Pierce watched as teammates and doctors circled around Rice near the Ravens’ sideline.
“My first reaction was, ‘Get up,’” Pierce said. “Once I saw he wasn’t getting up, I was just like, ‘It’s going to be on me now.’ I just had to take the rest of the carries and just finish the game strong.”
A strained hip flexor ended Rice’s day with more than 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Ravens clinging to a one-point lead. With the Pro Bowl running back out, the Ravens turned to their powerful second-year back to grind out tough yards and run down the clock.
In the fourth quarter alone, Pierce carried the ball 13 times for 35 yards, and the Ravens controlled the ball for 11 minutes, 27 seconds of the final frame.
“Bernard did a heck of a job, and he’s a tremendous running back,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We believe in him.”
Pierce finished the day with 19 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. He was a key part of the Ravens establishing the ground game in the second half, which was a priority for the offense coming out of the locker room.
“At halftime, we all just came together and agreed that we just have to get this running game going,” Pierce said. “We just have to run the ball. So we all got together and made plays.”
Pierce’s hard-nosed running style fit with what the Ravens wanted to do in the second half. The game had the feel of an old school AFC North rivalry, with the Ravens committed to pounding the ball on the ground and dominating on defense.
The Ravens ran the ball 27 times in the second half, compared to 12 passing attempts. Pierce was able to pick up yards and move the chains despite the Browns stacking the box to defend the run.
“It’s hard, but it comes with it,” Pierce said. “When you’re trying to run the clock down, they know you’re running. They have to stop you and we can’t let that happen.”
After getting the win Sunday, now Ravens are now shifting their focus ahead to Houston Texans. It’s unclear how long Rice will be out, but Harbaugh said he was “optimistic” about Rice’s ability to return. Rice is currently not scheduled to get an MRI on his hip.
If Rice is out for an extended period, the Ravens will turn to Pierce to shoulder the load, and he’s confident in his ability to be a workhorse running back.
“I’m going to have to be,” Pierce said.