|The Patriots won’t be burned by Ray Rice this time around||01.18.12 at 3:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It was the singular defining moment of one of the more humiliating losses in Patriots playoff history.
Ray Rice, off left guard, scoots through a hole, pushed Brandon Meriweather aside and motored 83 yards to a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Ravens would go on to beat the Patriots, 33-14, two years ago and there are still many on the Patriots who remember that play.
Vince Wilfork was on the nose and watched as No. 27 sped past every Patriot.
“He’s tough to bring down,” Wilfork said. “I mean, his lower body is probably like my lower body, with big thighs and he’s very strong. Hard runner, low center of gravity, can catch well and can block. When you can put those three things in a running back, you’ve got a complete running back and he’s been doing it ever since he’s been in the league. Tough, tough guy to bring down. Very, very physical runner. To be that small, you wouldn’t expect him to be that tough of a runner.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s probably one of the toughest guys to bring down in this league because he always keeps those wheels spinning. He always comes up with big plays for his team, if it’s in the pass game or the running game. When you have a running back like that, you can do anything with him. I think the Ravens do a good job of using him. That’s first on our list, we have to slow him down if we want to be successful as a defense.”
Jerod Mayo was in his first NFL playoff game and was left in shock as Rice rambled downfield.
“He’s one of those guys that can do it all,” Mayo said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s good in blitz pickup. He’s a small guy, but at the same time he’s strong. He always has his feet going, breaks a lot of tackles, so he’s a dangerous weapon for them. There’s a reason why he’s their leading receiver and leading rusher. You rarely see that. He’s a great player.”
But if there’s anyone bound and determined to make sure it doesn’t happen again, it’s coach Bill Belichick.
“Yeah, very, very tough guy to defend,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Similar to problems that we’ve had with [C.J.] Spiller, Reggie Bush in Miami, guys like that can run the ball inside, can run the ball outside, can run with power, can take short plays and go for long yardage, can take wheel routes and close routes and routes out of the backfield and out-run the defense and get behind them. He’s a tough guy to matchup on and he does so many things that you try to stop one thing and you’re vulnerable somewhere else. As usual, it just comes down to team defense, everybody doing their job.”
The Patriots made adjustments in their next meeting, holding him to 88 yards in 28 carries and a long of eight yards, as the Patriots beat the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime on Oct. 17, 2010.
Belichick and the Patriots no doubt paid attention to the Texans defensive scheme last Sunday, a game plan that held Rice to just 60 rushing yards in 21 carries, an average of just 2.9 yards with a fumble. And like Reggie Bush, Roy Helu, Jr, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Rice is a shifty back who can catch the ball as a multi-dimensional back. Sunday, he caught four balls for 20 yards.
“I don’t think, obviously, any one person can stop a player of his caliber,” Belichick added. “It takes a great team effort to do that, whether it’s running or covering or screen passes. It could be a screen pass for 50 yards, it could be a wheel route out of the backfield for 50 yards. It could be the crossing pattern against the Jets that went for 50 yards, it could be a running play up the middle against Cincinnati or two of them actually in short yardage that go for 60, 70 yards. We’ve seen him do it against us, so I have all the respect in the world for Ray Rice. He’s a tough football player. He’s versatile and he really can kill you in a lot of different ways, including returning kicks. I hope they don’t do that with him.”
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