Pierce, a third-round pick in April’s NFL draft, outgained starter Ray Rice, 123-107, on the ground although Rice did add 51 receiving yards and a 27-yard touchdown catch. Brown, a fifth-round selection last year, knocked away a team-high four passes. And Ayanbadejo, a special teams standout, and Brown, an undrafted rookie, each took down Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
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“It’s huge for us -- especially our young guys that can come in and make plays,” defensive tackle Haloti Hgata said. “Omar was out there making plays, Chykie, and so it’s great that those guys can step up, understand what their role is and make some plays for us.”
The emergence of talent has been especially critical on the defensive side of the ball, where that unit has lost inside linebackers Ray Lewis (torn right triceps) and Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion), cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (torn left anterior cruciate ligament) and Jimmy Smith (sports hernia) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right Achilles tendon) for extended periods of time this season.
Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that there’s a little worry about the backups filling in the gaps, but he also pointed out the goal of every NFL franchise is to develop and eventually being playing that depth.
“It’s just big,” he said. “That’s something that’s hard to predict, but we kind of feel like the program’s built that way right from the beginning in terms of evaluating – our scouting department and coaches working together and then developing these guys. You kind of keep your fingers crossed when they get their opportunity, and when you see them do well, it’s rewarding for all of us. That’s really the lifeblood of an NFL football program. You have to keep infusing it with young talent, and our young talent looks like it’s going to be pretty darn good.”