As several reporters gathered in front of Gus Edwards’ locker underneath M&T Bank Stadium, Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams stood before the rookie running back and playfully invited the media to run questions through him before Edwards answered them.
It seemed like the only time someone actually stopped Edwards, who carried the ball 17 times for 115 yards (a 6.8-yard average) and one touchdown in Sunday’s 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It was a startling outing from a player who entered the game with only 64 yards on 15 attempts – even to a few of his teammates.
“I definitely didn’t anticipate it, and I had no idea how much or how less he would be in the game,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “But today, he was in there a lot, and he took advantage of his opportunities.”
Added right guard Marshal Yanda: “It seemed like the kid ran the ball well and helped out.”
Edwards, who went undrafted and was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Oct. 13, credited his coaches and teammates with preparing him for Sunday’s game.
“So I’m going to always be prepared,” said Edwards, who was awarded a game ball after the game. “From day one when I came in here, they told me what it was going to be like on this team. A lot of things played into it, but you’ve always got to be ready.”
Edwards’ performance was part of a team-wide effort that resulted in season highs in carries (54) and rushing yards (265). Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson added 117 yards on 27 attempts, and he and Edwards became the first Ravens duo to each eclipse the 100-yard mark since Bernard Pierce (123 yards) and Ray Rice (107) did so in a 33-14 rout of the New York Giants on Dec. 23, 2012.
Edwards and Jackson also are only the second pair of rookie teammates to run for more than 100 yards in the same game since 1966, joining the New Orleans Saints’ Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath in 1976.
“Definitely a good complement, but not the only complement,” coach John Harbaugh said of the duo. “But to give us that type of a back is very important. He gives us that back that we probably didn’t have earlier in the year. So it gives us the style.”
The 6-foot-1, 238-pound Edwards is the most physical running back on the roster. While Alex Collins can run between the tackles, Edwards’ size makes him almost a natural bruiser who is also difficult to tackle.
Harbaugh said the coaching staff decided last week to employ Edwards more frequently in the offensive game plan, and Edwards said the plan was to run the ball often against a Cincinnati run defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL, allowing 141.2 yards per game.
“I think we were very committed to it all week during practice,” he said. “We came in, and that was the game plan. We were going to try to establish the run game, and it turned out good.”
Collins started for the 10th consecutive game and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 7-yard scamper off the right end with 7:31 left in the first quarter. But after seven carries for 18 yards, Collins eventually gave way to Edwards.
The Bengals had few answers for Edwards, who ran three times for 15 yards or more and twice more for at least 10 yards.
“Some of our guys may have been surprised by him, but I know all about him,” Cincinnati linebacker Vincent Rey said. “He’s a tough guy, he’s got good size, and he runs hard. I saw him play when he was at Rutgers, and I know he has the ability to be a good back.”
As thrilling as that display was, Edwards declined to get carried away and make any blanket statements about whether he warranted a start in the near future.
“It shows me where I’m headed,” he said of his showing. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got a lot of getting better to do. I’ll keep doing everything that I was doing even before I got this opportunity.”