Ravens running back Ray Rice said that the football field is his “safe haven” after the most troubling offseason of his career, and he enjoyed a successful return to the field in the Ravens preseason-opening 23-3 win over the 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
Rice played only the opening series, but he carried three times for 17 yards in a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Rice drew a loud ovation when he was introduced with the Ravens offensive starters before the game, a reception that he said “means the world" to him.
"You know what?" he continued. "Everything that I’ve been through, I don’t take anything for granted anymore, especially going out there and playing in front of our fans.”
To be sure, Rice will face an entirely different reception on the road this season, and will get his first taste of that next weekend when the Ravens visit Dallas.
After the game, Rice appeared relaxed speaking before a crowd at his locker in just his second public comments since he was suspended for the first two games of the regular season stemming from his February arrest on an assault charge after an altercation with his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino.
Rice is permitted to play in the Ravens’ four preseason games.
“It’s the preseason, but you know what? When you’re out there, it’s a regular-season game, and that’s how I have to approach this preseason because I know what’s coming forward,” Rice said. “Every game I go out there, I’ll give it my best to let my teammates know … what you’re going to get when I’m able to come back. And that’s my job. … It’s a lot of respect that I have to go out there and earn because of the position I put myself in.”
Rice, who endured the worst season of his pro career last year, has looked noticeably lighter and quicker than last season.
“What I went through last year, in adding a little bit of extra weight, you can’t make the cuts and stuff like you want to do,” he said.
Rice, who is listed at 206 pounds, gained the right edge and gained 6 yards on the Ravens first offensive snap. He later had a 6-yard gain inside the 49ers’ 10-yard line.
“Being able to circle the edge a little bit on the first play, and be able to get down there in the red zone, put my foot in the ground and go north, that’s the stuff that was missing last year,” he said.
“I don’t like to go too far back on last season, but the way last season ended especially for me personally, it felt good to get back out there and execute at a high level.”