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BALTIMORE – If Bernard Pierce keeps running as impressively as he did against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he soon might carve out his own identity.
For now, the third-year running back carries the label of the man who replaced Ray Rice.
Starting for a second straight game, Pierce ran for 96 yards on 22 carries to help the Baltimore Ravens beat the Steelers 26-6.
The job is Pierce's to lose. Rice was originally serving a two-game suspension for domestic violence, but the Ravens released him Monday after a video surfaced showing him hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator last February.
Averaging 4.4 yards per carry, Pierce redeemed himself for a poor showing in the opener against Cincinnati, when he gained just 14 yards on nine carries and was pulled after losing a fumble.
"Bernard bounced back. That shows you what he's made of, that shows you his mettle a little bit," coach John Harbaugh said.
Said Pierce: "What a difference from last week. I knew I was going to get called on, and I was really focused to correct the mistakes I made from last week."
Before this season, Pierce had only one NFL start over two years since being picked third in the NFL draft out of Temple. That doesn't mean his career was not without its highlights: He ran for 123 yards against the Giants in December of his rookie season and had 103 yards in a playoff game against Indianapolis.
Last year, Pierce was slowed by injury but still had 436 yards rushing and 20 catches for 104 yards.
Those numbers should improve significantly this year, now that he's No. 1.
Pierce provided balance to an attack that against Cincinnati relied far too heavily on the pass. Joe Flacco threw 62 times in a 23-16 defeat.
In this one, the Ravens ran 36 times and Flacco threw 29 passes. In the fourth quarter alone, Pierce gained 54 yards on eight attempts.
"As the game went on and we got that lead, it allowed us to continue to run the ball," Flacco said. "That's really when your yardage goes up. When your carries can go up, when you can get the lead late in the game, you really start to pound them. That's what we were able to do."
Harbaugh said of Pierce: "He finished off in the fourth quarter pretty good."
Pierce would rather have beat out Rice on the field than take his job under these circumstances, so this situation is far from ideal.
"He's a friend first before a player," Pierce said. "I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm not saying it's right, but everybody makes mistakes. Eventually everything will brush over."
As a reward for playing on a short work-week, the Ravens are off until Monday. Their next game is at Cleveland on Sept. 21.
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