With each electrifying juke and meandering run through the Saints defense, Ray Rice twisted a dagger into my broken heart.
Confession: I benched Rice in fantasy football and he clearly took it as a slight, delivering the strongest game of his career in the Ravens' 30-24 win. As dejected as one of the Saints' defenders as I left M&T Bank Stadium, I died a slow fantasy death Sunday night. Mock me all you want -- I can take it -- but how was I to know Cam Cameron would realize Rice was still on the roster?
Looking like the pint-sized wrecking ball who demolished NFL defenses during his breakout 2009 season, Rice rumbled for 153 yards on 31 carries and hauled in five passes for 80 yards against the Saints. He scored two touchdowns, his first since the Ravens' win over the Panthers last month.
Rice ground out tough yards between the tackles. He burned the aggressive Saints on screen plays. And he added a few runs to his ever-expanding highlight reel.
My favorite was his 32-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter. Rice caught the ball in the left flat and busted through a half dozen tackles like a mulleted Marine named Terry running the Gauntlet on "American Gladiators." I'll downgrade that run slightly because Nitro and Malibu aren't on the Saints' roster, but still, that was vintage Rice -- as was the whole game.
"Just a tremendous performance," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Hopefully it was a memorable one, too, for Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator.
Now that the Ravens have rediscovered the ground game and have been treated to flashbacks of how deadly Rice was as a dual threat last season, they'd better not forget it. To give themselves a legitimate chance at their second Lombardi Trophy, they need to continue riding Rice and his backfield buddies to the playoffs and points beyond.
Despite the additions to the revamped passing attack, the Ravens boast one of the NFL's most talented and diverse backfields. Their offensive line is better suited to plow forward after the snap than backpedal toward their quarterback. Joe Flacco would benefit from throwing more play-action passes when opponents overcommit.
And did you see how fresh the defense seemed to be while scrambling after Drew Brees? The Ravens looked like they were coming off a bye instead of a short week.
Clearly seeing the correlation, safety Ed Reed said, "Hey, man, give [Rice] the ball."
That's what the Ravens did in the first half as Rice touched the ball 20 times. They kept feeding it to him after halftime, and the Ravens were able to hang 30 points on a pretty good Saints defense despite an average day from the quarterback and three total catches from the wide receivers.
You didn't need to be an offensive genius to see the Saints had no answer for Rice and Willis McGahee. But hey, that doesn't mean we shouldn't give credit to the Ravens' offensive genius for finally figuring it out.
I'm hypothesizing that Cameron felt it was necessary to appease the big egos in the Ravens' receiving corps. But if he wants to win -- and keep his current gig -- he needs to say "screw it" and stick with what works. The passing game will still play its pivotal role, but the Ravens should rely on their most dangerous offensive player to carry them back to the Super Bowl.
Trust me, I know firsthand what a folly it is to keep Rice on the bench in the playoffs.