Rashod Bateman's NFL career started with a delay, but he's making up for lost time.
Coming off a groin surgery that sidelined him for the entire preseason and first five regular-season games, it was unclear how much of an immediate contribution Bateman would provide.
The Ravens' rookie first-round pick posted three catches for 80 yards in his second NFL game, tying Marquise "Hollywood" Brown for the most on the team in the 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
In two games, Bateman is now up to seven grabs for 109 yards and every single one of his snags have gone for a first down. A week after he played more snaps than the Ravens intended, Bateman took even more snaps (46) and 63% of the offensive reps.
With Sammy Watkins sidelined by a hamstring injury, the rookie has instantly picked up the slack.
"I think he's just doing a good job generally for his second game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I plan on him, as a head coach, on him getting better and better every single week."
As opposed to his debut, when Bateman faced tight man-to-man coverage from the Chargers and made several contested first-down catches, the Bengals instead played more zone and forced the rookie to find the open windows.
Bateman's first catch came when he settled down for an open catch before exploding up field for a 20-yard gain. That helped kick off the Ravens' first touchdown drive.
His second catch came deep over the middle near the start of the second half, when he found a window and Lamar Jackson stepped up and flicked a perfect pass to Bateman in stride for a 35-yard gain. It wasn't an easy catch, with defenders jumping in the throwing window.
Bateman's third catch was over the middle, when his route took him behind the Bengals' dropping linebackers and Jackson hit him for a 25-yard gain. On all three plays, Bateman showed his instant quickness to get up the field for extra yardage.
Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin said it's rare that Bateman can play so seamlessly from different positions, both inside and outside. That versatility, which many of the Ravens receivers have, should give Baltimore more flexibility once Watkins returns. Bateman can be used to create different mismatches.
"[He's] adjusting to the NFL, the speed of the game, this team is blitzing and doing all kind of stuff," Martin said. "He did a really good job of reading blitzes and making himself available for catches. As a rookie, that was really good to see."
Bateman's groin surgery was the first time he's gone under the knife in his life. He said he didn't know what was going on when he suffered it in training camp practice.
The injury was an early test of Bateman's focus. Would he allow it to throw him off course? Martin said he was already impressed with the way Bateman showed up to training camp in peak physical shape, but the way he fought through the injury showed another level to his maturity.
Bateman said he leaned on safety DeShon Elliott, who lost his rookie season because of a fractured forearm in the preseason, for support.
"I was just nervous to play, period," Bateman said. "It was my first injury ever and first time ever having surgery. I was just nervous to make a cut or to run, period."
Bateman has certainly overcome that. He said the speed of the game is definitely faster in the NFL compared to college, but he doesn't seem to be lagging behind. His hot start has given him a boost of confidence heading into the bye.
"It just reminded me that I can still play football, that I can still catch just a little bit," Bateman said with a grin. "I've just got to keep getting better each and every day."