Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman had the best performance of his young career on December 12 against the Cleveland Browns, recording career highs in catches and receiving yards.
The former Minnesota Golden Gopher showed off some impressive chemistry with Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who took over for an injured Lamar Jackson in the second quarter. All seven of Bateman’s receptions were thrown by Huntley as part of Baltimore’s 21-point comeback attempt, with his first catch setting up a 42-yard Justin Tucker field goal.
With Browns rookie starting cornerback Greg Newsome out, Bateman took advantage of easier matchups to the tune of 103 yards.
It was the first time Bateman eclipsed the century mark as a pro, and he showed off the skills that inspired the Ravens to take him with the 27th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He came up with two clutch catches in the fourth quarter, the first of which appeared to be a touchdown.
Not only did Bateman beat his defender to make a tough catch, but he had the wherewithal to extend the ball towards the end zone before being tackled. Bateman was ruled down short of the goal line, but replay angles appeared to show Bateman reach the end zone before his knee hit the ground.
“I definitely got the touchdown,” said Bateman with a smile on December 12, “I don’t know what happened there, but it was definitely a touchdown. I think we all know that.”
The Ravens opted not to challenge the call, with running back Latavius Murray instead punching in a one-yard touchdown.
Bateman didn’t express any regrets about the Ravens letting the call stand in a press conference on December 15.
“I think we all think it was a touchdown, but there was really no point in challenging it,” said Bateman, “Coach Harbaugh, he made a smart decision, and hopefully that touchdown will come eventually.”
Bateman’s proficiency along the sideline inspired Huntley to take another shot downfield in an even more crucial situation. The Ravens were facing a do-or-die 4th-and-6 with just 1:43 left in the game and still losing by nine points, and the rookie wideout came up with the biggest catch of his career.
Bateman Backs 4th Down Call
But despite Bateman’s best efforts, the Ravens’ comeback attempt fell short. After recovering an onside kick, the Ravens faced another 4th-and-6, and Huntley once again turned to his trusted rookie.
Though Bateman was able to make the catch, he was immediately tackled by Browns star cornerback Denzel Ward to effectively end the game.
Though some Ravens fans criticized the playcall on offense, Bateman didn’t seem bothered by it.
“I think the best play was made, the best call was made, and we just executed what was called,” he said.
Despite Breakout, Bateman Listed as ‘Struggling’
Even after his breakout performance in Cleveland, Bateman was listed by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox as a “Struggling NFL Rookie.”
With Bateman getting a late start to the season, he hasn’t had many opportunities to develop chemistry with Jackson. He’s also part of a passing offense that runs through Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, so in critical situations, Jackson isn’t looking in the rookie’s direction often.
Batemen had just five targets and four receptions combined in close games against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 12 and 13. He had a strong performance in Week 14, breaking the 100-yard barrier for the first time in his career, though Jackson missed the bulk of the contest with an ankle injury.
But outside of Weeks 12 and 13, Bateman has commanded at least six targets and 55% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in each game he’s played.
While Jackson has demonstrated an affinity for Andrews and Brown over the past three seasons, Bateman is still getting plenty of looks in Baltimore’s offense, and that’s likely to continue after his big performance in Week 14.
Knox concluded, “Things should change as Bateman gets more experience and more reps with Jackson. Receivers often make a jump in Year 2, and it should be no different for Bateman.”
Ravens fans will certainly be hoping that Bateman can build on a promising rookie season to emerge as part of a revitalized Ravens offense in 2022.