Rice managed 660 yards rushing, the first time he failed to gain at least 1,100 yards on the ground in his five years as the Ravens' featured back. His 3.1 yards per carry was the third-worst average among starting running backs.
"My expectation for Ray Rice is to be one of the very best running backs in the National Football League," Harbaugh said Tuesday at his end-of-the-season news conference.
"That's the standard for Ray. The great thing about Ray is -- I just had this conversation with him this morning -- that's his standard for himself. The thing I love about him is he has a plan to make sure as his career extends here that he is that guy for a long period of time."
Injuries were a problem for Rice, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract before the 2012 season. He hurt his hip in Week 2 and played the last two weeks of the regular season with a thigh injury.
"Ray Rice fought through some things," Harbaugh said. "There were some issues he had with his legs that other players wouldn't have even played with. It's not who Ray is. I think he fought through it and did the best he could with where he was at. I'm very confident, when he says he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and be better than ever, I'm confident he's going to do exactly that."
Harbaugh pointed out that Rice shouldn't shoulder all of the blame for a running game that ranked 30th in the NFL. The Ravens averaged 83 yards rushing, the fewest in franchise history by 16 yards per game.
"We philosophically believe in being a rough, tough, physical offensive football team," Harbaugh said. "That's the way we started and it hasn't changed. No matter where you go with your passing game, [running the ball] has to be a staple of what we're going to do, and it wasn't this year."