Dennis Pitta said throughout the summer that he didn't think it would take long to find the chemistry he and quarterback Joe Flacco had established before the tight end had his career derailed by a pair of major hip injuries.
When Pitta returned to the field Sunday for his first game in 721 days, his prediction proved true. He looked much like the player who earned himself a $32 million contract after playing a key part in the team's run to Super Bowl XLVII.
And he also showed that the connection with his quarterback hasn't gone anywhere.
Pitta was back at his usual locker right next to Flacco, and the buddies carried their chemistry onto the field for a solid debut in the 13-7 victory over Buffalo.
"Once we got rolling, it felt like I hadn't missed a beat and was out there the last couple years as well," Pitta said.
Flacco threw Pitta's direction four times on the day, and he hauled in three passes for 39 yards.
No play illustrated trust between the two more than a 27-yard strike in the fourth quarter. Pitta was tightly covered by a linebacker, but Flacco knew the defender wasn't looking and threw it anyway.
Pitta made a tough adjustment on the ball and hauled it in for the long gain down the middle to set up Baltimore's final field goal. It was just like old times.
"That's one of those plays where it's really all about feel between the quarterback and the receiver," Pitta said. "He knew I had good position on him, and with the backer's head turned, [comma] he can put one up there and allow me to adjust to it, and make a play on it. It was a great throw in a critical situation."
The strong start to the season was encouraging for Pitta after he missed the entire preseason with a broken finger. That injury kept him on the shelf for almost all off training camp, leading to some concern that he might be limited early in the season.
But Pitta showed no noticeable effects from the time off, as he started the game and played 57 of 68 offensive snaps.
"It was a good start for us," Pitta said. "I certainly didn't play perfectly, but I was able to knock the rust off and now we can move forward."
The day was admittedly emotional for Pitta, who had real doubts about whether he would ever play again. He tried to come back last season, but his hip just didn't feel right. He decided to give it one more shot this year – against the concerns of doctors and family members – and he determined that playing again was worth the risk.
He had family members in the crowd for his return, and he received a roaring ovation as he ran out of the tunnel during pre-game introductions.
"Obviously it was really cool," he said. "Emotions ran high for during that time. It was a special moment just to be able to run through the smoke and out of the tunnel in front of our fans again. It's been a while for me since I've been able to do that."