During the Ravens' convincing 34-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Pro Bowl running back **Willis McGahee** did not play a single snap.
Despite rumblings from the Baltimore media regarding his status with the team – let alone head coach **John Harbaugh** – McGahee figures to be a solid part of the Ravens' offense moving forward.
That's because the Ravens have navigated three months of the season to an 8-4 record and now stand in the thick of the AFC playoff race. But there is one more month, perhaps the most grueling of any NFL campaign, where McGahee's services as a hard-nosed runner will be sorely needed.
Even though the Ravens' offense has been explosive of late, posting 26 offensive plays for 20 or more yards over the last seven games, the trio of McGahee, **Le’Ron McClain**
and Ray Rice!(/team/roster/ray-rice/9d941a20-0c76-412d-85fd-165a029d59e6/ "Ray Rice") will be critical to grind out the tough yards as conditions sour.
And with three of Baltimore's final four contests within the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens can anticipate some rough weather.
"You want to be a physical football team in the AFC North, and really in the NFL," Harbaugh said in his Monday press conference. "But, especially when you play in these kinds of conditions in December and January in these kinds of stadiums. We want to be built to be successful in December and January and on through.
"[With] Willis, that's the kind of back he is. Really, all three of our backs are those kinds of backs, so we would expect them to be a big part of that."
It seems that the Ravens have had a different back get a majority of the carries each week after all three shared the load early in games. But, a fully-dressed McGahee did not leave the sideline once.
McClain was the Ravens' leading rusher in Cincinnati, posting 86 yards on 25 attempts. Rice contributed 11 tries for 41 yards.
"Really, we think we've got three good players," Harbaugh said. "If you've got three good players, why would you want to put two of them on the bench? So we use them where we can [and] when we can, according to health, according to who's most effective, according to the game plan.
Harbaugh affirmed that McGahee was healthy after the Bengals game, however, and the six-year veteran's absence was a strategic decision.
"I don't know what everybody's talking about," Harbaugh stated. "We really like Willis McGahee. We think he's a really good player, and we plan on Willis being a huge part of what we're doing in December. He's been practicing very well. He's getting stronger and stronger throughout the course of the season."
The Ravens are the league's only club with three players boasting 400 or more rushing yards. With McClain leading the way with 142 attempts for 545 yards and six touchdowns, McGahee has 489 and five scores on 141 carries, and Rice has toted the football 104 times for 423 yards.
Regardless of who is out there, the Ravens realize the importance of having their final quarter of the season largely at home, especially after going 4-2 over a stretch of five road contests in six weeks.
As winter descends on Charm City, the need for a stout defense and a ball-control offense is even greater.
The Ravens' second-ranked defense has been stout for years, and a three-headed rushing attack (currently rated as the NFL's third-best) can be a sound complement
"We have to continue to play tremendous football," said linebacker **Bart Scott**
. "Playing so many road games early in the season was a burden for us, but we are reaping the rewards now. We want the road to the playoffs to come through Baltimore.
"All you can ask for is an opportunity to play in the postseason. What better chance than to play meaningful games at home?"
Whether the Ravens' game plans for the rest of the year include McGahee remains to be seen.
When asked specifically about McGahee's role this weekend against the Washington Redskins, Harbaugh simply responded, "We'll see."