*Leading up to the NFL Combine and Draft, BaltimoreRavens.com is taking a look back at the success of 2008, and we need your help. To kick things off, what do you think was the best Ravens run last year? *
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(nominees are presented in chronological order)
1) Clayton Turns on the Jets - Ravens 17 – Bengals 10, Week 1
The setup:Baltimore began their successful 2008 campaign with a look at how inventive their offense could actually be under new coordinator Cam Cameron. On their third series against the Cincinnati Bengals, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco marched the Ravens to Cincinnati's 42-yard line with a series of short passes out of the no-huddle offense.
The payoff:On first-and-10, Cameron then delved into his playbook to catch the Bengals off guard. Flacco handed the ball to wideout Derrick Mason, who was sprinting from left to right, and Mason then flipped the ball to receiver Mark Clayton. With Flacco throwing a key lead block, the speedy Clayton ran unabated to score the Ravens' first touchdown of the year.
He said:"I'm like, 'Joe, just don't hurt yourself no matter what you do,'" Clayton said with a laugh. "Coach tells us that if you don't have the ball, you're a blocker. That goes for all 11. Everybody was able to make some good blocks, and I was able to get the ball in the end zone."
2) Joe Knows Running - Ravens 17 – Bengals 10, Week 1
The setup:While it was a tough decision to pull two plays from the same game, this one is definitely worth mentioning. Heading into their season opener, the Ravens knew they had a strong-armed young quarterback that could make all the throws in Flacco, but the biggest knock on the rookie was a perceived lack of mobility. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, the Delaware product wasn't known for his fleet feet. Still, he surprised a lot of people in his regular season debut.
The payoff:With the Ravens holding on to a precarious 10-7 lead in the third quarter, Flacco made a key play that put the game out of reach. Facing first-and-10 on the Bengals' 38-yard line, Flacco rolled right and saw nothing but daylight between him and the end zone. Following a block by center Jason Brown and Clayton, Flacco dove across the goal line for the score.
He said:"I started running, and I was thinking 'first down, first down, first down,'" Flacco explained of a run that was 13 yards longer than any attempt in his collegiate career. "I got to the first down point, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I don't think there's anybody here.' I just started going up field and thought, 'I'm going to get to the end zone here.'"
3) Le'Ron Smashes His Way Onto the League's Radar – Steelers 23 - Ravens 20 (OT), Week 4
The setup:Even though he led the Ravens in rushing their first two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers' run defense was another animal for Le'Ron McClain to battle compared to the Bengals and Browns. Still, McClain managed to average 3.9 yards per carry against the NFL's top-ranked unit. The 260-pounder saved his most demonstrative run for late in regulation.
The payoff:Down a touchdown with just over four minutes to play, Cameron put in the Ravens' heavy package that called fro 330-pound offensive tackle Adam Terry to line up at tight end. McClain took the handoff to the left side and was immediately met by linebacker LaMarr Woodley at the 2-yard line. Maintaining his churning legs, McClain came out on the plus side, as he bulled over Woodley for the tying score.
He said:"We just decided to do what we always do," stated left guard Ben Grubbs. "I have faith in the other guys on the offensive line. We just came out there and executed, and it paid off."
4) Rice Emerges as a Threat – Ravens 37 - Browns 27, Week 9
The setup:As the weeks wore on, McClain and Willis McGahee had emerged as the Ravens' top two rushing threats, while Ray Rice was still mainly a situational third-down back. But with Baltimore heading to their AFC North rival Cleveland Browns in need of a win to secure their grasp on the division.
The payoff:With Baltimore tying the contest at 27 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens needed a big play as time ticked off the clock. They got it from Rice, who had left defenders grasping at air all day. Rice took a handoff with 7:30 left and followed right guard Marshal Yanda to sprint 60 yards before he was pushed out of bounds. His run set up a 22-yard field goal from Matt Stover, and the Ravens never relinquished the lead.
He said:"We called the play and the hole opened up," Rice said of his 60-yarder. "As a running back, you always want a one-on-one. Your eyes get big when you see that hole. They close up a lot quicker in the NFL. That was one of the turning points."
5) McGahee and McClain Double Up – Ravens 33 - Cowboys 24, Week 16
The setup:The Ravens had yet another must-win that had playoff hopes hinging on their meeting with the Dallas Cowboys. To add to the pressure, the late-December matchup was to be the last game in Texas Stadium. Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain made sure to close out the venerable location in fitting style – for Baltimore fans.
The payoff:Baltimore had been in control for most of the night, but the Cowboys came storming back in the fourth quarter. Luckily, McGahee and McClain were up to the challenge. Dallas pulled to within two points with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with 3:54 remaining. On the next snap, McGahee burst up the middle for a 77-yard score, tying a Dallas record for the longest run by an opponent. The Cowboys answered with an 8-play, 70-yard scoring drive to again close the margin to two. But on the very next Ravens snap, McClain broke McGahee's record with an 82-yard jaunt to the end zone.
He said:"Our offensive line kept pounding and pounding away, like a hammer to a rock," said head coach John Harbaugh. "The rock finally cracked."