BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson knew right away. He and tight end Mark Andrews arrived in Baltimore via the same 2018 NFL Draft class. Since then, they’ve developed a special chemistry and bond. They know what each other is thinking and how each other is feeling.
Countless times over the past six seasons, Jackson has seen Andrews take a big hit and jump right back up to his feet, culminating the catch by extending his right arm and signaling a first down. Jackson kept his eyes trained on Andrews and waited for a similar response. He hoped for a similar response.
Instead, Andrews rolled over onto his back and extended both arms behind his head. Ravens right tackle Morgan Moses reached down to take Andrews’ hand and help him up. Andrews grabbed it momentarily and then dropped his arm back to the ground.
“I was hoping he was going to get up,” Jackson said. “But when he went down, he was just laying there with that confused look on his face. I don’t want to see that happen to anybody, not just him. That’s my boy.”
Andrews finally got to his feet and walked gingerly to the sideline with his arm draped around the shoulder of an athletic training staff member. He put very little weight on his left ankle.
The Ravens’ 34-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, which improves their record to 8-3, keeps them in first place in the AFC North and secures a series sweep over their rival, was marred by the news coach John Harbaugh delivered after the game.
Andrews’ season is over. Harbaugh said the three-time Pro Bowler has a “form” of a high ankle sprain with additional damage. The Ravens will know exactly what Andrews is dealing with when the results of an MRI come back. However, Harbaugh made clear that he doesn’t expect the productive tight end, who is second on the team in receptions and receiving yards and first with six touchdown catches, to play again this season.
Ravens’ Andrews out for season, per Harbaugh
“It looks like a season-ending injury,” Harbaugh said. “Our prayers will be with Mark. Nobody cares more about the team and being there for the guys than Mark Andrews, so this is going to be hard for him. We’re going to be there for him all the way.”
Andrews went down on the game’s seventh play from scrimmage after he was victimized by a Logan Wilson hip-drop tackle following a 9-yard reception. That’s the kind of tackle that’s gotten scrutinized in recent months because it has resulted in some significant ankle injuries.
“Was it even necessary in that situation?” Harbaugh asked.
Two plays after Andrews went down, Gus Edwards scored the first of his two touchdowns. There were a few anxious moments in the first half, including Jackson tweaking his ankle. But the Ravens took control of the game by scoring two touchdowns in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.
NELLY FLIPPED INTO THE ENDZONE 😂😂😂😂😂
Tune in on Prime! pic.twitter.com/lg2r9joscE
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 17, 2023
They then put the Bengals away by scoring 13 consecutive points in the second half to build a 34-13 lead against Cincinnati, which lost its starting quarterback late in the second quarter when Joe Burrow exited with a wrist injury.
Jake Browning replaced Burrow and engineered a scoring drive to start the third quarter, but the next three Bengals possessions ended with three-and-outs as Baltimore padded its lead and eliminated any drama from the prime-time matchup.
“That was a big-ass win,” said Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, his team now able to catch its breath with only one game in the next 23 days.
There was no late-game meltdown like there was five days earlier against the Cleveland Browns. But there is legitimate concern about how the Ravens will move forward without Jackson’s favorite target and one of their most productive players.
They did just fine on Thursday. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught four passes for 116 yards, Zay Flowers had three receptions for 43 yards and had a 68-yard touchdown wiped out by a questionable holding call on Beckham, and Nelson Agholor and Rashod Bateman each caught touchdown passes. Third-string tight end Charlie Kolar also had his first catch of the season.
PUT UP THE BAT SIGNAL❗❗❗
Tune in on Prime! pic.twitter.com/JSyfZvB1Mp
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 17, 2023
Baltimore had 120 rushing yards in the second half and wore the Bengals down after managing only 30 yards rushing in the first half. Jackson threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 54 yards. In many ways, it was a preview of how they can still succeed with Andrews down.
“To replace a player like Mark Andrews, it’s going to take everybody,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to take a team to do it, and our guys will be up for the challenge and up for the task, but those receivers are obviously going to be a big part of that. They played really well.”
When general manager Eric DeCosta made strengthening the team’s much-maligned receiving corps an offseason priority by signing veterans Agholor and Beckham and drafting Flowers in the first round, the hope was that the passing game would take off with more weapons at Jackson’s disposal. The hope was for Jackson not to have to be so reliant on Andrews and the team’s vaunted running game.
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“That’s what we wanted. That’s kind of part of the plan,” Harbaugh said. “You want to be able to spread it around, give Lamar options like that. Lamar does a really good job of seeing the field and spreading the ball to where the ball’s supposed to go, and then we have a bunch of guys that were able to do something with it.”
Through the season’s first 10 weeks, Flowers and Andrews were constants in the team’s offensive productivity. Beckham, Bateman and Agholor have also had their moments. Yet, getting everybody involved on a weekly basis has been challenging as Jackson and his offensive teammates adapt to Todd Monken’s new system. Tight ends Isaiah Likely and Kolar and wide receiver Devin Duvernay have been pretty much afterthoughts on most weeks.
More than anything, the Ravens will miss Andrews’ production. He’s a matchup nightmare for defenses and has made so many big plays over the years. They’ll also miss the intensity that he brings, which extends to the practice field.
If you’re searching for a silver lining — and good luck with that — subtracting Andrews from the equation certainly opens up opportunities for others who haven’t been getting targets and snaps. And with a much-improved receiving group, the Ravens are far better equipped to handle Andrews’ absence than they’ve been in the recent past.
“I definitely think that there are guys in this receiver room who can make plays, but there is never any replacing (Andrews),” Beckham said. “It’s not even what Mark does (from) a stats standpoint, it’s just who he is as a person for this team. My prayers go to him. Like I said, (I’m) praying over his mentals and his heart.”
Likely, who stands to get a significant jump in offensive snaps and targets (he has just 12 all season), said he’d dedicate the rest of his season to Andrews.
“It hurts,” he said. “Mark is like a big brother in my eyes, so everything I do, I try to talk to Mark about it. Whether it’s running plays, blocking, passing plays, I try to do the same thing to my guy on my side. We’re just like that for each other, so seeing him go down, seeing the news on him, ruined my night.”
(Photo of Mark Andrews: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)