Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam
January 6, 2013
Seeing where it might be heading, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was quick to set the record straight. Asked after Sunday's 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts about the decision to give the ball to Bernard Pierce down the stretch and not three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who fumbled twice in the wild card win, Harbaugh made sure that none of the reporters in the room read anything into it.
"We have two good guys that can play," Harbaugh said, in typical Harbaugh fashion, adding, "We like both of those guys in that situation. Bernard has earned the right to be in on those kinds of situations."
The fact that Pierce, a third-round draft pick out of Temple, has earned the trust of the coaching staff to run out the clock in the fourth quarter of a playoff game says a lot about how the rookie has performed this season, especially in the past several weeks. But it doesn't say that the Ravens have lost their faith in Rice, whom they signed to a lucrative contract extension last summer, or that he is any danger of losing his starting spot to Pierce, who has averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game over the past three weeks. Rice is their best offensive player and one of the most versatile weapons in the league.
Still, Rice has lugged around a heavy workload these past four seasons, and he plays at a position that has the NFL's shortest shelf life. The fact that Pierce is pushing Rice is a good thing, because you never know when the Ravens might need him to assume that heavy workload. In the short term, Pierce is proving to be a productive change of pace from Rice, as he is adept at finding creases and accelerating his big body into the open field. (Heck, there is probably a way to get them on the field together, with Rice flexing out into the slot.) Pierce has looked like a future starter, but he said all the right things after Sunday's win when asked if he feels he should be starting over Rice, who was changing within earshot.
"It's my first year in the league. Ray, he's been here a long time," said Pierce, who rushed for 103 yards on 13 carries in his first playoff game. "I just follow in his footsteps. Anytime they put me in or whatever they need me to do, no questions asked. But Ray is the franchise player. I'm just following him around."
It's nice to know that when the time does come for Pierce to lead the way, he is capable of doing it. But there's no controversy to speak of right now -- just two quality running backs who are on a roll right now.