After his first touchdown of the season, on his way to the game of his life, Ravens tight end Mark Andrews took a knee in the end zone Monday night, bowed his head and absorbed the moment.
“It felt good,” he said afterward. He repeated himself: “It felt good.” His voice started to quiver.
From the hours leading up to kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts, to the fourth-quarter touchdown he caught to restart a comeback, to the minutes after the Ravens finished a stunning 31-25 win at M&T Bank Stadium, Andrews was thinking of his grandmother. She’d died less than a week ago, he said, “and I wanted to play for her. So it felt really good.”
Andrews did not play like he had the weight of a heavy heart. No Ravens tight end has finished a game with more receiving yards than Andrews did Monday (147), and only Dennis Pitta has matched his receptions total (11). Pitta was targeted 16 times in that 2016 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals; Andrews, meanwhile, did his damage on 13.
He was at his best late. Four times in a nine-minute span, Andrews caught a pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson in the end zone, each fourth-quarter score more important than the last. First, there was the 5-yard touchdown catch and 2-point conversion that trimmed the Colts’ lead to 25-17 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Then there was the 4-yard score and second 2-point conversion that, improbably, tied the game at 25 with under a minute left.
All of which doesn’t even account for Andrews’ smooth one-handed grab early in the fourth quarter, or his overtime contributions. A year after finishing with 701 receiving yards in 14 games, he already has 400 yards through five games in 2021. With 185 career receptions, Andrews joined Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Kellen Winslow Sr. as the only NFL tight ends in the league’s modern era to reach 175 catches by the 50th game of their career.
Jackson, of course, has been behind most of them.
“I think we’re growing,” Andrews said of their connection. “We’re getting smarter. We’re getting better. We’re getting more mature — all those different things that happen over the years, again, when you have that connection. We’ve always had it. When you have guys that are all around you that are making big plays, it’s hard to stop that as a defense. So I think just us being able to have playmakers all over the field, which we did, the receiving room — all those guys balled out. So that makes my job easier too.”
As the chaos of the Ravens’ win faded early Tuesday morning, Andrews joked at his postgame news conference about the team’s penchant for drama (“I think they’re taking a couple years off my life”). He talked about what had spurred the third-largest comeback in franchise history (“It’s belief”). He laughed when a reporter asked him about the critics of Jackson’s comeback ability (”You can’t say that anymore”).
The last question Andrews took was about his grandmother, and how he’d wanted to honor her Monday night. He grew up close to her, he said, just a block away, close enough to run on over for visits. Even as she grew old, Andrews joked, she’d read every story she could about him. She meant a lot, he said, and it hurt that he couldn’t be there to tell her in person.
“I know she was looking down on me, watching,” he said.