On Nov. 16, Mark Andrews’ parents watched his season almost end.
Paul and Martha Andrews had come to M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens’ “Thursday Night Football” game against the Cincinnati Bengals. They left consoling him. On the Ravens’ opening drive, Andrews’ left ankle bent unnaturally as he was dragged to the ground, 4 yards short of the goal line.
Andrews limped into the locker room. His foot was in bad shape; tests revealed he had fractured his fibula and suffered ligament damage to his ankle. The pain and the uncertainty, Andrews said Friday, were disorienting. He was grateful to have his parents there. He just wished the circumstances hadn’t been so grim.
“You’re happy to have them there and to help take care of you,” he said. “Obviously, personally, I just never want them — I don’t want anybody — to see me like that.”
Andrews knew he was going to be back. He just didn’t know when.
On Friday, an answer arrived. The Ravens activated their Pro Bowl tight end off injured reserve, clearing him to play in their biggest game of the year, Sunday’s AFC championship against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
A playoff return didn’t seem possible until about three weeks ago, Andrews said. He was designated to return off injured reserve Jan. 12 and was a full participant in two practices last week. The Ravens’ divisional-round playoff win Saturday over the Houston Texans gave their season at least another week. That was all he needed.
“Mentally, you’ve got to stay on top of it,” Andrews said. “You’ve got to be able to get healthy in your head, get healthy with your body. It’s all in one. So, for me, [I pushed] myself every day, believing that I was going to be able to come back. It’s easy to do when you have great teammates. Every day you come in, it’s just, ‘We’re going to keep winning for you, and we’re going to keep winning, and by the time you’re back, it’s going to be go time.’”
Andrews, who’d never suffered a serious injury in his career, estimated that he spent four to six hours each day at the Ravens’ facility working out and recovering from his mid-November surgery. Coach John Harbaugh, who would see Andrews in the team’s athletic training room, called Andrews’ rehab “very painful.”
At home, Andrews spent hours in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber borrowed from his girlfriend’s parents, immersing himself in 100% oxygen. With higher concentrations of oxygen — which wounds need to heal properly — in his blood, Andrews’ hope was that his body’s damaged tissue would recover more quickly.
“You can’t ever doubt Mark,” his brother Jack said in an interview. “I mean, he’s the hardest-working, most dedicated person to do whatever it takes. I think he’s been extremely diligent about taking care of his body and doing everything that he needs to do to get himself in the best possible rehab and recovery shape that he can. And then the Ravens have really done an awesome job of supporting him — all the doctors, the physical therapists, the surgeon they set him up with. The whole team and organization, really, did an awesome, incredible job getting him everything that he needed to maximize his recovery.”
Jack, who compared watching his brother get hurt to “a pit in your stomach,” said he was “probably more surprised” than Mark about his quick recovery. But Jack pointed to Mark’s experience with Type 1 diabetes, saying he understood his body in ways that most people don’t.
“His whole life, he’s had to watch what goes in his body,” Jack said. “He’s had to take care of his body, and so he knows how to be a good patient and how to maximize all of the things that you need to do. From a recovery perspective, I think just that dedication of how to maximize your body’s recovery and watching what you put in your body and being cognizant of that is probably an advantage. He had all that already cooked into his daily routine.”
Andrews, who had 45 catches for 544 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games before his injury, reiterated after practice Friday that he feels “good.” He wasn’t concerned with his role in the offense, which has relied on tight end Isaiah Likely in his absence, or any possible playing-time restriction: “Whatever they’re asking me to do, I’m going to do it.”
He added: “I can’t tell you how excited [I am]. This is what I love to do. I love to play football. I love the Ravens. I love this city. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.”
“It means a lot to all of us,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “What it means to me is, I have another security blanket.”
In Week 11, that seemed impossible. After the Ravens’ prime-time win over the Bengals, Harbaugh said Andrews’ injury looked season-ending. Andrews acknowledged that, as he met with his parents after the game, he didn’t know what was to come.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Andrews said. “But just keeping a strong head, I’m definitely a levelheaded person and strong-headed person, so I’m just trying to keep that mindset and knowing that I was going to be OK.”
And just in time, too.