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Gore & Rice: Contrasting styles, mutual respect

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Gore & Rice: Contrasting styles, mutual respect

NEW ORLEANS (AP) One guy is a bruiser of a back, just as comfortable running through defenders as around them.

The other is more of a slasher, darting this way and that to make people miss, requiring only the slightest opening to bust off a big gain.

They may be different in style - Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens - but the featured runners at this Super Bowl have at least one thing in common.

Plenty of respect for the other guy.

``He's like a bull,'' Rice said Monday evening, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens arrived in the Big Easy. ``If you watch Frank Gore, he doesn't take the hits. He actually delivers them because of his low center of gravity.''

Gore was just as effusive with the praise when talking about his counterpart.

``He does it all. I love to watch him,'' Gore said. ``He doesn't have to hesitate to make moves, to make people miss. He can cut and go, cut and go. If you can cut and go, you can be pretty good in this league.''

They sure took different paths to get here.

The 29-year-old Gore has endured plenty of defeats, personal heartache (losing his mother to kidney failure) and a startling string of injuries that might have broken a lesser person. He tore up both knees in college at the University of Miami, prompting him to wonder if ``football wasn't for me.'' Shaking off the doubts, he was drafted by the 49ers, but needed major surgery on both shoulders after his rookie campaign. Later, he lost part of another season to a hip injury.

``To battle through what he's been through? He's a warrior,'' Rice said. ``Hats off to my man Frank.''

Gore started his pro career with a series of bad teams. Really bad teams. During his first six years in the league, the 49ers failed to post a winning record - which was especially galling for someone who was brought up on a win-or-bust mentality with the Hurricanes.

``It was tough, real tough,'' Gore said. ``I would see some guys - who are not here anymore - after we lost, and they would just be like, `Whatever.' I was not used to that. If we lost one game at Miami, it was like our season was over.''

One of his teammates, 49ers fullback Bruce Miller, has noticed the determination in Gore's eyes as the team prepares to face the Ravens in the title game Sunday.

``It means a lot to him,'' Miller said. ``In meetings and at practice, you can see how intense and focused he is. He's worked hard for it.''

For Rice, the road has been much smoother.

Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the AFC championship game. But it ended there. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

``It's been a great journey for me,'' Rice said. ``I just have a lot in my life.''

He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, also getting more than 60 receptions each of those seasons. Describing himself, he uses terms like ``complete player'' and ``all-purpose guy,'' both of which are right on the mark.

In a November game at San Diego, Rice provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing fourth-and-29, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

As for Gore, his numbers are equally impressive - more than 1,000 yards on the ground six of the last seven seasons, as well as becoming San Francisco's career leader in rushing touchdowns.

``We always credit Frank with the tough yards,'' Miller said. ``He doesn't get the easy runs. It's up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That's why we're here.''

Even so, both running backs are a bit overlooked heading into the title game.

In San Francisco, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense are all the rage. For Baltimore, much of the attention is focused on retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who has finally escaped his playoff demons.

``When you look at the criticism that Flacco has been through, and you see what a young quarterback like Kaepernick is doing, I would make them the headlines, too,'' Rice said. ``I'm just being honest.''

But, chances are, Rice and Gore will have a significant impact on the outcome Sunday, especially since their rookie backups - LaMichael James in San Francisco, Bernard Pierce in Baltimore - emerged as major threats late in the season and playoffs, taking some of the load off the two starters.

``It keeps me fresh,'' Gore said. ``Early in my career, I probably wouldn't have liked it. Now, it gets me ready for the fourth quarter. When the defense is wearing down, that's when I get going.''

No matter who's hoisting the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

``We don't have to hit each other,'' Rice quipped. ``I'd like to win on Sunday. I don't want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I'm happy for him.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

JACKSONVILLE – In Terrell Suggs fashion, the Ravens’ linebacker described what it felt like to have Joe Flacco as a quarterback, and Justin Tucker as a placekicker.

“You want a quarterback with ice in his veins, and you damn sure want a kicker with ice in his veins,” said Suggs, after the Ravens escaped Jacksonville with a 19-17 victory that kept them unbeaten at 3-0.

Tucker delivered again for the Ravens, making four field goals, including the 54-yard game-winner with 67 seconds left to play. Having a kicker as clutch as Tucker, with range well beyond 50 yards, is another reason why opponents dread seeing Tucker trot onto the field. Leave the game up to Tucker, and it’s game over.

“There’s definitely butterflies,” said Tucker, when asked how he feels kicking game-winners. “We get into these situations and we’ve had a good handful of them in my time here. Do they get easier? I’m not really sure. But I can tell you the more opportunities and we have and I successfully convert, the more confidence I have.”

Flacco will never be the smoothest quarterback in the NFL, but he remains one of the most poised. His performance on Sunday (29 of 40, 214 yards, on rushing TD, two interceptions) was all over the map. There was the good Flacco – at one point he set a franchise record by completing 21 straight passes. There was the bad Flacco – two interceptions during the final seven minutes that almost cost the Ravens the game.

But on the Ravens’ final drive, Flacco completed four passes, including a fourth-down pass to Steve Smith Sr. that helped move Tucker into range.

There was a fine line between winning and losing Sunday, and once again the Ravens cut it close. But in that situation, who would you rather have as your quarterback, Flacco or Blake Bortles of the Jaguars (24 of 38, two touchdowns, three interceptions)? Even when Flacco doesn’t play nearly his best, he doesn’t get flustered.

“I would’ve liked to have made it easier for him (Tucker), myself, and all the people back in Baltimore,” Flacco said. “There’s no need to be giving people heart attacks every single week. But if you win you win.”

And once again, having Tucker and Flacco during the final minutes was a winning combination.

MORE RAVENS: Flacco sets new franchise record vs. Jaguars

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Ravens defense picks off Jaguars in 19-17 win

Ravens defense picks off Jaguars in 19-17 win

The Ravens’ offseason emphasis on creating more turnovers is already paying big dividends, and it played a huge role in the Ravens’ 19-17 win at Jacksonville on Sunday.

The Ravens picked off Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles three times, giving them five interceptions in the first three games. Last season, the Ravens totaled just six interceptions, which ranked last in the league and was a franchise record-low.

Against the Jaguars, C.J. Mosley turned in a highlight-reel, one-handed pick of Bortles to thwart one Jaguars drive late in the first quarter, and rookie Tavon Young recorded his first career interception on a pass that was tipped by Timmy Jernigan. That, too, occurred in Ravens territory and denied the Jaguars a chance to add to their 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then clinched the win when Bortles’ desperation pass in the final minute was tipped by Lardarius Webb and picked off by Zach Orr.

The Ravens had not recorded three interceptions in a game since the 2013 finale at Cincinnati.

Throughout training camp, the Ravens worked diligently on turnovers. In one drill, defensive backs had to try to catch tennis balls lofted downfield as a way to get them to track the ball better. The Ravens also worked on tipped passes, on pouncing on incompletions in case one might sometime be ruled a catch-and-fumble, anything to generate more of what John Harbaugh calls “sudden change” plays.

On Sunday, that work paid off, and though it wasn’t always pretty, the Ravens are sitting at 3-0 for just the third time in franchise history.

MORE RAVENS: Flacco sets new franchise record vs. Jaguars