On his first touch in a meaningful NFL game in 20 months, Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins caught a pass in the flat, squared his hips to New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones, burst to his left and delivered a see-you-later stiff arm.
On his second touch since tearing the ACL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring in his left leg in last year’s preseason finale, Dobbins probed a gap on a zone-running play, swiveling from left to right as he powered off his surgically repaired knee for a 3-yard gain.
On the sixth touch of his long-awaited return to the Ravens’ high-octane offense, Dobbins spun free of safety Jabrill Peppers behind the line of scrimmage, steadied his feet and fell forward for another 3 yards.
“That [move] just comes normal,” he said after the Ravens’ 37-26 win in Gillette Stadium. “I didn’t try to do it; it just happened. Hopefully, I’ll get more opportunities to do stuff like that in the future. We’ll see.”
Even if Dobbins’ final stats Sunday didn’t look like much — seven carries for 23 yards, two catches for 17 yards ― his season debut offered an encouraging baseline for the months ahead. Coach John Harbaugh said Dobbins was “exceptional” in his first game since the Ravens’ season-ending playoff loss in January 2021, a smaller cog in a rushing offense that rolled up 188 yards on 26 carries.
Dobbins, who as a rookie led all NFL running backs in yards per carry, wasn’t the Ravens’ best rusher Sunday — that was quarterback Lamar Jackson (11 carries for 107 yards). Nor was Dobbins the team’s most effective running back — that was Justice Hill (six carries for 60 yards). But he was available and reliable. And he said afterward that he can do more.
“I feel like I’ve still got some work to do,” he said. “The more opportunities, the more I feel better about myself.”
Dobbins’ availability for Week 3 was a mystery until the weekend. Despite a full week of practice a week earlier, he hadn’t been activated for the Ravens’ Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins. After three more days without workout limitations last week, Harbaugh indicated that Dobbins’ wait might continue, saying Friday: “We have certain parameters that we’re looking at and things like that, and it’s not going to be too long.”
Dobbins, though, said he knew as early as the start of last week that he’d suit up against the Patriots. On Saturday night, he said his emotions were “high.” But when he stepped onto the field Sunday, he said he wasn’t worried about taking a hit. He just wanted to make a play.
“Blessed to be back out there,” he said. “I’m the type of guy that — yes, I got back out there, I’m blessed, I’m happy about that — but now it’s time for me to try to do what I do. And that’s run for 100 yards and stuff like that.”