Sizzling Rice concerns Pats defenders

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Only two players in the NFL led their team in both rushing yards and receptions during the regular season – Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Chicago’s Matt Forte. So it’s no surprise that as Patriots players begin preparations for Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Ravens, Rice is a hot topic of discussion.

In his fourth season out of Rutgers, Rice totaled a career-high 1,364 rushing yards to go along with 76 receptions this year. At 5-foot-8, 212 pounds, he might be smaller in stature – Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich drew a comparison to Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew – but he produces big results.

“You have to make sure you account for him at all times,” Ninkovich said. “He’s very explosive and if you give him just a little bit, he can turn that into a real big play. You have to make sure you really keep all the holes tight, and that he doesn’t have something just to hit and go. He’s a challenge for us.”

New Englanders need no reminder of that, as Rice’s 83-yard touchdown run on the Ravens’ first offensive play set the tone in a 33-14 blowout of the Patriots in the wild-card round of the playoffs following the 2009 season.

Rice’s low center of gravity can make it hard to locate him behind big linemen. Then tackling him is no easy task either.

“Guys that are built like that, you really have to wrap up and gang tackle,” Ninkovich said.