CLEVELAND — — Inside the Ravens' locker room late Sunday afternoon, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro smiled and did his best to shrug off compliments from veteran teammates.
Taliaferro, a fourth-round draft pick, rushed for a game-high 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries during a 23-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Those were Taliaferro's first NFL regular-season carries after primarily playing on special teams in the Ravens' first two games.
Taliaferro provided a boost to a backfield that was missing starter Bernard Pierce because of a quadriceps injury and no longer has Ray Rice after his $35 million contract was terminated in the fallout from his domestic violence incident.
"It means a lot," said Taliaferro, a former Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Year. "All week, the coaches were telling me I could be handling the workload this game. I did everything all week to prepare and make sure I was ready when my name was called. The line did a great job just moving people, so it made my reads a lot easier."
The 6-foot, 226-pounder runs with an upright, but physical style, quickly making one cut and plowing ahead into the defense. Taliaferro also displayed some speed on his 31-yard burst behind right tackle Rick Wagner's block in the second quarter.
"I feel confident in my ability to make one cut and get downhill," said Taliaferro, who led all players in preseason rushing yards. "I think a lot of people underestimate my quickness."
Rushing seven times for 63 yards during a 10-play, 80-yard drive, Taliaferro carried the football five straight times prior to fullback Kyle Juszczyk's 9-yard touchdown catch.
"I think the results speak for themselves," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He was downhill running, physical and was hard to tackle. That is an element that is a big plus for an offense. That goes with our offensive line. Our offensive line played very well."
Pierce aggravated his muscle pull during the week and told Taliaferro on Saturday that he didn't think he would be able to play Sunday, barring sudden improvement.
"I really didn't think it was that bad at first," Pierce said. "It limited me and it got sorer and sorer. We'll be smart about it and see how it feels. Lorenzo did a great job."
The Ravens rushed for 160 yards on 33 carries as a team with veteran Justin Forsett contributing 63 yards on 11 carries. The Ravens averaged 4.8 yards a carry. With Taliaferro proving Sunday he can be productive, the Ravens could have a deep running back corps.
"Yeah, Lorenzo really stepped up for us," Juszczyk said. "He did a great job. I can't say we were surprised because we know how talented he is. He was able to build some confidence and did some great things behind our offensive line."
Juszczyk scores on first catch
Growing up in nearby Medina, Ohio, and attending high school in Lodi, Juszczyk dreamed of scoring touchdowns in the NFL.
The former Harvard standout slipped out of the backfield for a touchdown on his first NFL reception Sunday.
"It definitely meant a lot to me," Juszczyk said. "Having gone the first two games without any touches, I kind of thought to myself maybe it was meant to be that my first catch and my first touchdown would be in front of my hometown. I knew I just had to stay patient and my time would come and I would get an opportunity to show what I can do."
On the scoring play, Juszczyk was all by himself after some film study from offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak revealed a hole in the Browns' defensive scheme.
"We had recognized a vulnerability in the Browns' defense and we would get man coverage against our base personnel," Juszczyk said. "When I swung out to the left, there was nobody there."
Cornerback Asa Jackson blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff in the fourth quarter, a clutch play that led to a field goal by Justin Tucker.
Jackson credited special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg for having the strategy to make the momentum-changing play.
"The crazy thing is that coach changed my stance up in the middle of the week on the blocks, and it ended up working out," Jackson said. "I just ran and jumped. Luckily, it looked like Billy kicked it low and I was able to get a piece of it."
The big play by Jackson followed a 70-yard reception by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel four plays before the blocked field goal.
"I felt like I gave one up a couple plays before, so I was trying to atone for that," Jackson said. "I just wanted to make it right."
For Cundiff, the blocked field goal came after an earlier 50-yard attempt hit the left upright. Cundiff missed a potential game-winning field goal in the AFC championship game in 2011 while playing for the Ravens.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin pull and didn't return, but downplayed the injury.
"I'm all right," Suggs said. "We're going to check it out and find out what's going on, but I'm going to be all right."
Defensive end Chris Canty dealt with a calf injury and was in and out of the game.
"Just a little cramp," he said. "It just kind of jumped up on me."
Left tackle Eugene Monroe was clearly hampered by a knee injury that bothered him all week in practice.
"You got to tough it out no matter what's going on," Monroe said. "I was able to keep grinding."
Cornerback Jimmy Smith was hobbled with some sort of leg injury, but he remained in the game.
Besides Pierce, the Ravens scratched wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill), safety Terrence Brooks, linebacker Arthur Brown, offensive linemen John Urschel and Jah Reid and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan has a meniscus problem with his knee, according to sources.