Takeo Spikes #51 of the San Diego Chargers warms up for the game with the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on November 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.
In a one-second gesture, Takeo Spikes summed up a 60-minute challenge.
The Chargers inside linebacker raised his right hand Friday, clenched it into a tight fist, and suddenly slammed and slammed his knuckles into an open left palm.
“AFC North,” Spikes said. “Always gonna pound the ball.”
No mystery. No confusion.
The Chargers expect a 12-round prime-time fight Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, taking center-ring against arguably the NFL's most potent rushing attack.
Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have averaged an NFL-high 218 yards with their ground game, whose personnel starts with a physical offensive line and 260-pound Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach. Behind them is Ray Rice, about as complete a running back as it gets.
Rice dazzled two weeks ago, carving the Cleveland Browns for a career-high 204 yards. He followed with 104 yards against the Indianapolis Colts, the first back-to-back century games of his career.
The 10-win Ravens have seen all three losses come on the road. Rice had a combined 26 carries in those losses, including five against the Seattle Seahawks and eight against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
No defense should be fed a shortage of Rice again.
“You've got to bring your big boy pads, as I like to say,” inside linebacker Donald Butler said. “Great fullback. Great running back. Both can run the ball, and both block well. Just got to make sure we get after them ... They like to come downhill and be physical on you. They're going to line up and say, 'Stop us.'”
It'll help if Butler and Spikes are there to say something back.
Both missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, and they returned to limited participation Friday. Spikes (back) and Butler (foot) are tentatively expected to start but are listed as questionable alongside defensive end Jacques Cesaire (ankle) and center Colin Baxter (ankle).
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco can spread the ball around, from a possessive Anquan Boldin, speedy rookie Torrey Smith and a re-emerging Lee Evans -- his season detoured with a severe ankle injury -- at wide receiver and Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta at tight end. Out of the backfield, Rice leads the team with 62 receptions.
So could it be an air show Sunday night on NBC? Sure.
But Spikes, tucking a fist and pounding it into his other hand, thinks differently.
"It's just a different mentality how they play the game," said Spikes, who turned 35 Saturday. "I came into that AFC North division when I was drafted (by the Bengals in 1998). Still the same M-O. They're going to run the ball. As a linebacker, you like the challenge of these games right here."
No Webb for Ravens?
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was cryptic Friday on the status of top cornerback Lardarius Webb, not willing to speculate and give the Chargers any advantage, he said.
Webb, who hasn't allowed a touchdown pass all season with four interceptions and nine deflections, didn't practice this week due to a toe injury and is listed as questionable.
Also questionable for the Ravens: kicker Billy Cundiff (left calf), cornerback Chris Carr (back), guard Ben Grubbs (toe), linebacker Ray Lewis (foot), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (back) and defensive tackle Cory Redding (ankle).