AFC North: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 4

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 30, 2011
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Wake up, Browns: Cleveland's 2-1 start is impressive. It's even more impressive considering the Browns don't start games until the second quarter. The Browns have yet to put up a point in the first quarter this season, getting outscored 20-0 in the opening period. The offense takes its nod from quarterback Colt McCoy, who is 9-for-18 for 55 yards in the first quarter this season. Playing catch-up has to stop Sunday against Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Colt McCoy
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREColt McCoy and the Browns have been outscored 20-0 in the first quarter so far this season.
Keep Santonio Holmes out of the end zone: No one has hurt the Ravens more recently than wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He's scored a touchdown in seven straight games against Baltimore. His eight touchdowns in that stretch are the most by any player against the Ravens since 2007. If the Ravens want to slow down the Jets playmaker, safety Ed Reed should line up on Holmes' side of the field the entire game. It will be tough for any of Baltimore's cornerbacks to handle Holmes in single coverage.

Bring on the blitz: The Steelers have blitzed on about one-third of the opposition's pass plays, which is a little above the league average. Beating the Texans will require more of it. The key to disrupting Houston quarterback Matt Schaub is being aggressive against him. He is completing 58.3 percent of his throws when defenses rush five or more, which is significantly lower than his completion rate (71.4 percent) when defenses send four or fewer (according to ESPN Stats & Information). Getting consistent pressure has been a problem for the Steelers, who have a combined 3.5 sacks from James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

Make the gunslinger pay: The Bengals know first-hand how the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick will take more risks than other quarterbacks when throwing passes in tight windows. Fitzpatrick was Cincinnati's fill-in starter in 2008 and threw for 316 yards against the Bengals last season. To slow down the NFL's highest-scoring offense (37.7 points per game), defenses have to be in position when Fitzpatrick decides to gamble. The Bengals, though, have only one interception this season.

Defend home turf: The Ravens are 20-5 at home during the John Harbaugh era, which is the third-best mark since 2008. How dominant have the Ravens been at M&T Bank Stadium? During that time, the Ravens have more than doubled the point total of the opposition, 633-314. Baltimore is playing at home for the first time since the season opener, which was a 35-7 rout of the Steelers.