Mark Andrews started the Ravens’ first drive against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday with a catch, and he almost finished it a few plays later, too.
But, 4 yards from the end zone, the star tight end was tackled and failed to get up with everyone else.
Lying on his back, Andrews writhed in pain. His teammates gathered around, and quarterback Lamar Jackson forcefully chucked his helmet to the ground.
For good reason, it turns out: Andrews, one of the top tight ends in football, suffered what Ravens coach John Harbaugh called a “very serious” ankle injury and is likely out for the season. The Ravens beat the Bengals 34-20, but it came at a huge cost.
“I just — you know I was right next to him when he went down, and I was just trying to tell him like, ‘C’mon, Mark, just get up, show me you can get up,’” tight end Isaiah Likely said. “And him fighting on the ground ... really knowing that he wants to stay in the game, and his body to not be able to, hurt my heart.”
Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson brought down Andrews using what’s known as a hip-drop tackle. There’s been a movement to ban it, with NFL executive Jeff Miller saying it increases the risk of injury by 25 times compared to a regular tackle.
“It is an unforgiving behavior and one that we need to try to define and get out of the game,” Miller said last month, according to The Associated Press. “To quantify it for you, we see an injury more or less every week in the regular season on the hip-drop.”
This tackle — which involves a defender grabbing an offensive player around the hips and dropping his weight, often leading him to roll over the opponent’s legs — is banned in some rugby leagues.
Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, compared the hip-drop tackle to the horse-collar tackle; banning that has made the game appreciably safer.
“What’s happening on the hip-drop is the defender is encircling tackling the runner and then swinging their weight and falling on the side of their leg, which is their ankle or their knee,” McKay said.
“When they use that tactic, you can see why they do, because it can be a smaller man against a bigger man and they’re trying to get that person down because that’s the object of the game. But, when they do it, the runner becomes defenseless. They can’t kick their way out from under. And that’s the problem. That’s where the injury occurs. You see the ankle get trapped underneath the weight of the defender.”
The league is gathering data on the technique before deciding whether it should be banned.
Wilson used a similar tackling technique to bring Jackson down later in the game, and the QB briefly left to be evaluated for what looked like an ankle injury. He later returned.
Many defensive players, including Wilson, have argued against banning the move.
Several minutes after Wilson made the tackle, Andrews got up and walked off, although he was noticeably limping. The Ravens announced he was questionable with an ankle injury and updated his status to out 25 minutes later.
“I read it on the Jumbotron that he was out,” Likely said. “It really hurt my heart. And then just hearing when we’re in the locker room that he’s out for the season, I personally, I don’t know how that feels, so really just keeping him in my heart and just showing him day in and day out, I got him.”
Harbaugh described the injury as “high ankle but not a sprain” in his postgame presser. Teammates mentioned Andrews will be getting an MRI and that, pending results, surgery is not out of the question.
The Ravens finished the touchdown drive with a Gus Edwards run while Andrews was in the injury tent. He came out to head straight to the locker room.
He left the game with two catches for 23 yards. Andrews has been one of Jackson’s go-to targets for years. Andrews has made 43 catches for 521 yards and six touchdowns this season. He has the second-most catches and receiving yards on the team behind rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers. He has caught 50% or more of his targets in every game he’s played this season.
A six-year veteran, Andrews has made 379 catches for 4,834 yards. He’s scored 40 touchdowns in 86 games.
This season, Andrews has played in all but one game. He missed the season opener against the Houston Texans with a quadriceps injury.