When the Ravens' season started, it was Bernard Pierce who most fantasy owners gobbled up.
With starter Ray Rice suspended and then released, it appeared that Pierce would be the driver of the Ravens' running offense. Pierce rushed for 96 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2.
Then Justin Forsett happened.
With Pierce sidelined for two games by a thigh injury, Forsett took over the starter's job. When Pierce returned, rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro began to emerge, pushing Pierce even further down the pecking order. Pierce was inactive against Cincinnati on Week 8 and just one carry the following week in a Pittsburgh rematch.
But with Taliaferro now on injured reserve with a foot injury and Forsett grinding to finish a season in which he's had more carries than ever before, Pierce is again a central figure in the Ravens' rushing attack.
Pierce helped the Ravens reach Super Bowl XLVII with strong running down the stretch of his rookie 2012 season. Now he's looking to do it again, starting Sunday in Houston.
"It's definitely unfortunate that [Taliaferro] went down. We're going to have to make do with the backs that we do have, and I'm ready," Pierce said.
"This is football weather. I'm from up north so I'm used to the cold. You've just got to have your mental right when you're going into this time, cause this is Ravens football."
Pierce has a career-low 86 carries so far this season. He had 108 during his rookie year and 152 last season. His average yards per carry is up from last year, however. He's averaging 4.2 yards per attempt, a drastic improvement from 2.9 a year ago.
Pierce has been particularly effective the past two weeks, especially in closing out games. He had three carries for 50 yards in Miami, including a near 27-yard touchdown. Then he had six carries for 37 yards against Jacksonville, including a 28-yard run on Baltimore's final time-eating drive.
"I am the bigger back," Pierce said. "So me being the bigger back, I get a couple yards here, a couple yards there, and then eventually I bust that big run. The linemen have been blocking their tails off and I've been getting creases."
The lack of carries, and thus less wear and tear, for Pierce could help him down the stretch.
"He's showing up at the end of the games; he's been strong [and] he's finished out a couple games for us. We want to keep building on that," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Bernard has a lot of talent, and he's very determined right now."
The Ravens will also utilize No. 3 running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who they brought up from the practice squad the day before last Sunday's game.
The undrafted rookie out of Michigan hasn't had a regular-season carry, but he had a strong preseason finale with 17 carries for 103 yards.
"I've been preparing as if I've been up, even though I've been on the* *practice squad," Toussaint said. "So I know the material. I just need to go out there and execute the way everyone expected me to."