In a game billed as a showdown between two of the toughest teams in the NFL, the Ravens forced the Miami Dolphins into submission courtesy of a solid performance from their running back corps.
The trio of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain battered Miami to the tune of 124 rushing yards on 33 carries. They also contributed to the aerial attack, combining to catch 10 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown that helped the Ravens claim a 26-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's the same thing," McGahee said of the running backs' approach to every game. "Just set the tone as the point of the offense to open up the passing game. Me and Ray did a great job, and also Le'Ron did a great job when he was running the ball."
Rice gained 83 yards on 22 carries, McGahee compiled 24 yards on six rushes, and McClain collected 17 yards on five attempts. That trio rushed 18 times in the second half, allowing the offense to keep the ball in the unit's possession, take time off the clock, and give the defense a breather.
Rice and McGahee were also effective in the passing game. Rice caught seven passes for 97 yards and frequently burned the Dolphins on underneath routes in which he was matched up against a linebacker.
"That's the most space I've seen all year," Rice said. "… I was one-on-one a lot. I won my one-on-ones, and the run-game tempo was there. Having Willis and Le'Ron is the biggest thing. I have to keep myself fresh, and I like to consider our backfield one of the best backfields out there."
McGahee caught three balls for 42 yards, 32 of which came on a screen pass in which he wove through a maze of defenders to give the Ravens their first touchdown of the season on their opening drive.
Asked about what he saw as he was following blocks and avoiding tackles, McGahee said with a smile, "That's called having fun."
The play of the running backs caught coach John Harbaugh's attention.
"Ray had a bunch of catch and runs," he said. "Willis ran well. Le'Ron made a couple of plays. I know in the run game, he was running hard."
Josh Wilson did not start, but the cornerback played well in his limited time.
Wilson replaced Fabian Washington to begin the third quarter, and he broke up three passes and intercepted Miami quarterback Chad Henne late in the fourth quarter.
"It was man-to-man, and he stopped, and I've got to be able to stop and break back," Wilson said. "And when I looked back, the ball was there. The easy part was just catching it."
Wilson said he was unsure whether replacing Washington in back-to-back contests could mean a starting role against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
"I'm not the coach. I'm not the front office," he said. "All I know is I'm a player, and I go out there and play when I get the opportunity. When the opportunity's there, I play, and when the opportunity's not there, I'm ready to play."
Said Harbaugh: "He's here for a reason. He's a guy that's had a lot of success. I figure as we go forward, we want to play those corners as much as we can."
Washington benched, again
Two weeks after surrendering three touchdowns to the Buffalo Bills' Lee Evans and getting benched, Washington found a spot on the sideline again.
Washington was removed at halftime in favor Wilson, who replaced Washington against the Bills on Oct. 24. Washington, who hadn't given up a touchdown to the Dolphins, said coaches informed him of the move before the start of the third quarter.
"It doesn't bother me," sad Washington, who said he thought he was being disciplined for missing a tackle that Miami's Brian Hartline turned into a 31-yard gain in the second quarter. "The reason why it bothers me but at the end of the day, it doesn't bother me is because I'm still going to compete and I feel like I'll get my shot to get back on the field and when I do, you've got to take advantage of it — like Josh did today."
Asked if he thinks he will start against the Falcons, Washington replied, "Yes, of course. But we'll see when we go into tomorrow. We'll see what happens."
Added Harbaugh: "First of all, Fabian was playing OK. And Fabian's going to be fine. Fabian's a big part of what we're doing here."
Mason vs. Crowder
Capping a week of exchanged barbs, wide receiver Derrick Mason questioned linebacker Channing Crowder's worth to his own team.
On Thursday, Crowder referred to Mason as "the old guy." On Friday, Mason said Crowder "was still peeing on himself when I was playing football."
After Sunday's game, Mason told a group of reporters that Crowder didn't know how to play football.
"I don't even think they want him on this team, but they have nobody to replace him, so he has to be there," Mason said. "They took him out of the game; they played a little bit better. [When] he's in the game, he's getting knocked down, he's getting pushed out of the way. The guy is horrible. Honestly, the guy is horrible. He's probably a good guy. I'm not taking that away from him, but he's horrible. He's not a good football player. Honestly, he needs to go back and watch the film and humble himself and just play the next game and not say anything."
Ngata bracing for fine
With the NFL scrutinizing illegal hits and violent collisions, Haloti Ngata sounded as if he expects to hear from the league for his roughing-the-passer penalty on Henne in the fourth quarter.
Ngata was flagged for lowering his head and crashing the crown of his helmet into Henne's chest after the quarterback had thrown a pass.
"Hopefully, they let me explain it, but they just might have that fine," he said. "Hopefully, I don't get a Fed Ex [mailing]. Just praying."
Harbaugh seemed to defend Ngata, saying, "I don't know how to coach our guys after that call. I'll be looking forward to hearing what the answer is. It's confusing right now, to be honest."
Donte' Stallworth made his first appearance in a regular-season game in almost two years.
The wide receiver said he played between 15 and 20 snaps in his first contest since Dec. 28, 2008. Stallworth sat out the 2009 season while serving a year-long suspension for his role in driving a car and killing a 59-year-old construction worker in Miami Beach on March 14, 2009, and he had been sidelined since Aug. 28 when he broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in a preseason win against the New York Giants.
"It felt good to be out there," said Stallworth, who did not record a catch. "I thought there was going to be some moment of clarity, but it was just back to work. It was fun being out there. It's been a while, about 22, 23 months, but just getting back out there with the fellas, helping them try to win a ball game, that felt pretty good."
Webb gets 1st INT
Lardarius Webb registered the first interception of his career he snatched a Chad Henne pass intended for wide receiver Brian Hartline in the second quarter.
It provided a moment of joy for Webb, who sat out the season opener as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee sustained in a game against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 20. Webb returned it 32 yards to the Dolphins' 4-yard line, but he chastised himself for trying to cut across the field rather than running down the sideline to the end zone.
"I got a good read on it," Webb said. "The D-line had a great rush, and I just had a good break on it. I should've stayed outside to the sideline, but I tried to cut it back, and it didn't work. I learned a lesson."
Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden returned for the first time since dislocating his left shoulder in the team's 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 19. Gooden played primarily special teams and on obvious passing downs. … The Ravens deactivated safeties Tom Zbikwoski (bruised right heel) and Ken Hamlin, defensive tackles Lamar Divens and rookie Arthur Jones, rookie tight end Dennis Pitta (concussion) and offensive tackle Scott Kooistra. … Miami starting strong safety Yeremiah Bell (toe) played despite being limited in practice last week. … The Dolphins scratched offensive tackles Patrick Brown and Lydon Murtha, safeties Reshad Jones and Nate Ness, defensive end Clifton Geathers, wide receiver Marlon Moore and tight end Mickey Shuler. Tyler Thigpen was the third (emergency) quarterback. … Linebacker Ray Lewis, left guard Ben Grubbs and kicker Billy Cundiff represented the Ravens for the coin toss.
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