Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, catches a pass...

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, catches a pass as linebacker Ray Lewis walks past during an NFL Super Bowl XLVII football practice on Wednesday in New Orleans. (Jan. 30, 2013) Credit: AP


Catch me if you can!

That's the challenge Ray Rice has put down for the 49ers' linebackers. Rice, the Ravens' leading rusher and their most dangerous, versatile player, broke up the relative calm and tranquillity of Super Bowl week by taunting the opposing players whose job it will be to stick with him on pass routes.

"This game will come down to matchups," Rice said. "In the run game, the linebackers, they might get their fair share of plays. They might make some tackles. But there comes a point in the game when you have to cover me."

And at that point?

"I don't think a lot of linebackers can cover me, not just the 49ers'," he said. "Linebackers are built a different way. They're built to tackle. They're not built to cover, so when I've got them man-to-man, I'm going to win my fair share. Let's pad up. We've got to pad up to see."

The 49ers see it differently, of course.

"Obviously, he's underestimating us," NaVorro Bowman said. "We'll have to go out and show him on Sunday. I'm looking forward to it."

Rice, though, has reason to be optimistic. He totaled 1,621 yards from scrimmage in 2012, including 1,143 rushing. It was his fourth straight season with at least 1,600 yards. Among NFL running backs this season, he ranked second in receptions (61) and fourth in receiving yards (478).

"For me, I like to catch the ball," Rice said, adding that receptions are no different from carries. "Once I get it, the stat book says different, but you can make a big play on a catch."

He did that in Week 12 when he made The Play, the fourth-and-29 conversion against the Chargers on Nov. 25 that helped the Ravens earn a 16-13 overtime win on the road. Without that electrifying play -- a simple check-down that seemed futile at the time but turned into a ridiculous zigzag covering nearly a third of the field -- it's likely the Ravens would not be in the Super Bowl. They probably wouldn't have made the playoffs.

The 49ers also have a good case to make for confidence. In last season's meeting between the teams, Rice was held to 59 yards on 21 carries and three catches for 24 yards. The Ravens won the game, but Rice clearly was contained by the very linebackers who will be trying to shut him down Sunday.

The ones Rice has practically dared to try to cover him.

"Let Ray Rice say what he says," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "He's a good football player, but we also believe in us and we believe we can cover any back in the National Football League. In the Super Bowl, the best cornerbacks cover the best receivers, the best safeties cover the best tight ends, the best linebackers cover the best running backs.

"You watch the game tapes. We've been covering more elusive backs than him. We get the job done."

Maybe they will Sunday. But Rice is betting they won't.

"I wouldn't say it's hard to stop Ray Rice," the running back said of himself. "I'm not saying it's easy, but it's the NFL. Every team comes in with a game plan . . . I think when you talk about stopping Ray Rice, you have to stop him in the pass game and you have to stop him in the run game. I'm just as dangerous in catching a pass as I am in running a ball. A pass to me isn't anything but a long handoff, so once I get it, I'm good."