The Ravens arrived in San Diego, riding a three-game winning streak. But the Ravens struggled much of the game against the Chargers.

Then the game came down to fourth-and-29. The Ravens were at their own 37-yard line with 1:37 to play in regulation, trailing by three points.

On the snap, the Ravens receivers sprinted down the field, but Flacco didn't have any options. So he dumped a pass 3 yards out to Rice.

"I was surprised," Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "Fourth-and-29, we throw a checkdown, but I mean if you're going to throw it to anybody, you would throw it to a Ray Rice, a guy who's able to break tackles and that's what he did."

Rice made a couple of players miss and Boldin sprinted back to make one last block to spring Rice for a couple of extra yards. And then the officials had to measure.

"Most memorable part of that play, I'll be honest, was the chain measurement," Rice said. "If I didn't' get the yards, it would have just been known as a great effort. But because it was a first down, it was one of the most memorable plays of the year."

The play was just enough for a first down and kept the drive alive for the Ravens as rookie Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to tie the score at 13. He then kicked another 38-yarder in overtime to win the game.

After the victory, Rice called the play, "hey diddle, diddle, Ray Rice up the middle."

"That was a big play and was one of the turning points of our season to just come from behind and win on a desperation play," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said. "If we don't win that one, we might not be sitting here today. "

Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said the play was an example of how Rice can be a game-changer for the Ravens.

"What he brings to the Ravens is an element that's kind of missing because a lot of teams fall in love with the multiple running back situation, but Ray's ability to run the ball inside and outside, catch the ball, and his ability to protect in the passing game, he's been everything and more that this organization asked for when they drafted him," Faulk said.

Now this season is coming to an end with the Super Bowl, Rice said he is embracing the last part of the Ravens' story.

"I've always watched Super Bowls, and it's like one of those things on the bucket list," Rice said. "You can't put it on there until you actually get into the league. I couldn't imagine what a Super Bowl would feel like. I did media day one year when I made the Pro Bowl in Miami, and I couldn't imagine feeling the way this team felt. I just watched the Saints and Colts and thought it must feel good to be them right now. That was special. Now I'm here in the same seats, and it's fun. It's quite the ride."

mnjones@baltsun.com