NEW ORLEANS — The story seems too good to be true, even to Ravens running back Ray Rice.
"We had a guy who lost his brother the night before a game and went out there and played on a Sunday," Rice said. "We lose Ray Lewis. We lost Terrell Suggs. Our whole defense was hurt at one point. We shuffle our offensive line. Our coordinator [gets fired].
"Listen, I need a ghostwriter to write this book, and I want all residuals on this one because this is going to be a great story."
In the middle of this story should be a chapter based in San Diego a little over two months ago.
On Nov. 25, Rice manufactured 29 yards against the San Diego Chargers in one of the most improbable scenarios, leading to a 16-13 win in overtime that could be considered a critical step in the Ravens' ride to Super Bowl XLVII.
As the Ravens took part in four consecutive days of interviews leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl, they were asked numerous times how Rice converted a dump-off pass on fourth-and-29 against the Chargers into a first down. The play extended the game and led to a victory that proved pivotal in the playoff hunt.
The Ravens would go on to lose four of their next five games — a slide so steep the Ravens clinched a playoff berth after a loss when the Pittsburgh Steelers were mathematically eliminated.
Yet Rice can't get the phrase "team of destiny" out of his head as he and his teammates reflect on the 2012 regular season.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith's brother died in a motorcycle accident the night before the Ravens played the New England Patriots on Sept. 23.
Lewis tore his triceps and Lardarius Webb tore his right anterior cruciate ligament against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14. Suggs was out six weeks with an Achilles injury and later suffered a torn biceps. And offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired the day after an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9.
"When you have a great team, all things are possible," Rice said. "I don't have to be the center of attention, but I know I'm a playmaker on this team. When it comes, I just have to make the play."
Before Rice found himself in the middle of one of the most memorable plays of his career, he was waiting for a new contract.
In the final year of his rookie deal, Rice and the Ravens spent much of last offseason in negotiations. In July, the Ravens eventually signed Rice to a five-year extension valued at $40 million, including $24 million in guaranteed money.
The contract was a reward for Rice, who led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage in 2011 (2,061) and was second in the league in rushing yards (1,364).
With a new contract behind him, Rice entered training camp looking for another productive season. But the season began with an offense heavily focused on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game.
Rice ended the regular season with 1,143 yards rushing, which was his second-lowest total since his rookie season in 2008, but his nine rushing touchdowns were the second-most in his career. He shared carries with rookie Bernard Pierce, which gave the Ravens an added dimension in their running game.
"We're very blessed and we're lucky to have these guys," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Bernard Pierce has just been a guy that has lit it up for us this year. We liked him a lot, but I don't think we thought he'd be this good of a player. The two styles contrast perfectly. They're different kinds of running backs between [Rice] and Bernard, so that helps us a lot, too. I don't know how one running back could do it, especially if you're going to run the ball the way we're going to run the ball. "
Rice didn't have the type of production he had during the 2011 season, but he proved why the Ravens consider him a playmaker on that day in November.
The Ravens arrived in San Diego, riding a three-game winning streak. But the Ravens struggled much of the game against the Chargers.
Then the game came down to fourth-and-29. The Ravens were at their own 37-yard line with 1:37 to play in regulation, trailing by three points.
On the snap, the Ravens receivers sprinted down the field, but Flacco didn't have any options. So he dumped a pass 3 yards out to Rice.
"I was surprised," Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "Fourth-and-29, we throw a checkdown, but I mean if you're going to throw it to anybody, you would throw it to a Ray Rice, a guy who's able to break tackles and that's what he did."
Rice made a couple of players miss and Boldin sprinted back to make one last block to spring Rice for a couple of extra yards. And then the officials had to measure.
"Most memorable part of that play, I'll be honest, was the chain measurement," Rice said. "If I didn't' get the yards, it would have just been known as a great effort. But because it was a first down, it was one of the most memorable plays of the year."
The play was just enough for a first down and kept the drive alive for the Ravens as rookie Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to tie the score at 13. He then kicked another 38-yarder in overtime to win the game.
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After the victory, Rice called the play, "hey diddle, diddle, Ray Rice up the middle."
"That was a big play and was one of the turning points of our season to just come from behind and win on a desperation play," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said. "If we don't win that one, we might not be sitting here today. "
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said the play was an example of how Rice can be a game-changer for the Ravens.
"What he brings to the Ravens is an element that's kind of missing because a lot of teams fall in love with the multiple running back situation, but Ray's ability to run the ball inside and outside, catch the ball, and his ability to protect in the passing game, he's been everything and more that this organization asked for when they drafted him," Faulk said.
Now this season is coming to an end with the Super Bowl, Rice said he is embracing the last part of the Ravens' story.
"I've always watched Super Bowls, and it's like one of those things on the bucket list," Rice said. "You can't put it on there until you actually get into the league. I couldn't imagine what a Super Bowl would feel like. I did media day one year when I made the Pro Bowl in Miami, and I couldn't imagine feeling the way this team felt. I just watched the Saints and Colts and thought it must feel good to be them right now. That was special. Now I'm here in the same seats, and it's fun. It's quite the ride."