As the Ravens struggled offensively, so did tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson at different points this season.
After a strong start in which he was a primary target of quarterback Joe Flacco, Pitta was almost invisible from Weeks 4-9 even though his team won four of those five games.
From that point on, however, he had 5 TD catches, including two and a season-high 125 yards receiving in a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 15.
The Ravens play at Denver on Saturday in a divisional playoff game (CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET).
"We didn't do too well last time. He beat us on a long touchdown pass," said Broncos coach John Fox, alluding to Pitta breaking a tackle and going 61 yards for one of his scores. "He is very athletic. He has a good feel for coverage and how to adjust. He obviously earned our respect last time.”
His re-emergence has given Flacco another option beyond receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. In his third season, Pitta had a career-highs of 61 catches for 669 yards and 7 TDs in the regular season despite the mid-season drought.
"He’s got great hands. He’s got a knack for catching and getting up field. He’s done a better job more than anything of making plays on his feet after he catches the ball," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Maybe that’s something we didn't see earlier in the year. He’d catch it, and he wouldn't be able to keep his feet sometimes, but it seems like he has been able to maintain that balance and get yards after the catch. It’s led to a lot of production."
Looking at Dickson’s statistics alone, losing him from Weeks 13-15 didn't mean that much for the Ravens. He only had 21 catches for 225 yards and 0 TDs. Seemingly poised for a breakout season at the start, he failed to reach the end zone for the first time in his three-year career.
Where Dickson was sorely missed, however, was in run-blocking and special teams. He was hurt when a teammate crashed into his knee while he was engaged in a block during a kick return at San Diego.
The Ravens weren't as fluid because they couldn't use their two-tight end sets with Dickson opposite Pitta and a three-game losing streak ensued. They had trouble run blocking, particularly on third downs.
Dickson made it back for the last two games of the regular season. And he was in there for last weekends' 24-9 win vs. the Indianapolis Colts in a wild-card playoff game.
“If I’m blocking or catching passes I want to contribute," he said. "The key is being out there."
Having Pitta helps Flacco, particularly if there's zone coverage, and Dickson can come up with big catches every now and then.
For Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to have the rushing yards that will be needed to keep Peyton Manning off the field for the Broncos, Dickson has to play a major part even if it goes largely unnoticed.