- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - Instead of having Ray Rice bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season, the Baltimore Ravens have Justin Forsett enjoying the best year of his career.

And it just might take them all the way to the playoffs.

After becoming the Ravens’ featured back in 2009, Rice ran for at least 1,000 yards in four straight seasons before being limited to 660 last year while averaging a dismal 3.1 yards per carry.

Still, he was expected to maintain his starting role in 2014 despite beginning the season by serving a two-game suspension for domestic violence.

Everything changed on Sept. 8, when a video surfaced of Rice striking his then-fiancee in an elevator. His suspension was extended to indefinite by the NFL, and the Ravens cut Rice.

That left Baltimore (5-4) with Bernard Pierce, Rice’s backup since 2012, Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro.

It didn’t take long for Forsett to claim the top spot. He’s already run for 609 yards, 10 short of his career high, and he owns an AFC-leading 5.4 yards per carry average.

On a day in which Rice was in New York for an appeal hearing the indefinite suspension, Forsett spoke excitedly about the turn his career has taken.

“It’s been great. I couldn’t have written this story,” Forsett said Wednesday. “During the offseason, my future was kind of bleak. Being able to come to this team, be a starter, have some great stats, it’s been a blessing.”

Before this year, Forsett had seven career starts for four different teams over six unspectacular seasons. He was cut by Jacksonville in March and mired in uncertainty for a month before the Ravens gave him a call, in part because offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak knew Forsett from their days together in Houston in 2012.

“This is probably his biggest opportunity as a player,” Kubiak said, “and he’s really taking advantage of it.”

Forsett’s 113 carries are five short of matching his career high in a season. He also has 31 catches for 202 yards.

Even before Rice received his suspension, Forsett was working as if he expected to the No. 1 man in the Baltimore backfield.

“I was preparing like I was going to be the starter,” he said. “That’s every offseason, no matter where I played. Because, as a 5-8, 198-pound running back, you have to do more to stick out. That was my mindset. I was ready for anything.”

When he first broke into the NFL with Seattle in 2008, Forsett saw action exclusively on special teams. Taliaferro has been far more fortunate - he’s carried 58 times for 247 yards and has scored four touchdowns.

Plus, he’s got a willing tutor in Forsett.

“I’m trying to help him out as much as I can so he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did,” Forsett said.

Pierce has fallen back to third string and has one carry over the past two games. But the Ravens contend that all three are still a very big part of the running back.

“We’re going to need them all,” Kubiak said. “On any given day, any three of those backs could be our feature guy. We just have to see what happens, see who’s playing well, and just keep moving forward.”

At this point, Forsett appears to be the best option.

“He’s a three-down player, which is very important in the National Football League,” Kubiak said. “So, he’s handling his business as a pass protector, too. He has a lot to do with the fact that (quarterback) Joe Flacco has been upright pretty good this year so far. We are very pleased with him and the way he’s playing.”

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens moved to tighten up a defensive backfield that was burned for six touchdowns in a loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Baltimore waived cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown, claimed free-agent cornerback Danny Gorrer off waivers and promoted Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad.

“Obviously the moves were made with getting better in mind,” coach John Harbaugh said.



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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