A little more than a week ago, Bobby Rainey was a free agent. On Sunday, he was the Ravens' primary kick returner.
In the topsy-turvy world of the NFL, that's how quickly a player can go from afterthought to valued commodity. It might seem dizzying to an outsider, but Rainey, whom the team had cut Sept. 1 and re-signed last Tuesday, embraced the immediacy of his promotion to the top of the special teams depth chart.
"I kind of knew that they brought me here to play," he said after returning a kick 96 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at M&T Bank Stadium. "So I knew I was coming here to play. So with the position I was in, I had to learn stuff real quick. As a professional, it doesn't matter what your circumstance is, and I knew coming in what I had to do, and I knew I had a big role on special teams, and I was trying to bring the spark. Any position I play, I'm trying to bring the spark."
Rainey, 29, had returned 40 kicks in his career for an average of 24.8 yards, but his career long was just 38 yards. His third-quarter highlight — in which he was flipped to the turf by teammate Tyus Bowser before realizing that no Chicago player had touched him — gave the Ravens their first kick return for a score since Nov. 2, 2014, when Jacoby Jones brought back a kickoff 108 yards in a 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The left calf injury that sidelined Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University) for Sunday's game prompted Rainey's return, as Alex Collins, the team's previous No. 1 kick returner, was elevated to starting running back.
After joking that special teams coordinator and associate head coach Jerry Rosburg had designed that kick return to include Rainey getting taken down by a teammate, coach John Harbaugh praised Rainey on Monday for continuing to run downfield after officials did not whistle the play dead.
"He's a really smart player," Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference. "He's got great balance, great feet. We've seen that. Good hands. He's a guy that I think can help us in the passing game with screens and things like that. He's really good in pass protection, so as he works himself in shape, hopefully he can play a role. But that was a phenomenal play. It was really well blocked. We lulled them to sleep, I guess you can say."