Just call Gus Edwards the Ravens’ secret weapon.
Edwards isn’t really a secret anymore after Sunday’s breakout performance – 117 yards on 17 carries that helped the Ravens grind out a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Ravens dressed four running backs, but Edwards was the one who stood out. In a must-win situation, Edwards became the first Ravens back to rush for more than 100 yards this season. With rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson running wild for 115 yards, Edwards and Jackson became the Ravens’ first 100-yard duo in a game since Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce did it in 2012.
Who saw this coming from Edwards, an undrafted free agent from Rutgers who began the season on the practice squad? The Ravens had three other backs they could’ve relied on – Alex Collins, Javorius Allen or newly-acquired Ty Montgomery. However, Edwards was the workhorse back who worked over Cincinnati’s defense.
“The whole backfield got a game ball – Lamar, Alex and Gus,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Gus was North and South, he’s a physical guy. He’s been practicing really well. When those young guys start practicing well for weeks after weeks, we want to get them out there. Then he was playing well on special teams, so it kind of gave an indication that he was ready. He sure took the bull by the horns.”
Give the Ravens offensive line credit for providing Edwards with running lanes. Give the Bengals credit for having the NFL’s worst-ranked defense. Give Jackson credit as a dynamic running threat who divided the attention of the Bengals’ defense.
But give Edwards most of the credit. He had the hot hand Sunday and the Ravens smartly kept feeding him the football. He obviously did enough in practice to earn an opportunity and he capitalized on it in a major way.
After entering the game with just 64 yards on 15 carries, Edwards exited the game as a major reason why the Ravens won. He has defied the odds since arriving for rookie camp as a long shot to make the team. Edwards, who transferred from Miami in college, said he would cherish the game ball he received, knowing he would remember this game regardless of how the rest of his career played out.
“It’s a blessing to come to a great situation and I just thank God for it,” Edwards said. “I have a coaching staff that believes in me, has a lot of trust in me. So does the O-line. They did a great job. That was part of the game plan all week, to establish the running game, and I think we did that.”
The Ravens felt it was imperative to run the ball well Sunday, to relieve some of the pressure on Jackson making his first NFL start. Jackson handled most of the running himself with 27 carries, some of them designed, some of them adlibs by Jackson after he was forced out of the pocket.
The Bengals knew Jackson might be difficult to contain. But Edwards? He was someone the Bengals couldn’t have spent much time game-planning for. But his production kept Jackson out of obvious passing situations and allowed them to move the ball consistently, despite Jackson throwing for just 150 yards.
“Some of our guys may have been surprised by him, but I know all about him,” said Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. “But I know all about him. He’s a tough guy, he’s got good size and he runs hard. I saw him play when he was at Rutgers and I know he has the ability to be a good back.”
Edwards’ running style was both decisive and powerful. He hit holes with authority and broke tackles throughout the day, and the Bengals defense did not have an answer.
“To give us that type of a back is very important,” Harbaugh said. “He gives us that back that we probably didn’t have earlier in the year. We’ve got four different guys who have different styles. I think that’s a plus for us.”
Edwards’ two most important runs came back-to-back during the third quarter, with Baltimore trailing, 21-13. On second-and-3 from Cincinnati’s 11-yard line, Edwards burst through a crease and barreled into the end zone for a touchdown. Then the Ravens went for two points and Edwards delivered again, powering into the end zone behind the left side of the Ravens’ offensive line to tie the game at 21.
Baltimore had struggled to run the football before this game, but Jackson and Edwards added a new dimension to the offense. Perhaps Edwards can become the back they’ve been looking for to lead their rushing attack. If called upon more often, Edwards said he would be ready.
“This was a must-win situation, we wanted to treat it like a playoff game,” Edwards said. “With Lamar, they have to respect what he can do. When he hands it off, it takes a lot of pressure off me.
“I knew if I got my opportunity, I had to make the best of it. I got a lot of opportunities today. (I’ll) keep doing everything that I was doing before I got this opportunity.”
Gameday Gallery: Ravens vs. Bengals
Check out the best photos from Sunday's pivotal Week 11 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.