He was right in front of the Ravens bench, and even Head Coach John Harbaugh thought it was going to be hard for him to make it to the first down marker.
Hard? Try near impossible.
Rice turned up-field and left one Charger in his wake. Then he ran away from three more defenders closing in to make the game-ending tackle.
“Then I thought to myself, ‘Can Ray Rice actually convert this?’” Harbaugh said. “Because it’s Ray Rice.”
Assisted by a key block from receiver
He made it.
Rice’s 30-yard catch and run on fourth-and-29 is the longest fourth-down conversion in the NFL in 11 years. And it’s what led the Ravens to an overtime 16-13 comeback win in San Diego Sunday.
“Wow,” Harbaugh simply said.
“It’s one of the most amazing plays I’ve ever seen in a football game,” veteran linebacker
With the win, the Ravens move to 9-2 and have a stranglehold on the AFC North. Pittsburgh lost in Cleveland earlier in the day, meaning the Ravens have a three-game lead on their rivals, who will come to Baltimore next week.
But Sunday’s game in San Diego (4-7) is one to remember for many reasons beyond just what it did for Baltimore’s playoff hopes.
The Ravens were down 10 points in the fourth quarter and their offense hadn’t scored a touchdown in more than eight quarters, dating back to their franchise-record 55 outburst against Oakland two weeks ago. The offense had stumbled and shot itself in the foot throughout Sunday’s game.
And to top it off, it faced a fourth-and-29.
“We firmly believed we were going to get that first down no matter what,” Rice said.
“I didn’t just want to throw a Hail Mary,” Flacco said. “I wanted to give somebody a chance.”
Rice said that once he made the first player miss (it was actually three), he saw the Chargers defenders were forced to flip their hips.
“Then I just kept eyeing the first down,” he said.
Rice thought about heading for the sideline, but chose to get up field as fast as possible. He drove forward for the first down, which was originally granted and upheld after more than 10 minutes of review, a re-spot and a measurement.
“It was just total will,” Rice said. “I guess they figured if you drop it down to the guy then they can rally and make the tackle and game over. I guess when you put me in the equation it’s not that easy.”
Rice instantly patented the play in his post-game press conference: Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice Over The Middle. He also gave credit to his teammates for never giving up.
“You can sense when you feel like they took the life out of you,” he said. “But not this team. This team, we’ve got a will to win.”
The Ravens offense struggled for more than three quarters as their season-long road woes clearly made the trip to San Diego.
Drops by wide receivers
Trailing by seven points in the third quarter, the Ravens drove deep into Chargers territory. They opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from San Diego’s 14-yard line, but backup running back
The Chargers took over possession and marched down the field for a 30-yard field goal by Nick Novak that put them up 10 points with seven minutes, 55 seconds remaining.
Finally, Flacco and the Ravens offense found momentum.
Operating out of the shotgun, Flacco opened up and completed a 24-yard pass to Jones, then a 22-yarder to
The Ravens defense, which stood tall throughout the game and sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers six times, forced a three-and-out and the Ravens had a chance to tie the game.
They were rolling down the field until a holding penalty on guard
Rice pulled off his miraculous play and an 8-yard pass to Jones set up the 38-yard field goal by Tucker.
Baltimore’s final overtime drive started on its own 11-yard line. But Flacco, who struggled mightily for much of the game, was on fire.
“I’m sure people game plan against him and the idea is to keep him from getting started,” Harbaugh said. “Because when he gets started he is difficult to deal with. He was able to get started. It took longer than we hoped, but it was just in time.”
Flacco found Pitta for an 11-yard completion on third down. Then wide receiver
Smith made a complete turn in mid-air and hauled in the pass at San Diego’s 16-yard line to put the Ravens well into field-goal position.
“Joe threw a great ball. He threw the ball where I could get it,” said a modest Smith, who finished with seven catches for 144 yards. “I just turned around and made the play.”
“Torrey’s exactly the one to take a shot to. I figured I just had to give him a chance,” said Flacco, who finished 30-of-51 for 355 yards and a touchdown.
After Tucker’s game-winning field goal, Harbaugh and Rice hung around the field, high-fiving the many Ravens fans at Qualcomm Stadium. They were exuberant.
Baltimore’s in prime position for a fifth-straight trip to the playoffs. And they’re winning in all sorts of dramatic ways.
“I just know we have a football team that has the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t want to go overboard here, but how can you not? Have you ever been a part of a game like that? Have you ever seen a game like that? I never have.
“There’s something going on with this football team that is just really, really special and miraculous.”