As Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson heads into uncharted territory, he’s getting his favorite target back.
Veteran tight end Mark Andrews has missed nine weeks with an ankle injury after being hurt on a hip-drop tackle in the Ravens’ Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He underwent surgery and returned to the practice field during the Ravens’ bye week in the first round of playoffs. Andrews was designated to return ahead of the divisional-round game against the Houston Texans and was labeled questionable on the team’s injury report. But he was not brought back to the roster.
On Friday, two days before their first AFC championship game of the Jackson era, the Ravens activated Andrews off injured reserve. He had no injury designation on Friday’s injury report and was a full participant every day in the week leading up to the game.
Drafted in 2018, Andrews came into the league at the same time as Jackson. From the start, he has been one of Jackson’s favorite targets. He has finished every year since 2019 as one of the top two Ravens in receiving yards. He was the leading receiver this season until his injury. Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. passed him in receiving yards, but he’s still ranked third despite missing eight games.
In Andrews’ absence, second-year tight end Isaiah Likely emerged as a reliable and dynamic target who said he was playing for Andrews, whom he sees as an older brother. Andrews has not been surprised by Likely’s rise.
“[Likely] has a natural feel for the game by himself,” Andrews said. “Just being there, supporting him, being a good teammate, that’s all I can do; let him shine – do his thing. It’s been awesome to see.”
Safety Kyle Hamilton said it’s interesting that Likely is technically the backup to Andrews, even though in Hamilton’s opinion he’s one of the top tight ends in the league.
Although the team always knew it had two weapons in Andrews and Likely, it did not see much success with two-tight-end sets.
“Sure,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said when asked if Likely’s emergence has changed how he thinks of things. “I think all that figures in. How well [Likely]’s played and then, leading up to each [week] — like last week — or leading up to this week, how Mark has practiced, that all leads into ... [it’s] at every position really — who’s healthy, how do we anticipate that fitting into our game plan, how can we incorporate them?”