- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2011

CLEVELAND — As Ray Lewis watched from the sideline, Baltimore’s other Ray ran roughshod over the Browns.

Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 204 yards, breaking loose on a game-changing 67-yarder in the third quarter, and the Ravens kept pace with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North by pounding Cleveland 24-10 on Sunday.

“It was critical,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Rice’s career-best scamper. “That was the key to the game, to come back and answer like that. It was a huge answer for us.”

Rice and Ricky Williams had short touchdown runs and Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a TD for the Ravens (9-3), who toyed with the Browns (4-8).

Baltimore racked up 290 yards rushing, and were in such control that quarterback Joe Flacco took a knee three times to run out the final two minutes.

“They just flat out whupped us up front,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “They embarrassed us. It was a slap in the face.”

The Ravens turned to Rice on a blustery, misting day, when Flacco had trouble throwing and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a pair of field-goal attempts.

Cleveland lost for the fifth time in six games, and the banged-up Browns have just three days to prepare for the Steelers.

One play after Cleveland closed within 10-3, Rice broke the Browns’ backs with his long run.

Taking the handoff from Flacco at his own 27, Rice swept left, found a seam and cut back to the middle of the field. He was able to pull away from a bunch of pursuing Browns near midfield before being pushed out of bounds at Cleveland’s 5. From there, Williams carried twice, bowling in from the 1 to put the Ravens ahead 17-3.

For the third straight week, the Ravens were without Lewis, their motivational leader and star linebacker who has been slowed by a nagging toe injury. But the 5-foot-8, 212-pound Rice, who has become one of the NFL’s best all-around backs, carried the load and made sure Baltimore didn’t miss a beat.

“Getting this win without No. 52 is a blessing,” Rice said of Lewis, who prowled the sideline yelling encouragement at his teammates and taunting the Browns. “When I came off to the sideline, he was coaching me as well. He said he was a running back in high school and was giving tips.”

The Ravens hadn’t played since Thanksgiving and were out of sync at times. However, they were finally able to beat a weaker opponent following a quality win. Three times this season, they had stubbed their toe on the road following victories but despite two botched field goals, and a fumble that gave the Browns great field position, the Ravens pushed toward the playoffs.

The Browns have major problems.

Quarterback Colt McCoy finished just 17 of 35 for 192 yards and a TD. But he fell to 0-7 in his career against division opponents, and did little to convince Browns management that he should be their QB of the future. He’s got four games left this season to make a favorable impression, assuming he’s healthy enough to play.

McCoy injured his right knee early, came back after missing one play and took several hard shots in the second half.

After throwing a short pass in the first quarter, McCoy was hit by Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones as he backpedaled. At first, McCoy, whose white No. 12 jersey was smeared with grass stains and dirt, appeared to be seriously injured. He fell back to the turf, was treated by trainers and limped to the sideline. Backup Seneca Wallace came in for one play, but McCoy returned the next time Cleveland got the ball.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis also sustained an unspecified leg injury. The Browns don’t believe it’s related to the strained hamstring that sidelined him for five straight games.

The Ravens thoroughly dominated the Browns in the first half, but led only 10-0 at the break after Cundiff missed field-goal attempts of 34 and 41 yards.

Baltimore had the ball for 18:49 and racked up 158 rushing yards on 28 carries in the opening 30 minutes. At halftime, the Ravens had 260 total yards to 93 for Cleveland. Amazingly, it was still a game at the break.

Following Cundiff’s second miss to the right, Cleveland had a chance to run out the clock and escape to the locker room trailing just 7-0. But McCoy was intercepted by Jimmy Smith, who returned it to the Browns 15. The Ravens, who inexplicably stopped giving the ball to Rice in the final minutes of the first half, had to settle for Cundiff’s 21-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.

Somehow, the Browns managed to hang around and cut it to 10-3 in the third on Phil Dawson’s 21-yard field goal.

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