J.K. Dobbins returned to action in Week 14 and his impact was enormous.
Energizing Baltimore's rushing attack with 120 yards on 15 carries, Dobbins was the offensive difference-maker in the Ravens' 16-14 victory over the Steelers.
Dobbins had not played since Week 6, deciding to undergo another surgical procedure on his knee in late October that would remove scar tissue and give him more agility for the stretch run of the season.
The plan is working. It was Dobbins' first 100-yard game since Week 16 of the 2020 season, and it helped the Ravens (9-4) to a crucial victory that snapped a four-game losing streak against Pittsburgh.
It has been a long road back for Dobbins, who missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring. He returned for four games this season, but in this latest return, Dobbins looked more like the player he was during his impressive rookie season. He set the tone with a 44-yard run in the first quarter that set up his four-yard touchdown run on his next carry.
Dobbins said he would have scored on his 44-yard gallop if he had been in better shape. However, there's still time left in the season and from this point, Dobbins has big plans.
"It's still not me all the way yet and I'm going to continue to get better," Dobbins said. "Hopefully those 100-yard games will turn into 200-yard games. I'm going to keep getting healthier."
Having Dobbins back puts an explosive element in Baltimore's running game that it doesn't have without him.
"I know J.K's a beast. Did I expect what he did today? I really can't sit here and lie to you. I did not expect it like that," veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said.
"I told him he put the team on his back the way he was running. His vision, his stop and start, getting North and South – really making defenders pay every time he touched the ball. He's been hungry just itching to get on the field. You see the heart and passion he plays with."
Dobbins' ability to cut and find holes gave the Steelers fits all day and kept Baltimore's offense on schedule. Gus Edwards also had a strong day (13 carries, 66 yards), as the Ravens' run game allowed them to control the tempo of the game.
This is the way Baltimore wants to play football, and it had been a long time since Dobbins and Edwards were in the lineup together. The offense dominated the line of scrimmage and Dobbins kept finding holes.
"The running game is what we needed in this game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "A bunch of running yards in that final drive. Gus too, the last two runs that he had. He came around there like a freight train."
Dobbins' physical struggles over the past season have strengthened him mentally. Few players love the game more than he does, and it has been difficult for him to miss so much time. But Dobbins is glad he opted to have his latest surgery. He said he woke up in the middle of the night this season and knew he had to do it.
"When I got out of surgery, walking it felt so much better," Dobbins said. "I knew it was going to be better.
"When I got injured last year, that was the worst thing ever, top five worst things that have happened to me in my life. But I had to learn patience. When we're out there and going crazy, I'm calm and ready to go."