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Ravens' recipe for repeat vs. Pats -- another heaping helping of Rice

by | CBSSports.com
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Ray Rice took the carry and ran through a hole his offensive line created near the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Rice burst through, virtually untouched before splitting the secondary. Former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather dove at Rice near the goal line but was unable to grasp his legs on a desperate attempt to save a touchdown.

Rice had just run for 83 yards and into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage against New England in the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs. The play set the tempo of the game as the Ravens rushed for 234 yards in their 33-14 victory that stunned New England in Foxborough.

"If you want to ask me if that was my finest moment in my NFL career, yes it was," said Rice, who finished with 159 yards and two touchdowns that day. "If you can do something that special in a playoff game in another team's stadium -- that was huge. It was something I will cherish for the rest of my life."

On Sunday, the Ravens travel back to Foxborough with hopes of rekindling the magic it had during that playoff game that stunned Gillette Stadium. Outside of that win, the Ravens haven't been successful against New England. The Ravens are 1-6 all time against the Patriots, their last meeting a 23-20 overtime loss in 2010.

To defeat this year's Pats, a team that had quarterback Tom Brady throw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, Rice will need to have a big game. One theory of slowing down a dynamic passing attack is to keep it from being on the field. With Rice, the Ravens have a chance to do that.

"In order to keep Tom Brady off the field we have to simply execute at a high level," Rice said. "We have to play championship football."

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An initial knee-jerk reaction following the Ravens' 20-13 win over Houston on Sunday was that New England's offense was far superior to what Baltimore could possibly bring to the table. That's probably part of the reason why New England opened as a 7½-point favorite in Las Vegas on Monday.

But the Ravens aren't built to spread the ball around at a fast pace like the Patriots.

This Baltimore offense is a throwback in the NFL's new era, where quarterbacks are asked to chuck it up consistently. Rice is the focal point. The Ravens will go as far as Rice will take them.

"We don't do a ton of things to be real explosive and in the top of the league statistically," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "But we have the ability to be a really good offense."

Here's what Rice accomplished this season: 1,364 rushing yards, 704 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He and Marshall Faulk are the only NFL running backs to post multiple seasons of 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards. This was Rice's second time (2009) and Faulk accomplished the feat four years in a row (1998-2001).

Much of the early conversation this week has been that Flacco needs to have the best game of his career if the Ravens are to upset the Patriots. This isn't necessarily true. Sure, Flacco needs a solid, mistake-free outing like any quarterback at this time of the year.

But what won the Ravens their game in New England during the 2009 playoffs was running the ball effectively. The experience of being in that situation combined with the fact Baltimore has been in the playoffs for the past four seasons gives this group a good idea of what it needs to do to continue its season.

"It's good to have that under your belt so you have an understanding of that situation," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

This season, when Rice touches the ball at least 20 times, the Ravens win. The only time the Ravens won when Rice didn't touch the ball 20 times was in Week 3 against St. Louis, when the game was an afterthought by the end of the third quarter.

Rice said Baltimore has a fair chance of winning if he gets about 25 touches against New England, regardless of how they come. They could come primarily through the passing game or they could all be rushes. After losing to Seattle earlier this season, with Rice touching the ball just 13 times, veteran linebacker and De facto on-field coach Ray Lewis said the ball had to go through Rice's hands for the Ravens to win games.

With the AFC championship on the line against one of the league's elite offenses, Rice is most certainly the biggest key for Baltimore's success on Sunday.

Rice remembers that wild-card victory over New England as one of the defining moments during his four years in the NFL. But he also remembers losing to the Colts in the following game. The playoffs can make or break certain players and establish long-lasting legacies, such as Lewis, the only remaining player on Baltimore's roster that was a part of the 2000 Super Bowl championship team.

"Obviously we didn't go on and win the big dance [after beating New England] but the playoffs separates everybody," Rice said. "There's a reason why there's only four teams [left] and only one true champion at the end of the year."

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