Since he came out of Rutgers in 2008 as one of those "too-small/too-slow" guys who had to prove the world wrong, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has used a life-sized chip on his shoulder, and a special brand of determination, to make himself into one of the NFL's more indispensable players. Not only has he been Baltimore's franchise back every year since 2009, he's ranked in the top three in yards from scrimmage every season from '09 through 2011.
This has been a bit of a down year statistically for Rice as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron moves the Ravens to a more wide-open passing attack, but if you ever questioned Rice's importance to the team, you were certainly quieted near the end of Baltimore's 16-13 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers.
The Ravens wouldn't have been in a position to go to overtime had Rice not made what might be the play of the year. With 1:59 left in regulation, and the ball at the Ravens' 37-yard line, quarterback Joe Flacco responded to a fourth-and-29 situation by throwing a little swing pass to Rice that went 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage. Under normal circumstances, the receiver would have been tackled a few yards upfield, the Chargers would have taken over on downs, and everyone in Baltimore would have been roasting Cameron and Flacco all week.
Under abnormal circumstances, you get one running back making a supreme effort, pulling through several Chargers defenders, and just barely picking up the first down. The replay assistant upstairs challenged the spot from referee Gene Steratore's crew, and that took about 10 interminable minutes, but it was eventually ruled a first down. Six plays later, kicker Justin Tucker booted a 38-yard field goal to end regulation and tie the game. And with 1:12 left in overtime, Tucker nailed another 38-yarder to give the Ravens the come-from-behind win -- and add another agonizing loss to Norv Turner's quiver.
The real story was Rice's historic conversion. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the play was the longest fourth-down conversion since 2001, when the Buffalo Bills converted a fourth-and-34 against the Indianapolis Colts.
You just don't see plays like this every day. And you don't see running backs like Ray Rice too often at all.
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