Dennis Pitta's decision comes as a relief

It's a relief that Dennis Pitta decided not to play this season.

Thank goodness.

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has decided not to play this season after doctors told him it would be unsafe to do so. Team officials and the coaching staff were on the side of the doctors.

And, I'm guessing, so were many of even the most diehard fans of Baltimore football.

Like so many others, I watched on my living room television as Pitta caught a short pass, tried to turn upfield and just fell over in Cleveland last year. It was sickening.

Injuries happen in every game, but it was too much to take after watching Pitta come back to play the final four games of a nearly-lost 2013 season after first fracturing and dislocating his hip during training camp that year.

Thinking about all the hours of rehabilitation, all of the expectations that come with a new contract and a knighting as one of the NFL's best tight ends contrasted too sharply with this finely-tuned professional athlete falling down without being touched when he again fractured and dislocated that hip.

It didn't seem possible. It certainly wasn't fair.

To be clear, neither is this. Pitta is 30 years old, too young for a career to potentially end, even in the unforgiving NFL. It was a little surprising when he emerged as such a threat in the passing game in 2012, becoming quarterback Joe Flacco's safety blanket and most-trusted target on a run to Super Bowl XLVII that will more often be remembered for Ray Lewis' retirement, Flacco's postseason performance and the season-saving plays of running back Ray Rice and wide receiver-kick returner Jacoby Jones.

But after he made 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in his third season, it seemed clear Pitta was on the way to lots more similar seasons with the Ravens.

They've missed him. In 2013, Pitta returned for four games and made 20 receptions. Three other tight ends -- Dallas Clark (31 catches), Ed Dickson (25) and Billy Bajema (2) -- combined for 58 catches that season. Last year, Pitta had 16 receptions before being injured in Week 3 and Owen Daniels (48), Crockett Gillmore (10) and Phillip Supernaw (2) combined for 61 receptions over the course of the season.

Would Pitta, by himself, have bested those combined totals, if healthy? It sure seems like it.

Not that the Ravens were planning on getting much from him this season. Even Flacco said in August that he's "kind of become used to not having him out there."

Three young tight ends -- Gillmore and 2015 NFL draft picks Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle -- are the team's immediate and long-term future at the position. They'll be forced now to move on without clinging to the hope that Pitta might somehow return healthy and join the top tier of tight ends, something that once seemed like a formality.

He might not play again -- Pitta himself said last month that if he didn't play this year, his career might be over -- but he (and fans) can hold on to memories of his touchdown reception in Super Bowl XLVII and him catching passes in a snowstorm against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium in his first comeback from injury.

They're stuck with the memory of what happened in Cleveland, too. But at least they won't see it again.

apyles@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aapyles

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