Sunday’s 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings provided plenty of positives for a Baltimore Ravens team that remains in control of their playoff destiny.
They avoided an at-home scare to a below-average team, overcame the forgettable weather and used a fourth-quarter miracle two-minute stretch to advance to 7-6 on the season.
While finally having a winning record is ultimately Sunday’s most important outcome, the productive return of tight end Dennis Pitta is a close second.
Playing in his first live action since the Super Bowl after suffering a hip injury in July, Pitta’s presence was felt throughout the second half. Without him, the Ravens likely would have folded when down 12-7 and facing a fourth down.
But just like in 2012, Pitta was quarterback Joe Flacco’s go-to target in short-yardage situations, particularly on third down in the red zone.
Pitta had an up-and-down day that started off with a few drops, but the end result was positive. Working his way back into the lineup, Pitta played just 36 of Baltimore’s 87 offensive snaps.
In comparison, fellow tight end Ed Dickson played 51 snaps on Sunday. As Pitta continues to regain his form in the coming weeks, his playing time figures to increase, likely surpassing Dickson’s.
Pitta finished with six catches for 48 yards and a go-ahead touchdown, and three of his catches occurred on third down (and another on fourth).
Let’s take a look at a few plays on Pitta’s part (some photos may be hard to view because of Mother Nature’s decision to switch things up for Sunday’s game).
Early in the game, Pitta took a while to get back into the groove.
Operating out of the slot, he worked the middle of the field heavily, but in the first half, the results weren’t there. He had two drops that he’d probably like to have back, and breaking them down wouldn’t show much other than the fact he dropped catchable balls.
It wasn’t until the second half that he began to settle in and prove his worth in short-yardage situations.
Flacco turned to him in a one-on-one situation in the slot.
Pitta runs a simple out route and gains more than enough separation for Flacco to make the throw.
With the pocket collapsing, however, Flacco doesn’t get the ball off cleanly.
This forces Pitta to do what he ideally shouldn’t do in his first game back after a major injury – lay out:
It doesn’t matter though, as Pitta hauled this pass in. Luckily for him, he didn’t land on his hip on this play, and to get up unscathed after a play like this is a positive sign.
Later in the game, Flacco turned to Pitta in the slot again to help move the chains.
Pitta is lined up with a man off him, and with Jacoby Jones running toward the middle over top of Pitta’s route, this is a play designed to go to the tight end.
Pitta works his way into the open space, and it’s easy pickings for Flacco.
The throw is placed in a spot where only Pitta can catch it, and he makes the play.
It’s safe to say this high-percentage play wouldn’t be such a sure thing if Dickson were the intended target instead of Pitta.
In a dire situation at the end of the game, the Ravens turned to their best option: Pitta.
Down 12-7 and on fourth down, Pitta is lined up in his usual spot.
He is able to get a quick push off the defender to create separation on a play where Flacco had to quickly get rid of the ball.
Being his usual sure-handed self, Pitta gives the Ravens the lead (and kicked off the 2:05 of craziness).
Overall, Pitta’s performance was average on Sunday. He played sparingly, and while his positives outweighed the negatives, his drops in the first half didn’t help the Ravens offense.
But based on his play in the second half, it looked like his first-half struggles were more about just dusting off and getting reacclimated before immersing himself in the offense late in the game.
It’s safe to say Pitta’s presence will be felt in the final three weeks of the season, and his availability in the red zone could be the missing piece for a Ravens offense that has struggled mightily in goal-to-go situations lately.