Usually, the sequel doesn't measure up. But Elvis Dumervil's second return from a lingering offseason foot surgery went a whole lot better than the first.
Dumervil has had to sit on the sideline for most of this season as the Ravens built one of the league's best defenses. His first comeback attempt fell flat, and forced him back to the shelf for five games.
But Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Dumervil finally got the reward he's long been waiting for. The Pro Bowl outside linebacker notched a game-sealing sack/strip in the final minutes of the game to preserve the Ravens' 19-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
His first sack of the season took a while, but it came at the perfect time.
"It has been a grind all year trying to get healthy," Dumervil said. "It sucks as a competitor not being able to play the game you grew up playing. Our guys on defense have been playing great all year. It was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.
"Being out there with my teammates – I couldn't ask for a better day."
The way Dumervil described his sack, it was like a microcosm of his season.
In Sunday's game, he had been bursting off the edge all day long without getting much payoff. He drew a holding penalty and pounced on a fumbled snap, but that was it, until the Bengals' final drive.
The Bengals were on the Ravens' 16-yard line with one minute, 12 seconds remaining. They trailed by seven points, so they could have tied, or even won, the game on the drive if they went for a two-point conversion.
That's when Dumervil got a great jump on Bengals right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, bent around the edge and got ahold of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's right arm, causing the ball to pop out. Defensive end Lawrence Guy pounced on the fumble to essentially seal the game.
"All game, it was a hard-working game," Dumervil said. "I kept getting to the edges, I tried to bull rush, and it was just the ball coming out [before I got there]. For a sack, everything has to align. It was one of those situations where he held it just enough, and I was able to get to him."
It also took a while for Dumervil's health to align.
A lingering foot injury caused him to miss all of the offseason camps, then nearly all of training camp and the preseason. He sat out the first three regular-season games before returning against the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 2.
Dumervil played against the Raiders and Washington Redskins, but didn't notch a single tackle or sack. Even in his brief return, he said he it was still a pain-tolerance issue.
Dumervil didn't have the same explosion, drawing media questions about how much the 32-year-old pass rusher had left in the tank.
The Ravens and Dumervil decided to shut him down again to focus on getting totally healthy. They installed a new rehabilitation plan, and Dumervil jumped into it.
"Sometimes you have setbacks and things like that with your rehab. He kept working. He rededicated himself," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday's win. "For him to play so well is satisfying for him, I'm sure, but it's really satisfying for me and everyone else too. We're happy to have him back."
Dumervil said his "strength level was completely different" in this second return from injury. He said there was still some rust to shake off, and that he can still get a lot better.
That's good news for the Ravens, who have been dominant on defense but lacking some edge rush.
The Ravens entered Sunday's game with the league's No. 2-ranked defense (down from the top spot after facing the Dallas Cowboys last week), but had 23 sacks as a team, tied for 13th in the NFL.
Dumervil led the Ravens in sacks the past two years (six in 2015 and 17 in 2014). Not only is his presence a boost to the defense, but he helps make fellow pass rusher Terrell Suggs better. Suggs notched two sacks and two forced fumbles against the Bengals.
Safety Eric Weddle said Dumervil is a "pro's pro," and has been dealing with more than the public realizes. Dumervil has been vague about the exact nature of his "foot-area" injury.
"Maybe he'll say what he's been dealing with, maybe he won't. But we know what type of guy he is, what kind of teammate he is and obviously what talent he is on the field," Weddle said.
"When you add that to the defense we already have, it opens up the possibility of being better than what we already are right now. Adding him across from [Suggs] and our other rushers, and with our game plans, we're going to be a tough team to stop."