On the first game of his first game in over a year, Nick Boyle escorted a Chicago Bears defender away from scrimmage and watched Ravens Devonta Freeman run past him. On the second play of his first game in over a year, Boyle pinned back another Bears player and saw Freeman climb to the second tier again.
Boyle’s recovery from a season-ending knee surgery had been a long and painful process. On Sunday, a few large blocks were his reward.
“When I blocked my husband from seeing the running back come through, I felt a little better,” Boyle said with a grin on Wednesday, his first comments to Baltimore reporters since. he was driven off the field in a rainy road loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 15, 2020. “When you come back from injury, man, you got your doubts. And those are the doubts you need to push away. And when you go out to play, it’s like doing everything in your power to get those plays right and do them the best you can. But sometimes, you know, realistically, it doesn’t always happen that way. So I was grateful that those first two plays went like this.”
Boyle’s 2021 debut, as he called it, was “amazing”. He woke up in Chicago on Sunday knowing he would be playing for the first time in a long time. He left Soldier Field with… 32 offensive snaps in a 16-13 victory and hard-earned praise from Ravens who are happy to have a much-loved teammate and one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends back.
Mark Andrews, a close friend, told tight end: “He’s a great player and I’m delighted to have him back.”
Fullback Patrick Ricard, another close friend, tweeted: “Can we show some love? [Nick Boyle] for his enduring perseverance to come back to play again within a year! So proud of him because I know how hard he worked to come back!!!! I love having my brother there.”
Better to come back late than not at all. After completing training camp, Boyle returned to training in early September but was placed on injured reserve less than two weeks later. Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens were expecting him back in about a month. He didn’t return to practice until October 20.
There was much to overcome. Boyle said he had two surgeries on his left knee. The first procedure, which he called “the worst surgery of my life,” repaired meniscus, PCL, MCL and fracture damage. A clean-up procedure he underwent over the summer delayed his return to the field.
Boyle’s hamstring was also torn from the bone during the loss to New England. “The way the guy hit me kind of got through, and my whole inside of the knee blew out,” he said.
The magnitude of Boyle’s injuries and his relative inexperience with the necessary rehabilitation left him wondering if he would be the player he once was, someone named general manager Eric DeCosta in January. “a backbone for this team.”
“When you get injured like that, you’re fighting yourself on a daily basis if you’re not feeling well yet,” Boyle said. “And from a mental aspect, when you get rid of injuries, you always think to yourself, ‘Am I the player I was before?’ That goes through your mind daily and you really need to erase that and just go to work every day and work erase it and go attack like that the next day i have full confidence that i will go out and that I’ll be the way I was and I’ll be even better, but that stuff just takes time.”
Boyle is willing to be patient. He sat out the Ravens’ Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins because he felt the short week of walk-throughs wasn’t enough to prepare him for the pace of the game. He was “a little sore” on Monday, he said, but it wasn’t because there was something wrong with his knees. He just needed to get stronger, regain the physicality that the Ravens saw worthy contract extension until 2023. With more time there would be more blocks. And with more blocks there would be more smiles.
“I don’t think I’m there yet, but I think I’m getting better every day,” he said. “It’s just a huge process, and I think I have a lot more respect for people who are going through injuries and serious injuries right now with all the things you do every day just to get to where you are now. But you see the light “the end of the tunnel when you start to get better. You start to go out again and things feel more natural. Not quite there, but it’s like I said, every day is a step.”