice wasn't involved at all during the fourth quarter of a 23-20 loss Sunday night to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was Rice who salvaged the Ravens' overtime win over the San Diego Chargers with a dramatic 4th-and-29 conversion. And the Pro Bowl runner eluded defenders by reversing field for a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Steelers.
So, it was surprising when Rice didn't get a single touch against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter after rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on a dozen carries through three quarters.
With 198 carries, Rice has gained 872 yards and scored eight touchdowns to rank behind the other NFL rushing leaders: Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson (234 carries, 1,446 yards, eight touchdowns); the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (250 carries, 1,138 yards, six touchdowns); the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Doug Martin (236 carries, 1,106 yards, nine touchdowns); the Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris (230 carries, 1,106 yards, six touchdowns), the Houston Texans' Arian Foster (283 carries, 1,102 yards, 13 touchdowns); the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (222 carries, 1,055 yards, three touchdowns); the New England Patriots' Stevan Ridley (225 carries, 1,010 yards, nine touchdowns); the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson (204 carries, 993 yards, four touchdowns), the San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore (199 carries, 972 yards, six touchdowns), Spiller (137 carries, 907 yards, five touchdowns and the Cincinnati Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis (226 carries, 885 yards, five touchdowns).
Rice, who has also caught 49 passes for 409 yards, wasn't involved, much to the consternation of a vocal majority of the fan base.
The Ravens gained a dozen yards in the fourth quarter with just one first down on a 12-yard pass to fullback Vonta Leach, leading to the lack of involvement for Rice.
Rice maintained his usual approach to questions about his workload, declining the opportunity to gripe about not getting the football as much as other standout backs.
"Situational football came into play," Rice said. "Could we have run the ball on situations? If we would have executed better, I'm sure I would have gotten the touches. That wouldn't have been the question.
Going forward, we are going to work on our execution and my touches will definitely come."
Rice is on pace to rush for 1,162 yards after gaining a career-high 1,364 yards last season. He ranks 13th in the NFL rushing attempts.
"I think 13th right now is OK because we have been winning games," Rice said. "We will find a way to get the ball into our playmakers' hands. Obviously, I think I'm a playmaker for this team. The coaches, we'll find a way to get me the ball. One thing I don't like is being forced the ball.
"Being forced the ball sometimes, that's not always in your best interest because you are being forced into a defense that is already preparing for you. Getting smart touches and getting touches that I can make a big play, that's something that I get excited about."
Jimmy Smith returns
Cornerback Jimmy Smith practiced on a limited basis, the first time he's participated since undergoing sports hernia surgery last month.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs didn't practice due to a torn right biceps.
Meanwhile, tight end Ed Dickson (hyperextended right knee) and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (right foot, ankle) didn't practice. Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated Monday that both they might have a chance to return for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.
Six players were limited, including linebacker Josh Bynes (thigh), safety James Ihedigbo (calf), cornerback Chris Johnson (strained hamstring), wide receiver Jacoby Jones (ankle) and safety Ed Reed (torn shoulder labrum).
The Ravens will have recent history on their side as they try to rebound Sunday at FedEx Field.
Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 15 consecutive games following a loss. It's the longest streak in the NFL.
During those games, the Ravens outscored opponents, 441-249, and won by an average margin of 12.8 points. They're 18-4 following a loss in the Harbaugh era.
Harbaugh said preparation and attitude don't change, but quarterback Joe Flacco believes his head coach was probably telling “a little bit of a lie.”
“There’s always a little bit of extra urgency after a loss," Flacco said. "I don’t know if it’s a bad thing or a good thing, but we are always calm, cool and collected and confident around here. We understand that we have to move on and get ready for this week.”
The Steelers game was an emotional setback.
"Obviously, it [stinks,] we're [ticked] off about that game," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "It's always going to sting, but that hurt leaves when you start playing the next opponent."
Tough task ahead
The job doesn't get any easier this week for Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher.
One week removed from allowing a key sack and forced fumble to Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison that led to the game-tying touchdown, Oher has to square off with formidable Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
A former first-round draft pick and Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year from Purdue, Kerrigan already has 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return for touchdown.
At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Kerrigan is known for his relentless approach to the game, and extensive repertoire of pass-rushing moves.
"He's a pretty good player," Oher said of Kerrigan. "He does a lot of good things. You've just got to account for him and be strong in your technique and finish guys. If you get Joe time, he tends to do great things."
In a tribute to Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones shaved his head and facial hair to honor the former Baltimore defensive coordinator.
Pagano is battling leukemia and is attempting to return this season after undergoing chemotherapy treatment..
Pagano remains a popular man in the Ravens' locker room, as evidenced by Jones' actions, which made him appear much younger than his 26 years.
"It's just hair," Jones said. "It's just to show that we care and love him. He's a great man and a great leader. He's going to be back coaching and kicking butt. This guy has so much passion and loves the sport."
Jones has recorded nine tackles and three sacks over the past two games, a streak of at least one sack per game during that span. "Don't jinx me, I'm just working hard," Jones said. "You got a guy like Terrell Suggs next to you and it starts to rub off on you. We're totally different body types, but I watch other people and try to emulate their game onto my own." ... The Ravens are in a tight salary-cap situation in case they need to make an emergency signing. With $1.212 million available under the NFL limit, they're currently ranked third from the bottom of the league ahead of the Atlanta Falcons ($662,557) and the Pittsburgh Steelers ($990,655). ... Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was on crutches Tuesday with an ankle injury, but indicated he intends to play Sunday. “I feel all right,” Hall said. “There’s no way I’m not playing this game. So, it’s a non-story.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Matt Vensel and Edward Lee contributed to this report from Owings Mills and Ashburn, Va., respectively.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun