Bryant McKinnie is a two-time Pro Bowler regarded as one of the better left tackles in the NFL, but he sounded awed by what Grubbs brought to the table that night.
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McKinnie is one of several teammates who has eagerly welcomed Grubbs back to the fold after he missed the previous six contests with strained ligaments in a toe on his right foot. Grubbs is understandably happy to return, but he waved off any suggestion that he automatically solidifies the offensive line.
"I don't want to get into that," he said. "I just do my job and hopefully, me doing my job will help contribute to winning. I just look at it from that standpoint. Everybody is saying, 'Wow, you're a difference-maker.' That's an overstatement. I just do what I get paid to do and do what I'm coached to do and do what I love doing."
Still, it's difficult to argue with the numbers produced when Grubbs has played this season. In the season-opening 35-7 rout of Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, the offense gained a season-high 170 rushing yards, the offensive line allowed a season-low one sack, and quarterback Joe Flacco tossed three touchdowns — a career best against the Steelers.
With Grubbs back in his customary spot Sunday night, the offense converted a franchise-record 14-of-21 third downs, committed a season-low two penalties, and witnessed Flacco become the first quarterback in team history to throw for 300 yards against Pittsburgh.
"Ben's a key part of our offense and our offensive line," Flacco said. "He did a great job in there. The other night was his first night back after a pretty long layoff, and he was excited to get back out there and we were all excited to see him back out there. He's another guy who is going to do nothing but get better from here on out as long as he can stay healthy."
Injuries — including surgery on the same ankle twice in the last three years — have been a part of the growth process for Grubbs, but he had never experienced anything as frustrating or as painful as the toe injury.
Aware that a similar ailment pushed future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden into retirement, Grubbs sought counsel from Ogden.
"During that time when I couldn't do anything, there was a lot of uncertainty going through my mind and a lot of doubt," Grubbs recalled. "I talked to J.O., and the thing that he said was, 'You've got to give it time.' He tried to come back, and he actually played. He re-injured it, and he said he shattered it. So it was still hurting him when I was talking to him. So he just told me to make sure that I gave it time to heal, and that's what I wanted to do. I think I've given it enough time to heal. With the tape job and orthotics that I have, I'm not at risk of re-injuring it anymore — hopefully. So I'm just being cautious and continuing my rehab and being smart at practice."
During Grubbs' absence, Andre Gurode filled in admirably at left guard. Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler at center, played well, but coach John Harbaugh conceded that Grubbs brings a certain level of comfort.
"Ben's played guard all of these years, and he's very familiar with our system," Harbaugh said. "I think things were a little smoother in there. I thought Andre did a great job while he was in there and with what he had to overcome, especially to learn the position. But Ben's the left guard. He's the starter. So it smoothed things out a little bit for us."
Not only has Grubbs stabilized the left side of the offensive line, but he has also eased the transition process for McKinnie, who signed with the Ravens on Aug. 24 and missed a good chunk of the preseason.
"With the position that I'm in — this being my first year with the team and not having the preseason to learn the offense — it feels good to have somebody next to me that's been here in the system and knows this offense," McKinnie said. "It makes you feel a little more comfortable."
The continued development of McKinnie and Grubbs on the left side will be one to monitor, but for at least one game, Grubbs was pleased with the results.
"It was great coming back," he said. "That first game we played against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it felt really good. Me and B-Mac had some time to gel, and I think that's what you need on the offensive line. You need continuity. … I was glad to come back and contribute the way I did."
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