OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta defied the odds and the advice of medical experts with his return to the NFL.
Now that the Ravens tight end has proven that two serious hip operations and a two-year layoff won’t keep him down, his next objective is to return to the form he displayed during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run in 2012.
Pitta caught three passes for 39 yards on Sunday in a 13-7 victory at home against Buffalo. After the first reception, many of the fans stood and applauded his return.
“Now it’s about continuing to get the feel,” Pitta said Wednesday. “I hope I can improve as the weeks go on.”
Pitta dislocated and fractured his right hip during training camp in 2013. He played in the final four games that season, but injured the same hip again in September 2014 at Cleveland.
At that point, Pitta had to decide whether a second comeback was feasible, or even possible.
“There were doctors that suggested I should quit,” Pitta recalled. “There were friends and family — looking out for my best interest and my health — who wanted me to just be smart about it.”
Including Mataya Pitta, who helped convince her husband to return after the initial hip surgery.
“My wife is still nervous to this day, to watch me out there,” Pitta said. “She was nervous last Sunday.”
The 31-year-old Pitta smiled broadly when thinking back to the feeling of facing the Bills.
“It meant a lot, being able to take the field, running out of the tunnel again,” he said. “It was something I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do. Extremely grateful and humbled to be back on the field with my teammates.”
One of those teammates, quarterback Joe Flacco, wasn’t exactly swept away with emotion over having his good friend as a target again.
“Not to sound cold or anything, but I really didn’t think about it too much,” Flacco said. “When he caught the pass, the place erupted a little bit and I thought to myself, ‘I guess that was the first pass he caught today.'”
Flacco and Pitta formed an impressive connection in 2012, teaming for 61 completions and seven touchdowns. That was merely a prelude to the postseason, when Pitta grabbed 14 passes for 163 yards and three scores, including a 1-yard TD in the Ravens’ 34-31 Super Bowl win over San Francisco.
Pitta didn’t play in another game until the following December. Before facing the Bills on Sunday, he played in seven games over a three-year span.
After failing to get medical clearance last season, Pitta arrived at training camp this year ready to go. Then, during the first week of practice, he got into a scuffle with a teammate and fractured his right middle finger.
“It was frustrating at the time … but fortunately, it wasn’t an injury that wasn’t going to keep me out of the regular season,” he said.
Now he’s back, and his next stop comes Sunday in the city where his previous comeback ended.
“The last time I played in Cleveland was a pretty big low point. That was probably the lowest,” Pitta said. “When you dislocate your hip for a second time in that many years, it’s tough. I didn’t know how I would respond, how my body would feel six months down the road, a year down the road.
“So I was really relying on what the doctors were telling me, which wasn’t all that positive, to be honest.”
Pitta beat the odds. This week, instead of worrying about his hip, he’s got the same agenda as most players: to improve each week.
“We’re both talking about, ‘OK, now here’s where we have go from here,'” coach John Harbaugh said. “You move on to the next thing. But when you take a minute and look back on his journey, it makes you feel good about where he’s at right now.”