Where the Ravens turn after injury to TE Mark Andrews on controversial hip-drop tackle

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There’s a new buzz around the NFL, and it grew louder in front of a prime-time national television audience Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews is likely out for the season after suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter of Baltimore’s 34-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Linebacker Logan Wilson brought down the 2021 All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection with a controversial hip-drop tackle, which is when a defender encircles a runner and drops his weight on the opponent’s knee or ankle to bring the player to the ground.

“When they do it, the runner becomes defenseless,” Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, said during league meetings in October, adding that the play is a “cousin” of the horse-collar tackle, which was made illegal in 2005. “They can’t kick their way out from under. And that’s the problem. That’s where the injury occurs. You see the ankle get trapped underneath the weight of the defender.”

That’s what happened to Andrews when Wilson brought him to the ground on the Bengals’ 4-yard line less than four minutes into Thursday night’s AFC North matchup and landed on his left ankle.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson, who connected with Andrews on a short pass before the tight end turned upfield and raced toward the end zone, knew immediately that the injury was significant. Andrews stayed down writhing in pain and Jackson slammed his helmet in anguish.

“We’ve been bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly — whatever you want to call it,” said Jackson, who was drafted by the Ravens along with Andrews in 2018. “It’s very tough, because that’s my boy. That’s receiver [No.] 1 sometimes, and for him to go out [in the] first quarter … He’s been having a remarkable year.”

The hip-drop tackle has also been getting a lot of attention, this season and last.

Last month, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith injured his knee after New York Giants linebacker Isaiah Simmons landed on the back of his legs during a tackle. In January, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain during the divisional round of the playoffs when Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Arden Key came down awkwardly on Mahomes’ right ankle. And in last season’s wild-card playoff game between the 49ers and Cowboys, Dallas running back Tony Pollard broke his leg and suffered a high ankle sprain while similarly being dragged down by San Francisco safety Jimmie Ward.

The NFL is gathering data and conducting a study on the hip-drop as it considers possibly banning it, with league executive Jeff Miller, who is in charge of overseeing player health and safety, saying in October that the tackle increases risk of injury by 25 times the rate of a regular tackle.

“It is an unforgiving behavior and one that we need to try to define and get out of the game,” Miller said. “To quantify it for you, we see an injury more or less every week in the regular season on the hip-drop.”

That nearly included two more Ravens on tackles by Wilson.

Not long after Baltimore lost Andrews, Jackson injured his ankle as he scrambled toward the sideline and was dragged down from behind by the linebacker. The 2019 NFL MVP stayed down momentarily and trainers tended to him before he gave a thumbs-up and returned on the Ravens’ next possession without missing a play. Later, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., landed awkwardly on his shoulder after Wilson tackled him from behind.

Neither were clear hip-drop tackles, though all eyes were on Wilson, who was not made available to the media after the game. Bengals coach Zac Taylor, meanwhile, said only that he didn’t “definitively” know what the tackle was when asked about the play involving Andrews.

“It was definitely a hip-drop tackle, and it is being discussed,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a tough tackle. Was it even necessary in that situation? The other one on the sideline … There are always plays you send into the league to have them look at and have them interpret for you.”

In the meantime, Baltimore will look to fill the massive void that Andrews’ injury leaves in the locker room and on the field.

Over the past six years, the 287 passes Andrews has caught from Jackson is 123 more than any other Ravens player. The 33 touchdowns the two have connected on also rank behind only Mahomes and Travis Kelce among quarterback-tight end combinations during that span.

It will be a team effort, Harbaugh said, but in terms of who will take over at tight end, that duty will go to Isaiah Likely. A fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina in 2022, he has just nine catches for 89 yards this season. Before Thursday’s game, he had been on the field for only 27.2% of the team’s offensive snaps.

He did flash during his rookie year, however, with four games of at least four catches, including in Week 17 against the Bengals when he had eight grabs for 103 yards while filling in for Andrews.

“It hurts,” Likely said of losing Andrews. “Mark is like a big brother in my eyes.

“I feel like I’m ready. I really just feel like me holding on to little details on how Lamar sees things, and then getting that same input on how Mark would have probably done it for him, and then just really trying to incorporate it into my game, and how I do things and going from there.”

Behind Likely is second-year tight end Charlie Kolar. A fourth-round pick out of Iowa State, he has played sparingly, however, appearing in 11 total games with five career catches for 62 yards. Fullback Patrick Ricard also has experience at tight end.

It’s also likely that Jackson will lean even more on his wide receivers.

Zay Flowers’ 53 catches and 588 yards this season are second and third, respectively, in the NFL among rookies and don’t include the 68-yard touchdown pass he had called back Thursday for a questionable holding penalty. Beckham, Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor are next in line with 24, 20 and 19 catches apiece.

Over the past three games, Beckham in particular has started to find a rhythm with Jackson, with 10 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns in that span. That included 116 yards Thursday, the most he’s had in a game since Week 2 in 2019 with the Browns.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Beckham, who said his shoulder injury isn’t that bad. “Been a lot of hard work.

“Early on in the season, I was hurting. I couldn’t be myself. I didn’t have the explosion. I couldn’t move the way that I wanted to and I don’t think people really knew what I was dealing with.”

And now the Ravens (8-3) are going to have to figure out how to deal with not having Andrews the rest of the season.

Week 12

Ravens at Chargers

Sunday, Nov. 26, 8:20 p.m.


Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2


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