After a roller-coaster ending in a Ravens victory and enduring a run of post-game interviews, tight end Dennis Pitta stood at the podium and finally got a brief moment to soak it all in.
For the first 13 weeks of the season, Pitta had been helpless to watch the highs and lows while he was sidelined with a fractured and dislocated hip. At times, he wasn't sure if and when he would be back to help this teammates for their playoff push.
But there Pitta was late Sunday afternoon, taking stock of his emotions moments after a thrilling 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in which he delivered for a Ravens team that had desperately been missing his route-running and reliable hands in critical situations.
"I remember when I got injured, I didn't know if I was even going to play football again," Pitta said. "So being able to stand here and talk about a victory and being a part of that is pretty special for me. And just being a part of this team and being able to fight the way we did today is pretty remarkable."
The Ravens activated Pitta from injured reserve on Saturday so he could make his season debut Sunday. He caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 11 times, tied with Marlon Brown for the most among Ravens receivers.
Pitta played approximately 35 snaps, many of them on third down or on plays inside the red zone. He also got playing time when the Ravens used their hurry-up offense. He was flexed out into the slot as a receiver on the vast majority of those plays.
"We stuck to the plan. I was anticipating being able to play this much," he said. "I felt good throughout the game and didn't think about my hip, which is encouraging going forward."
It took time for Pitta to shake off some of the rust. He had just one catch for 9 yards in the first half and allowed a couple of passes to clank off his hands. But after halftime, Pitta started to click with Flacco.
"Those guys probably have something a little more," coach John Harbaugh said. "There is some kind of chemistry there between those two guys that is probably hard to explain."
Midway through the third quarter, Pitta made a diving catch to move the chains on third down.
In the fourth quarter, as the Ravens moved into position for their first go-ahead touchdown, Pitta caught a pass short of the first-down marker and fought through a Vikings defender to fall across the line and keep the drive alive.
After the Ravens stopped on their next three plays, they faced fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
They spread out the Vikings, dotting the line of scrimmage with three wide receivers, running back Ray Rice and Pitta, who was in the slot to the left of the offensive line. After a quick drop, Flacco threw a pass to his first read, Pitta, who ran a stick route and made the catch.
On fourth down with another must-win game on the line, who else was Flacco going to throw to?
"Actually, the defense wasn't really what we liked from that play," Pitta said. "I think I was able to get open in some man-to-man coverage and Joe did a good job of putting the ball on me where I could make a play. … We were able to get what I thought was the game-winning score at the time, but it ended up being just one of many."
As Pitta jogged back to the sideline, he was met by Harbaugh and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs. Harbaugh embraced Pitta then Suggs gave him a big hug.
"When you see the work a guy puts into rehab in this league to get back from an injury like that, then you appreciate a moment like that," Harbaugh said.
In the final minute of the game, after the Vikings and Ravens traded four touchdowns, Pitta played a prominent role on the game-winning drive.
He drew a defensive pass interference penalty on Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo and caught an 18-yard pass over the middle to move the Ravens inside the 10-yard line and set up the winning score.
"Obviously, he's going to get better and better as the weeks go on," Flacco said. "He's a huge player for us. He knows how to get open, he knows how to run routes and he catches the football. He means a lot."