Pitta plays vi­tal role in Ravens’ come­back win

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— When the Bal­ti­more Ravens needed a third­down con­ver­sion, Joe Flacco of­ten looked to his old go-to tar­get Sun­day.

Three times he hit tight end Den­nis Pitta to move the chains on third down. Pitta caught nine to­tal passes for 102 yards re­ceiv­ing – the sec­ond-most for a sin­gle game in his ca­reer.

It was a far dif­fer­ent cry than the last time Pitta played against the Browns in FirstEn­ergy Sta­dium.

“Last time I was here, I didn’t get to go home with ev­ery­body,” he said. “For­tu­nately, this time, I do. It’s go­ing to be a lot more fun this time around.”

Al­most two years to the day ear­lier, Pitta frac­tured and dis­lo­cated his hip in Cleve­land. It was the sec­ond time in as many years he suf­fered that ex­act dev­as­tat­ing in­jury.

Against doc­tors’ advice, he de­cided to make a come­back. He played in his first game since the in­jury one week ear­lier when the Ravens de­feated the Buf­falo Bills to open the season.

Pitta’s sec­ond game back hap­pened where his ca­reer nearly ended.

“I wasn’t think­ing about my hip go­ing into this game, and

CLEVE­LAND

right­fully so,” he said. “I think I would be do­ing my­self a disservice to be think­ing about it. I just feel for­tu­nate to come out healthy. I took some shots in that game, but for­tu­nately, my body held up.”

Bal­ti­more needed ev­ery­thing Pitta could of­fer Sun­day. He was a key piece to his team’s 20-point come­back win over the Browns, the sec­ond-big­gest come­back in fran­chise his­tory.

He made a 30-yard catch in the sec­ond quar­ter to help set up the Ravens’ first touch­down of the game. Later, Pitta’s 28yard re­cep­tion led to the goa­head field goal.

But head coach John Har­baugh viewed Pitta’s three third-down con­ver­sion as his big­gest con­tri­bu­tions.

“Hav­ing a tight end that can be a third-down play­maker is re­ally im­por­tant,” Har­baugh said. “It’s re­ally valu­able. You can’t coach that.”

Pitta leads Bal­ti­more in re­cep­tions (12) and yards re­ceiv­ing (141) through two games. Flacco never doubted what he would see from his good friend if he de­cided to re­turn to foot­ball.

“If he was com­ing back, I felt like he was go­ing to be pro­duc­tive,” Flacco said. “He looked good; he looked like him­self. He’s go­ing to get more and more com­fort­able as the year goes on.”

Wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr., who is also re­turn­ing from a ma­jor in­jury, said Pitta serves as in­spi­ra­tion.

“I see what Den­nis is do­ing, and man, I’m in­spired. It’s great to play with a guy like that,” Smith said. “To see how he’s play­ing after what he went through, see­ing him shifty and be­ing the old Den­nis, it’s fan­tas­tic.”

Pitta said that he ex­pected to feel aches and pains fol­low­ing Sun­day’s game, but only the nor­mal sore­ness of play­ing in the NFL.

For many, it was nat­u­ral to view Pitta’s re­turn to Cleve­land as a ma­jor mile­stone sig­nal­ing that his hip in­juries are be­hind him, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“I feel like I’m over the hump, there’s no more hur­dles for me to climb,” Pitta said. “I’ve taken hits. I’ve been grind­ing on the prac­tice field and put my body through a lot and it’s re­sponded well. I’m con­fi­dent in how I feel and how I’ll feel go­ing for­ward. It’s not some­thing I’m go­ing to think about and it’s not some­thing where I’ll think there’s an­other hur­dle to climb.”

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY SEAN GRO­GAN

Bal­ti­more Ravens tight end Den­nis Pitta caught nine passes for 102 yards dur­ing the Ravens’ come­back win over the Cleve­land Browns on Sun­day.

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