The way Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are rolling up yards, the Ravens' running back duo may need a nickname of their own.
Reviving memories of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (the Miami Dolphins' Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick) and "Thunder & Lightning" (the New York Giants' Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber), Rice and Pierce played significant roles in the Ravens' 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Pierce led the offense in rushing with 103 yards on 13 carries, including the team's longest runs of 43 and 18 yards. Rice rushed 15 times for 70 yards and although his day was marred by two lost fumbles, he also turned a short catch into a 47-yard gain that led to the Ravens' first touchdown of the game — a 2-yard rumble by fullback Vonta Leach 50 seconds before halftime.
With both tailbacks gaining more than 100 yards on the ground in a 33-14 rout of the New York Giants on Dec. 23, Rice and Pierce may give the offense its best two-pronged running attack since Willis McGahee and Rice shared carries in 2009.
"That's what we try to do," said Pierce, the organization's third-round pick in the NFL draft in April. "As of right now, we try to mix up series, mix up plays, and we just try to make sure each other is fresh for the second half, and it's been working out great so far."
Pierce has led the team in rushing in each of the last three games, compiling 123 yards against the Giants, 89 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals when Rice was pulled in the first quarter, and Sunday's output against the Colts — which was the fifth 100-yard game in the franchise's postseason history.
Pierce finished the win against Indianapolis with three straight runs that earned a first down and allowed the offense to run time off the clock. Coach John Harbaugh said there was no design behind giving the ball to Pierce rather than Rice.
"We like both of those guys in that situation," Harbaugh said. "Bernard has earned the right to be in on those kind of situations. I like both of our backs a lot."
Rice fared decently against the Colts, adding 41 receiving yards to his day and posting his third career playoff game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage.
But he lost his first fumble since Dec. 11, 2011 when Colts defensive end Cory Redding stripped him and defensive end Lawrence Guy recovered the ball at Indianapolis' 11-yard line on the Ravens' first series of the game.
Three quarters later, safety Joe Lefeged popped the ball loose from Rice's grasp and inside linebacker Pat Angerer pounced on the ball at the Colts' 29.
"I'll take both of them on the chin," Rice said of the lost fumbles. "I'm a man and obviously, I've got to be more careful in those situations where I'm trying to make a play when there's no more left there. Just as a runner, I've been doing it all year. I don't know how many touches I had — and I don't know if I want to say it — but I saved my worst game for today."
Rice said he and Pierce have a solid friendship, and he is not afraid to take himself out of a game to catch his breath and have Pierce replace him.
"There's one ball, and we all can share it," Rice said. "Today, he cracked 100. I had 100 all-purpose [yards]. If you combine the two, that's 200 yards between two backs. So that weapon going forward is really going to be key for us."
Pierce deferred to Rice as the undisputed leader of the ground game.
"It's my first year in the league. Ray, he's been here a long time," Pierce said. "I just follow in his footsteps. Anytime they put me in or whatever they need me to do, no questions asked. But Ray is the franchise player. I'm just following him around."
Nonetheless, the Ravens will benefit from a healthy rushing attack powered by Rice and Pierce, and their teammates have plenty of confidence in both tailbacks.
"Both guys are capable of making big plays," center Matt Birk said. "When they're in the open field, they can stretch it and take it the distance or most of the distance. They're a little different style, but you can never have enough running backs. Those guys take a pounding, and we're lucky we have two good ones."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times