The Baltimore Ravens entered their Week 8 interconference matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their top two weapons in the passing game dealing with an injury to a lower extremity.
All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews sat out the entire short week of practice leading up to the Thursday Night Football primetime bout. He caught passes on the team’s first two plays from scrimmage for 27 yards but when he caught his third on the team’s first drive of the second quarter, it would be his last of the night.
He left the field after going down hard on his right shoulder and did not return. On the ensuing drive, Ravens No. 1 wide receiver, Rashod Bateman, would see his last play of the first half and game overall as well when he was targeted deep down the right sideline on an incomplete pass.
Several of their Ravens’ complementary pass catchers answered the call in the 27-22 win after both players went down but none shined as bright as rookie tight end Isaiah Likely. The fourth-rounder out of Coastal Carolina got his most extensive playing time of the year thus far and in a season-high 51 offensive snaps, he finally had the breakout performance that many were expecting him to have after a monster preseason and training camp.
“What you’ve seen from him, I’ve been seeing it,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said in his postgame press conference on October 27, 2022. “I’ve been talking about it since camp, OTAs. He showed up and showed out. He got his first touchdown, primetime game. Hats off to him; I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him.”
He showed all the impressive play-making ability that made him a star in the month of August. Likely’s career day finished with him tied for the team lead in receptions with six, leading them in receiving yards with 77, and scoring his first career touchdown on a great play where got open and showed excellent body control in the back of the end zone.
“It felt great,” Likely said in his postgame press conference on October 27, 2022. “Always giving thanks to God, and really just living in the moment. My motto is just being where your feet are. Not dwelling on the past, looking too far in the future. Just being where your feet are and playing each play like it’s your last.”
Likely was a locomotive in the open field when he got the ball in his hands with the way broke tackles, shed defenders, and made them miss with physicality and elusiveness.
In addition to being the Ravens’ top pass catcher, Andrews is one of the most complete tight ends in the league and is known for his great blocking as well as his prowess for making plays with the ball in his hands.
As impressive as Likely was catching passes in the preseason, his run blocking left much to be desired although a solid foundation was evident. Based on his performance in that area against the Buccaneers, he has improved by leaps and bounds if not lightyears and his Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade of 91.9 reflected it.
“I feel like Coach (John) Harbaugh is going to be really impressed when he sees me on film blocking,” Likely said with a smile followed by a chuckle.
He made almost as many impressive blocks as catches in the second half as the Ravens ran the ball down the throat of Tampa’s defense for 204 in the final two quarters alone. His incredible overall performance earned the highest PFF grade of any Ravens player with an overall mark of 87.4.
As if his play on offense wasn’t already impressive and clutch enough, Likely made the game-sealing play on special teams when he recovered an onside kick with 48 seconds left in the game which allowed Jackson to kneel out the rest of the clock in victory formation.
Wide Receivers Stepped Up Too
Likely wasn’t the only pass catcher that stepped up and rose to the occasion in that game. Bateman only played 13 snaps before getting shut down and in his absence, the Ravens other much-maligned wide receivers made several plays for gains and key conversions.
“A lot of people don’t know about our guys, but I feel like we do,” Jackson said. “We do a lot in practice, and those guys show it each and every day. They got an opportunity tonight, and they showed up.”
Veteran Demarcus Robinson is also in his first year with the team and had his most productive outing of the season as well. He tied Likely for the team lead in receptions by hauling in six of his eight targets, many of which resulted in crucial conversions on third downs and obvious passing situations. His ability to make the first defender miss helped him rack up yards after the catch to finish second in receiving yards with 64.
“D-Rob had a heck of a game for us,” Harbaugh said. “Came out and made some big plays for us.”
Third-year pro Devin Duvernay continued to show that he is one of the most dynamic playmakers with the ball in his hands. He finished with 64 yards from scrimmage on five total touches including a pair of rushes for 33 yards one of which was a 15-yard touchdown on a jet sweep to the left side of the field.
“Duv (has) been doing it all year,” Harbaugh said. “Duv did it not just in the pass game, but in the run game as well.”
His fellow third-year wideout James Proche logged a season-high 48 offensive snaps and had his most productive game of the year as well. Even though he recorded just three receptions for 24 yards, some of those impressive snags went for first downs.
Other Rookie Standouts
In the same way that Likely wasn’t the only pass catcher to have a big game and come up clutch for the Ravens in their win over the Buccaneers, he also wasn’t the only rookie that had a standout performance.
Coming into the game, one of the marquee matchups that was predicted was supposed to be between Ravens first-year starting center Tyler Linderbaum and Buccaneers Pro Bowl interior defensive lineman Vita Vea.
While the massive 6-foot-4 and 347-pounder made his fair share of plays in the first half including splitting between the first-round pick and fourth-year pro Ben Powers for a sack, it was the matchup between Linderbaum and Pro Bowl inside linebacker Devin White that took centerstage and made for some entertaining highlight blocks.
As the Ravens’ offensive line asserted their dominance and imposed their will on the ground, there were several instances in which Linderbaum’s ability to quickly climb to the second level of the defense and make devastating blocks was on full display. He consistently kept White from making an impact in the run game by driving him into the turf sometimes 10 or more yards downfield.
Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton also had a very strong game with an outstanding outing in coverage. He essentially served as the tight end eraser for the Ravens’ defense against the Buccaneers and especially in the red zone. His reps against fellow rookie Cade Otton were so good they could be used as a coach’s teach tape for great technique and execution.
The first-rounder finished with two solo tackles, and a pass breakup, and earned the highest coverage and overall PFF grade of any Ravens defender. According to NFL Rookie Watch, he only gave up two receptions on four targets for 15 yards in 31 coverage snaps.