Instead of essentially abandoning the running game like they did a week ago during the second half of a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens found a way to make Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice a vital part of the offense on Sunday night.
During the Ravens' dramatic 31-30 win over the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium, Rice ran for a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Giving the football to Rice continues to be an effective strategy for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who didn't call the all-purpose threat's number often during the second half against Philadelphia. Cameron had drawn criticism for not calling Rice's number in any of the Ravens' short-yardage situations against the Eagles.
Rice rushed for a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Rice also contributed five receptions for 49 yards.
"It felt good to get the running game going," Rice said. "The run set up the pass. They were in a lot of Cover 2 and we knew they were going to do that. Joe Flacco really picked that defense apart, but we also ran the ball really well.
"I didn't want to get in a scoring match with them, but when they got ahead we never hung our heads, we just continued to battle and I was enjoying the back and forth. It was a heavyweight fight."
The Patriots entered the game with the second-ranked defense in the NFL, but allowed 121 rushing yards to Baltimore.
"That defense over there is a great defense," Rice said. "They don't get much credit because they have Tom Brady. They've got to two great pass rushers. [Vince] Wilfork is a beast and they've got great linebackers. It was a slugfest."
Just as the Ravens were building some momentum with Rice, though, rookie running back Bernard Pierce was brought into the game in the fourth quarter and was stuffed in the backfield short of the first down.
"How surprised was I about fourth-and-one?" Rice said. "We won the game. That's all that matters. Bernard Pierce is 230 pounds. I'm 210 pounds. So, the moral of the story is we won the game."
Tucker makes game-winner
Unlike the chip shot that former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff sailed wide left in the AFC championship game, rookie kicker Justin Tucker connected on his short field goal to beat the New England Patriots.
Tucker narrowly made a 27-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, a game-winning kick as the Ravens defeated the Patriots, 31-30, Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It was pretty cool," Tucker said. "It may not have sunk in yet. Hopefully, this is one of many. I relish the opportunity. It's fun. I'm excited."
The kick almost traveled too far to the right, but the former University of Texas standout got the job done.
"Bottom line is it went in," Tucker said. "That's all I care about. It went in."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick called a timeout to try to freeze Tucker, who made the kick routinely as the whistle blew.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked if he was concerned if the kick wouldn't have gone through the uprights.
"If I was, I would not admit it," Harbaugh said. "The first one did look a little more clean, I will say."
Tucker acknowledged that the kick did carry some extra emotions for him as he dealt with the higher stakes of the situation.
"I try to make it feel the same, but, at the same time, you can't help it," Tucker said. "There's a lot of emotion. There's a lot of history between these two teams. It's just one of those things that you accept, and you've really just got to embrace it and embrace it in the moment."
Tucker unseated Cundiff, a former Pro Bowl kicker, with a superior preseason.
He's now made the first seven kicks of his NFL career, and he's been earning his teammates' confidence.
"I was already sending my farewells," running back Ray Rice said. "I've seen him make those kicks in practice all the time."
Long snapper Morgan Cox was impressed by Tucker's poise.
"I'm really happy for him," Cox said. "It's a summation of all the hard work we put in. Lead him the right way and keep him focused and grounded."
Tucker has a certain swagger, particularly for a kicker, which resonates with his teammates in the locker room.
"Tucker's money, man," strong safety Bernard Pollard siad. "Tucker's different from every other kicker. The dude has character. He's loud, he's having fun, and we're enjoying him. He's a character and he belongs in this locker room."
Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw started his second consecutive game. Starting ahead of Paul Kruger, Upshaw registered three tackles with one for a loss.
Kruger substituted for Upshaw and wound up with three tackles, including one for a loss.
Using a platoon system didn't create much of a pass rush, though, for Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees against his old team.
By the fourth quarter, the Ravens had only one sack and three hits on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The sack was by Dannell Ellerbe, who charged into the Patriots' backfield on an inside linebacker blitz.
Belichick chases the refs
While running off the field following the Ravens' 31-30 victory Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was in hot pursuit of one of the replacement officials.
Belichick grabbed his arm to get his attention and yelled at the official, who twisted away from Belichick and headed to the locker room.
Belichick was irate at the officials throughout the game.
Making contact with an official is likely to draw a hefty fine for Belichick, particularly following a warning to NFL teams about respecting the officials from NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.
