OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Ray Rice’s incredible fourth-down journey through the San Diego defense helped the Baltimore Ravens move closer to a second straight division title.
It’s also possible that Rice’s catch-and-run gem — a 29-yard gain on a fourth-and-29 situation in Sunday’s 16-13 overtime victory — could ultimately be the defining moment for a team in the hunt to secure the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
“We’ll see what it means, if we can capitalize on it and stack some success on top of that,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
Baltimore punted on all six first-half possessions and trailed 13-10 when Rice weaved his way up the field to secure a first down at the San Diego 34 with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-8 running back eluded several tackles, received a crushing block from wide receiver Anquan Boldin and finally lunged forward to cover the necessary yardage.
“It’s going to go down in history. It was just a remarkable play … the greatest play I’ve ever seen or been a part of,” Harbaugh said. “It was 11 guys who made the play happen. One guy had a real big role in it. It was a sensational play by Ray Rice.”
Had the Ravens lost, they would have dropped into a tie with New England and Denver for second-best record in the AFC. Instead, Baltimore (9-2) remained a game behind Houston for the best record in the conference and retained its grip on the No. 2 seed.
The Ravens have played seven games decided by seven points or fewer. They have won six of them.
“We know how to win football games,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We’ve done a great job of that over the years. It wasn’t perfect, but not every game is going to be perfect. When you can grind one out in the end like that it shows that you’re a tough football team with a lot of resilience that knows how to win.”
Said Rice: “We firmly believed we were going to get the first down.”
If the Ravens (9-2) beat fading Pittsburgh (6-5) this Sunday and Cincinnati loses to San Diego, Baltimore will clinch the AFC North title.
“The thing our guys have done is, as a team, they’ve positioned themselves really well to take advantage of an opportunity,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you try to do. Every game makes the next game that much more important.”
The Ravens have won four straight, all without injured linebacker Ray Lewis, who’s been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps. To most players, a torn triceps is a season-ending injury.
Knowing how resilient Lewis is, Baltimore placed him on the injured reserve/designated for return list. And now it appears as if Lewis might be back in the weeks ahead.
“I think he will. That’s a best guess,” Harbaugh said. “He’s working hard to do that. There have been no setbacks, so there’s a possibility.”
Baltimore’s defense has done just fine without Lewis. After holding the Steelers to 10 points one week earlier, the Ravens had six sacks and limited the Chargers to 280 yards over nearly five quarters.
“Defensively, we played pretty well throughout,” Harbaugh said. “But as the game went along, we got better on defense. We tackled better. We defended better. We are improving on defense, and we improved throughout the course of the game.”
Still, the Ravens wouldn’t love to have Lewis back. The 37-year-old worked the sideline in San Diego, offering advice and encouragement while dressed in a sweatsuit. But he’s far more valuable on the field.
“It would be great to get Ray Lewis back. All of our guys would welcome Ray back with open arms if and when that happens,” Harbaugh said. “Adding a great player into the mix is only going to make us better.”
The Ravens made a roster move Monday, placing safety Anthony Levine on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. David Reed, last year’s starting kick returner, was activated from the physically unable to perform list.
Harbaugh said tight end Ed Dickson (knee) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) will likely practice sparingly this week but could play against the Steelers.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)