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Young Players Get Valuable Game Action


The faces that Ravens fans are used to watching didn't see much time in the regular-season finale against the Bengals.

But while Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin and a number of other starters sat out the majority of Sunday's game, it created an opportunity for the young players on the roster to get rare extended playing time in a regular season game.

Running back Anthony Allen, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, center Gino Gradkowski, wide receivers David  Reed and Deonte Thompson and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton all played more than they ever have in their careers.

"That's a big thing," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "The fact that we got to play those guys, anything can happen going forward. The fact that they were out there and played almost the whole game is going to be a plus for us."

Allen, a second-year back out of Georgia Tech, split the ball-carrying duties with rookie Bernard Pierce. The two had success on the ground, and Allen finished with 41 rushing yards on 10 carries. He also scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, which was the first score of his career.

Allen has been active for every game this season; the former seventh-round pick is primarily a special teams player and he had never carried more than three times in a game. He showed good vision and power in his chances to run the ball against the Bengals.

"Just getting the opportunity to go out there and put some stuff on tape during the regular season and have fun and play football," Allen said. "That's what we were able to do."

Taylor saw the most action since his final year at Virginia Tech, and he showed flashes of excitement in a losing effort. He was 15-of-25 throwing for 149 yards and an interception, and he also made plays with his feet to scramble out of the pocket and pick up big chunks of yardage. He finished with 65 rushing yards on nine carries and a touchdown, also the first of his career.

"Personally, I think I did some stuff that I can work on. But there's also some good things that I was able to showcase there too," Taylor said.

For rookies like Gradkowski, Thompson and Hamilton, Sunday was the first time for them to play significant minutes outside of the preseason. Gradkowski took over for Birk after the second series and played the rest of the game. Gradkowski protected Taylor well and did not allow a single pressure from a talented Bengals defensive front, according to Pro Football Focus.

Thompson and Hamilton both started rotating into the game about midway through the second quarter. Thompson (76 snaps), Gradkowski (69), Reed (69) and Hamilton (10) all had more playing time than in any other game this season.

Thompson and Reed were the Ravens' main receiving targets throughout the game, and the two of them both came up with some critical catches to move the chains and keep drives alive. Thompson finished with four catches for 26 yards and Reed had three catches for 44 yards.

Harbaugh wasn't able to give an overall assessment after the game about how each of the young players performed, but he did say that "our young guys executed very well."

"I'm looking forward to seeing how some of those guys played once we look at the tape," Harbaugh said. "They'll have a chance to grow from this, and they'll be one game ahead of where they would've been if they have to play."

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