If the Pittsburgh Steelers were stunned at what they saw from Musa Smith and Cory Ross, they weren't the only ones. At least one of the Ravens running backs' teammates had a similar reaction.
"They came out and did a hell of a job," wide receiver Devard Darling said in an appreciative tone. "They ran the ball well. Ross was a big surprise. They just came out and executed."
Smith and Ross keyed a huge running game for the Ravens, who finished a disappointing season with a 27-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T; Bank Stadium yesterday.
Seemingly handicapped by the losses of Willis McGahee (cracked ribs) and Mike Anderson (hamstring), the Ravens churned out rushing yards thanks to a player who had finished the past three seasons on injured reserve and another who had been waived by the team twice this season.
Smith powered his way to a game-high 83 yards on 22 carries and scored the game's first touchdown from 2 yards out. Ross rushed 12 times for 72 yards, including a 32-yard scamper into the end zone.
"It was great to see those two young people get an opportunity," coach Brian Billick said.
Players often say that they don't wish to get their chances because of others' misfortunes, but Smith and Ross were the only two healthy tailbacks on the roster. To their teammates, Smith and Ross were merely fulfilling the cliched mantra of "next man up."
"Whoever's up, you've got to come in and get the job done," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Cory Ross [did that], and I consider Musa a starter because he plays so well once he gets in there."
Taking on the NFL's No. 3 rush defense, Smith and Ross combined for six runs of 10 yards or more, with Smith logging four. In one game, Smith matched his season total for touchdowns and exceeded his average yards per carry.
"It's been a long season, but I got my shot tonight," said Smith, who has battled injuries every season since the Ravens invested a third-round draft pick on him in 2003. "I just wanted to show my teammates and this organization that stuck behind me through all the years and the injuries that I could step up and play."
Ross, who had been deactivated for seven games and waived before two more, scored his first career touchdown on a dazzling 32-yard run.
Ross ranged to his left, cut back up the middle, avoided a diving tackle by a Pittsburgh defender and then feinted his way around Steelers safety Anthony Smith to waltz into the end zone.
"The way that the O-line blocked today, it was easy," Ross said. "I play against a defense [in practices] which includes Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and the D-linemen every day. It's not like I'm just going out there and going through the motions. ... I'm going against guys of our caliber."