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Bernard Pierce Could Be A Playoff Difference Maker


Bernard Pierce had finished running for 103 yards when Colts linebacker Pat Angerer came up to him.

"Good game, rook," he said.

Pierce isn't nearly on Ray Rice's stardom level. Outside of Baltimore, he's still just the rookie running back that backs up a Pro Bowler.

But the third-round draft pick could be a difference maker for the Ravens Saturday in Denver and going forward in the playoffs.

Pierce's late-season emergence was called a "godsend" by Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell.

"He's given us a one-two punch," Caldwell said. "Bernard is a powerful runner. He can break tackles for you. He can get north and punch holes in the defense."

That's especially valuable during the playoffs.

When the weather turns cold, collisions become more painful. That means defenders are less willing to initiate them. Pierce is no stranger to contact.

The 6-foot, 218-pound running back has blown through arm tackles and rumbled over defenders around his legs throughout the season.

He averages 2.3 yards after first contact, which puts him 11th in the NFL among running backs with at least 50 carries. By comparison, Rice averages 1.8 yards after first contact.

"You feel it when it's cold. I feel it too – trust me," Pierce said with a laugh. "But you've got to think about it. If you feel it, you know they feel it. You use that to your advantage."

Pierce said he's noticed defenders go lower at his legs or duck their heads at the last second when they see him coming. That's when he says he's able to bust big gains because he can make them miss.

Pierce is starting to break off more big gains. He had a 78-yard run against the Giants and 43-yarder against the Colts.

Pierce's 4.9 yards per carry during the regular season was tied for fifth-most in the NFL among running backs. He was ahead of Washington's Alfred Morris and Pro Bowlers Frank Gore (San Francisco), Doug Martin (Tampa Bay) and Rice, who averaged 4.4 yard per carry.

Pierce's role grew as the season progressed and with each successful step he earned more carries.

Pierce ran eight times for 53 yards in Washington. He rushed 14 times for 123 against the New York Giants. When Rice was resting against Cincinnati, Pierce ran 22 times for 89 yards.

"My confidence definitely has boosted the last couple weeks," Pierce said. "When I get more game time, I get more comfortable. When I get more comfortable, I play the way I want to play."

The Ravens essentially split duty between Rice and Pierce against the Colts and the strategy paid off. Both running backs said they felt fresh, and Rice posted 115 total yards of offense while Pierce put up his 103 rushing yards on just 13 carries.

With his performance against Indianapolis, Pierce became the second Ravens rookie with 100 rushing yards in a playoff game. Jamal Lewis did it twice in 2000, the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

"No doubt about it, he's a good player," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "And when he's going, it adds something to our offense."

Pierce and Rice didn't get going against the Broncos in their meeting three weeks ago, however. Pierce had just five carries for 20 yards and Rice had 12 for 38.

Reversing that performance is of upmost importance in Saturday's divisional game.

If the Ravens want to keep quarterback Peyton Manning off the field and put Flacco in more third-and-manageable situations against Denver's pass rush, Baltimore needs to run the ball well.

If both running backs can get going, they can also spell each other when breathing gets difficult at Sports Authority Field at Mile High's altitude.

"We've got two guys that every time they touch the ball they're a threat to go," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.  "Those two guys are going to take care of each other, and that's something that we've been building on."

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