BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens standout tight end Mark Andrews stood on the sideline for pregame warmups Sunday, peering out toward the field and looking like a kid who was told by his parents he couldn’t go outside and play because he had homework.
Andrews was held out of the Ravens’ regular-season opener against the Houston Texans with a quadriceps injury. He’d have to wait to join the party.
Yet, for everybody else, it was easy to imagine the possibilities. There was a healthy and happy Lamar Jackson quarterbacking an offense with J.K. Dobbins at running back and Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers, among others, at wide receiver. In front of Jackson was a veteran offensive line with four of five starters returning.
The Ravens would need to knock off the rust and grow into new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s system — and that was readily apparent in their sloppy 25-9 victory over the overmatched Texans — but all the personnel pieces were in place for them to have one of the more dynamic offenses in team history.
😩Rusty As🤬 But thank you God🙏🏾🙏🏾
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) September 10, 2023
It took less than three quarters Sunday for there suddenly to become a void. Baltimore’s second half, which featured the Ravens outscoring the Texans 18-3, was successful only on the scoreboard. Otherwise, it was gut-wrenching as Dobbins, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum all left the game in a roughly 19-minute span of the second half and didn’t return.
“Injuries always suck,” said Ravens right guard Kevin Zeitler. “It’s inevitable. You never want to see it, especially all right up front at the start of the season like that. Obviously, I’m hoping for the best on that front, and we’ll know more as it gets announced.”
We already know Dobbins has taken his last snap of 2023. The hard-luck running back tore his Achilles while making a 5-yard reception that set up Justice Hill’s 2-yard touchdown run. It looked bad immediately, as Dobbins needed help just to get to the bench. Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed after the game that Dobbins did indeed tear his Achilles, the latest blow for a player who will have missed 43 games over his first four NFL seasons.
“It’s kind of crestfallen for him,” Harbaugh said. “But really, we’ll put our arms around him. He’ll get into rehab, and he’ll be back. He’s a young guy. So that’s really it. But it’s really hard for him.”
Stanley went down early in the fourth quarter while blocking for a Flowers 17-yard gain on third-and-9. Stanley clutched his right knee and seemed to be in pain. He did walk to the blue medical tent with only a moderate limp and stayed on the sideline for a while after exiting, but he did not return. The belief is Stanley avoided a major injury, but given his myriad ankle issues in recent years, this adds one more concern.
Ravens OT Ronnie Stanley left Baltimore’s win Sunday with a knee injury, but two league sources say it does not seem serious. Stanley will still get tests for the knee.
— Dianna Russini (@DMRussini) September 10, 2023
Then, just over six minutes after Stanley limped off, Linderbaum laid face down on the field after his right ankle was rolled up by a Texans defender. The replay looked nasty, and it was certainly a good sign that Linderbaum walked off under his own power. However, he headed straight to the locker room. The Ravens closed out the Texans with Patrick Mekari at left tackle and Sam Mustipher, a practice squad elevation for the game, at center.
Harbaugh said both Stanley and Linderbaum will get MRIs to determine the severity of their injuries.
“It’s football. It just is,” said Harbaugh, who only played a few starters for the entire preseason in an attempt to keep as many players as possible healthy heading into Week 1. “It’s football, and everyone just does the best they can, and we certainly did and certainly will continue to — I’m sure there’s injuries around the league. Then you know the league and the players association, I’m sure they will continue to go to work and do the science and try to figure out whatever they can do offseason program-wise and things like that to keep improving in that area big-picture-wise.”
With Dobbins out for the rest of 2023, the Ravens will continue a disappointing trend. They still have never once had Jackson, Dobbins, Bateman, Andrews and Stanley on the field together. With Dobbins’ uncertain future — he was in the final year of his rookie deal — it’s possible they never will.
The injuries weren’t felt only on offense. Starting safety Marcus Williams left the game in the second quarter. Harbaugh said Williams will also get an MRI, but according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini, the fear is that the veteran sustained a torn pectoral. If it’s a significant tear, Williams would miss most, if not all, of the season. If it’s not, it’s still likely a multiweek injury at a time when Baltimore will play three of its next four games on the road against AFC North opponents.
The Ravens entered Week 1 after an encouraging training camp and preseason on the injury front. Andrews was sidelined Sunday, but he’s expected to return soon, perhaps as early as next week versus the Cincinnati Bengals. Marlon Humphrey, the team’s top cornerback, also was out after he had foot surgery on Aug. 16. Humphrey, however, is said to be making good progress, and Baltimore has maintained that it doesn’t expect him to miss a lot of time.
Still, the Ravens now have far more health concerns. Dobbins is the most dynamic back they have. With Hill and Gus Edwards, the Ravens have the personnel to still have a solid rushing attack. They also could just promote veteran Melvin Gordon from the practice squad to fill Dobbins’ roster spot. Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who showed his speed and playmaking ability throughout training camp, can come off injured reserve in time for Week 5, assuming his shoulder sprain has healed. Still, this was supposed to be a breakout year for Dobbins, particularly with how much Monken likes using his backs in the passing game.
“It’s always been that next-man-up mentality, and it sucks to say, because this is truly your brother,” said Beckham. “But we have no choice but to play for him. Those running backs have no choice but to play for him, to run for him and just find a way to make him proud. So, my prayers go out to him and his family.”
Another one for @jhill21_ ❗️
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 10, 2023
Williams is a defensive leader and ball hawk, and his presence is more important now than ever with the team being forced to rely on so many young, unproven corners with Humphrey out and Rock Ya-Sin still working his way back to form.
Williams had missed only five games in his first five seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He joined the Ravens and missed seven games last season with a dislocated wrist. He now stands to miss time this year.
If Williams is sidelined, Geno Stone will slide in alongside Kyle Hamilton, as he did Sunday. Daryl Worley, who was elevated from the practice squad Sunday and played mostly special teams, could be added to the 53-man roster to serve as the No. 3 safety. The Ravens also will have the option of moving Brandon Stephens back to safety. However, Stephens played the entire game Sunday at cornerback and played well.
Stanley and Linderbaum are two of the better players in the league at their respective positions. As Sunday again proved for the Ravens, there is nothing more important offensively than protecting Jackson. He already got hit and harassed far too much by the Texans.
“You never want to see that,” Zeitler said. “Tyler and Ronnie are extraordinary players with next-level talent. They can be big difference makers.”
For now, though, it would be hard for the woe-is-me portion of the Baltimore fan base not to be wondering if this is just the start of another devastating season on the injury front. In 2021, the major injuries started early and never relented. The Ravens were much healthier last season, but they were still dealing with a number of major injuries that carried over from the year before — and then Jackson’s season ended prematurely.
Obviously, Harbaugh won’t allow his team to adopt a gloom-and-doom mindset, and that’s not an attitude that traditionally permeates the Ravens’ locker room anyway. But there was clearly a subdued mood in the home locker room at M&T Bank Stadium late Sunday afternoon despite the Week 1 victory.
“That guy is a good brother of mine,” said Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen, fighting back tears as he discussed Dobbins’ injury. “It hurts to see that type of stuff happen to somebody so good. Just a good person, good athlete. Obviously, you have to just keep going on, it’s just tough. I just ask that everybody prays for him, pray for his mental state, prayers for Marcus, pray for those guys. Stuff like that, that’s why he went in the situation that he went (through). It’s just tough. It just hurts, honestly. It hurts a lot.”
(Top photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)