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Keeping Rice in the garage cost the Ravens

Ray Rice peeled out to his left, veered right into his running lane and kicked it into overdrive. Finally on the fast track with the Ravens trailing, 9-7, five minutes into the fourth quarter, Rice had one man, Chris Crocker, left on his road to the end zone. But the diving Bengals safety clipped Rice's cleats, sending him skidding to the turf inside Cincinnati territory after a 30-yard gain.

Considering how oh-so close the Ravens' Pro Bowl running back was to blowing the doors off the Bengals with a back-breaking, stadium-silencing, 71-yard touchdown run, the Ravens should have finally realized that Rice was the only one who could drive them to a win against their AFC North rivals.

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But Rice was a total non-factor down the stretch — as was the case for much of Sunday's game. He was handed the ball only once more and targeted just twice by quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two of his career-high four interceptions in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' 15-10 victory.

"The key to keeping Flacco without any rhythm is keeping No. 27 hemmed in," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis boasted after the game. "We're not going to pat ourselves on the back much."

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And they shouldn't. It was the stubborn and downright mind-boggling game plan of  Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron that kept Rice hemmed in all afternoon.

Rice finished the game with 87 yards on 16 carries — that's 5.4 yards per pop — and caught four passes for 30 yards. But even though the Ravens never trailed by more than six points, Rice, the team's most dynamic playmaker and the only player having success against the tough Bengals defense, was an afterthought, wasted on the sidelines or misused in pass protection.

You have to wonder if the outcome would have been different had Cameron wised up after Rice's near-touchdown and handed the keys to his star running back on that critical fourth-quarter drive. If the Ravens rode Rice to seven points instead of a field goal, there was no way the defense, which played lights-out on Sunday, would have surrendered that five-point lead.

Instead, Cameron insisted on forcing his quarterback to chuck his way into a rhythm, a recipe for disaster with a turnstile offensive line and a frustrated group of wideouts that couldn't shake free from the Cincinnati secondary.

Now after the sloppiest non-playoff performance of his professional career, Flacco can no doubt feel that his seat, fanned by lofty fan expectations, is hotter than it has ever been during his time in Baltimore. Flacco was awful, but it's going to take a lot more than one awful game for the Ravens to make a switch at quarterback.

In the aftermath of the loss, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was quizzed by a national writer about Cameron's choice to keep Rice in the garage in the second half.

Harbaugh ducked what seemed to be a fair and fairly obvious question about the team's developing offensive identity in the formative stages of the 2010 season.

On Monday, a cooler-headed Harbaugh gave his coordinator a vote of confidence (Flacco got one, too), saying, "We're going to be a winning offense." When asked about Cameron's play-calling, Harbaugh said, "We can get better at everything."

Right now, the solution is simple. Put Rice (and his fellow backs) in the driver's seat, then get the heck out of the way.

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