Dennis Pitta made his long-awaited return to the field Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, and he appeared to pick up right where he left off.
He led the team with 11 targets, caught a critical fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and also had a key catch on the game's final drive to set up the winning touchdown. Pitta showed that he could provide a spark the offense has been looking for this season.
But Pitta's return does not spell the end of Dallas Clark's involvement in the offense, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said that Clark will "absolutely" remain in the plans despite being a healthy scratch Sunday.
"Dallas is going to be a big part of what we're doing going forward," Harbaugh said. "It just depends on the game plan and how the offensive coaches decide to put that together."
Clark took on a significant role when Pitta was hurt and is currently fourth on the team with 31 catches. He also has three touchdown grabs. Both tight ends are known as pass catchers with reliable hands who can work the middle of the field.
"He wasn't active this last game, but Dallas has done a lot of great things for us," Harbaugh said. "I think he's exactly in that conversation to bolster us up. I think he gives us more of a threat to the inside stuff that we're doing and hopefully makes everybody a little bit better."
Pitta joins Clark and Ed Dickson on the active roster, giving the Ravens three tight ends on the 53-man squad for the first time since Oct. 19 when they cut veteran Billy Bajema.
All three tight ends bring subtle differences to their games.
Pitta is a big pass catcher who is also a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco. Clark also has good hands, and Dickson has been a valuable part of the run game. Dickson can also make plays in the passing game and caught his first touchdown of the season against Minnesota.
"The more guys you put out there that are weapons, it helps everybody," Harbaugh said. "To look at us offensively, we're not a one-man show on offense. We've got guys at every position that can make plays."
Dickson was used more often than Pitta against the Vikings, playing 51 snaps compared to 36 for Pitta. The Ravens eased Pitta back into action, primarily using him on third downs and passing situations. As he continues to get up to speed on his surgically repaired hip, the Ravens will likely continue to get him more snaps.
Whoever the Ravens end up using at tight end – and how much each player is used – Harbaugh expressed confidence in what the group will be able to do for Flacco and the passing game.
"Joe's the kind of guy that will spread it around," Harbaugh said. "Joe's not the kind of guy that's really going to go in one place, or look in one spot all the time. So, he'll have the ability to spread the ball around. It should be good for all those guys."