PITTSBURGH — The Baltimore Ravens didn’t have starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, and they lost backup quarterback Tyler Huntley midway through the third quarter to the concussion protocol.
But the Ravens were able to beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 16-14 on Sunday and stay atop the AFC North because of what Baltimore did have — its No. 1 running back returning from injured reserve.
After being sidelined the past seven weeks, J.K. Dobbins returned to run for 120 yards and revive a ground attack that helped Baltimore overcome the loss of its starting quarterback for the second straight game. It was a surprising breakout performance that impressed everyone except, well, Dobbins.
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“It’s still not me all the way yet,” Dobbins said. “I’m going to continue to get better, and hopefully those 100-yard games will start turning into 200-yard games, maybe.”
Dobbins was irked about his fourth carry of the game, when he busted through the line for 44 yards. He reached a top speed of 20.07 mph, the ninth-fastest speed for any Ravens ball carrier this season, but he was brought down by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick 4 yards shy of the end zone.
This bothered Dobbins even though he scored a touchdown on the next play.
“I’m still not in shape that I need to be in, because I would have never gotten caught,” Dobbins said. “So, I’m pretty upset about that. But, it’s only going to keep getting better.”
This is actually Dobbins’ second comeback of the season. After being out all last year (he tore an ACL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring), Dobbins played four games this season and didn’t have the same burst, averaging 3.5 yards per carry (123 yards on 35 attempts).
In late October, Dobbins underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove scar tissue in his surgically repaired left knee that was hindering his flexion.
“When I woke up [from surgery], I felt so much pressure released,” Dobbins said. “I knew it was going to be good. It’s still getting better. I can only thank God. He was the reason why I even thought about doing it. Some people didn’t want me to do it. But I had to listen to God, and he told me to do it.”
Dobbins’ return came at the right time for Baltimore. The Ravens’ running backs had managed 180 yards in three games since the bye, which ranked 25th in the NFL. On Sunday, Baltimore was down to practice squad quarterback Anthony Brown, who was pressed into playing the final 22½ minutes.
Dobbins responded with the second-most rushing yards of his career against a Pittsburgh defense that had allowed only one other running back to gain over 100 yards in a game this season (the Cleveland Browns‘ Nick Chubb ran for 113 yards in Week 3).
“Did I expect what he did today? I can’t sit here and lie to you. I did not expect it like that,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I knew he was going to have a good game, but wow. I told him he put the team on his back.”
Dobbins might have to continue to carry the Baltimore offense during this stretch run to the playoffs, especially with the injury issues at quarterback. The Ravens (9-4) know Dobbins will be ready going against the Browns and the 22nd-ranked run defense on Saturday.
When Dobbins was on injured reserve, Campbell said the running back was near tears sitting on the sideline.
“He wanted the ball, he wanted to go out there and just make his plays,” Campbell said. “I told him, ‘Everybody knows when you see somebody who’s hungry like that.’ To watch him do what he did today, it was special. I told him also, ‘You have to keep it going. I need it every week; that’s the standard now.’”