In his first game since Jan. 16, 2021, Ravens running back Gus Edwards appeared to have his old legs back. And it didn’t take him long to show it.
On their third play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Edwards took a handoff from quarterback Lamar Jackson and burst up the middle for a 12-yard gain. For a player who missed the entire 2021 season after tearing his ACL during last year’s preseason, the moment was part of a day he called “a blessing.”
“It took a lot of faith getting through everything and all the adversity I faced with the injury,” Edwards said after the 23-20 win in which he led Baltimore’s resurgent rushing attack with 66 yards on 16 carries.
The early big gain was just a taste of what was to come. On the first play after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, Edwards put the Ravens ahead with a 7-yard touchdown run in which he was untouched and celebrated by leaping into the stands.
He wasn’t done yet. Edwards extended the lead again, this time to 20-10, by punching it in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal midway through the third quarter. Overall, he was everything the Ravens could hope for in his season debut, providing the offense some much-needed juice on a day when Baltimore struggled to get its passing game going.
Edwards waited 645 days to feel the joy of scoring a touchdown. After his first, he said he felt a sense of relief, knowing all the work he put into his rehabilitation had paid off.
“You work hard all week, you go over the same plays all week, and you envision everything being a touchdown,” Edwards said. “It always feels like a release, but this one was special.”
Edwards said his recovery process was “up and down” — in addition to his ACL, he also tore his LCL and hamstring when he went down during the same practice on Sept. 10, 2021, that cornerback Marcus Peters tore his ACL. Edwards noted that the rehab required a lot of time on the massage table and in the ice tub, and he praised the training staff for doing everything they could to bring him back to full health.
“I’m even fortunate to be playing right now with the type of injury I had,” he said. “I just have to keep building off it.”
Edwards, who was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Saturday, originally aimed to play in the season-opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 11. However, coach John Harbaugh always envisioned the fifth-year veteran to return between Week 5 and Week 7.
“That was kind of what the doctors, and [head certified athletic trainer] Adrian [Dixon], and [chief medical officer] Dr. [Andrew] Tucker were shooting for,” Harbaugh said. “So, they deserve a lot of credit. [Football performance coach] Sam Rosengarten and [head strength and conditioning coach] Steve Saunders, they all did a great job.”
Edwards’ return comes at a critical time for the Ravens, who placed running back J.K. Dobbins on injured reserve after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Harbaugh said that Dobbins, who also suffered a torn ACL and additional damage to his knee last preseason, had a range-of-motion issue with scar tissue and hopes the procedure will accelerate the recovery process.
“[Dobbins] wanted to do it,” Harbaugh said. “If it doesn’t work 100%, then he’s kind of on the slow road again. There’s no new injury or anything like that. He just wanted to take a shot at speeding up the process.”
Against the Browns, Edwards featured the same strength and power he used to average 5.2 yards per carry and more than 700 rushing yards per season in his first three years in Baltimore. Jackson praised the running back after the game, saying, “We’ve got a lot of ‘scat’ backs, fast, elusive backs, but [Edwards] can do both. We’ve been missing the power, and it showed. He was hitting the holes and getting like 5 yards a carry sometimes.”
Edwards was one of six Ravens to get a carry in the victory as they ran for 160 yards on 44 carries. Facing a fourth-and-1 at Cleveland’s 49, tight end Mark Andrews lined up under center as a quarterback before tossing the ball to Jackson, who was acting as a running back and gained 11 yards. Three plays later, kicker Justin Tucker nailed a 55-yard field goal for a 23-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
On another fourth-quarter drive, Jackson handed the ball to Andrews for a 4-yard gain to convert on third-and-1.
“It’s the way the game played out,” Harbaugh said. “It was just kind of one of those kinds of games where you’re trying to win the game by whatever means necessary.”
But Sunday was Edwards’ moment in the spotlight, and he didn’t disappoint. He also ran for someone else, as he played the game with the Nos. 4 and 5 written on his wrists to honor of late outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who died in June.
“This [win] for him,” Edwards told his teammates in the locker room.
Ravens honor former champs
Among the tens of thousands who watched the Ravens beat the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium were dozens of former players who know what it’s like to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
More than 50 members from the Ravens’ 2012 championship team were introduced during a pregame ceremony that featured former safety Ed Reed carrying the Lombardi trophy with a cigar in his mouth while former linebacker Ray Lewis did his iconic “squirrel dance.”
The team gathered again on the field at halftime, and executive vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome, Reed and Lewis addressed the crowd.
“Let’s go get another ring,” Lewis said.