"I'm not going to comment about that," Belichick said when asked about his confrontation with the official. "You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?
Actually, the Patriots were penalized 10 times for 83 yards and the Ravens were penalized 14 times for 135 yards.
"Can someone please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!! #BreakingPoint," Patrots linebacker Brandon Spikes wrote on his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh said he was trying to get the official's attention to call a timeout, but it came off as bumping him.
"I guess I didn't understand how he interpreted it, but what we're told is to get the timeout where they can see it in front of their face in those situations," Harbaugh said. "That's what I've been told for five years going into this game. I think he took it as bumping him. I didn't mean to bump him. I wanted to call a timeout, so I apologize for bumping, but the intent was to call a timeout."
Belichick was visibly irate after a questionable offensive pass interference call on wide receiver Julian Edelman in the first quarter where he was flagged for contact with Ravens cornerback Cary Williams.
However, the contact appeared minimal at best. And it enraged Belichick, who was spotted yelling at the officials on at least one other occasion.
When asked if he thinks he'll be fined for making contact with an official, Belichick replied: "No."
Welker gets deep
The reports of veteran wide receiver Wes Welker being phased out of the Patriots' offense appear to be premature at best.
When cornerback Lardarius Webb blitzed quarterback Tom Brady and free safety Ed Reed didn't hustle over in time, Brady launched a 59-yard bomb to Welker.
Welker finished the game with eight catches for 142 yards while Brandon Lloyd led the Patriots with nine receptions for 108 yards.
There has been speculation that Welker, a franchise player, had fallen out of favor with the Patriots' organization due to his contract stalemate, a piece of business that played out far more publicly than the secretive AFC East franchise prefers.
A painful nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder has periodically affected free safety Ed Reed for the past few seasons, occasionally hampering his tackling effectiveness.
However, that ailment didn't slow down the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year against the Patriots.
Reed crushed Julian Edelman in the end zone when the wide receiver attempted to run a crossing pattern in front of him. The huge hit dislodged the football, preventing a touchdown.
He finished the game with seven tackles, one for a loss and a pass deflection.
Days before kickoff, Reed reflected on the constant chess match with Brady.
"He’s always playing the game with you, so to say," Reed said. "He’s great in his checks and everything and in taking his time. He’s a very patient quarterback. Brady, he’s a good quarterback, man, a hell of a competitor."
Despite a painful rib contusion suffered a week ago, strong safety Bernard Pollard started and appeared to have no issues with the injury.
Pollard got injured last week while sacking Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the first quarter and didn't return.
He had six tackles, one for a loss, with a pass deflection.
"I'm all right," Pollard said. "I played and I finished the game. Before I went out there, I was going to play fast, physical and hard. I feel good, man. Everybody is hurting. I'm not any different from any man in this locker room. With this game, you never play it 100 percent."
Spectacle on the field A shirtless man wearing a cape and short shorts ran onto the field late in the first half. He ran around the field, eluding police officers and security guards and reached the Patriots' sideline before he was tackled inside the 20-yard line. It wasn't the red zone for him, other than scrapes, as he was eventually surrounded by security guards and body-slammed to the ground. He was led off the field to face the consequences of his actions. Paying their respects The Ravens honored the late younger brother of wide receiver Torrey Smith with a moment of silence before kickoff as well as Steve Sabol, the late founder of NFL Films.
One week after outside linebacker Sergio Kindle was active against the Eagles, the former second-round draft pick was a healthy scratch.
Kindle had a tackle against the Eagles, but didn't mount much of a pass rush. Offensive tackle Jah Reid (strained right calf) was also inactive.
Reid was doubtful on the final injury report.
Rookie cornerback Asa Jackson, tight end Billy Bajema, defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall and wide receiver LaQuan Williams were all inactive for the third consecutive game.
The Ravens reported no new injuries. ... The Patriots scratched tight end Aaron Hernandez (sprained ankle), running back Shane Vereen, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, center Nick McDonald and defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick, Jake Bequette and Justin Francis. ... Prior to kickoff, Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala spent some time huddling on the field with Belichick, a lacrosse enthusiast and close friend. ... Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps and his fashion model girlfriend Megan Rossee, were on the field before the game. ... The Ravens' game captains were defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, offensive guard Marshal Yanda and backup safety James Ihedigbo, a former Patriots starter. ... Javier Colon, the winner of The Voice, an NBC television singing competition, sang the national anthem.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times