At 36 years old and coming off an Achilles tendon injury that cost him the entire 2016 season, Benjamin Watson has become an integral part of the Baltimore Ravens’ passing game.
Watson ranks second on the team with 38 catches and has scored two touchdowns. Though the 6-foot-3 tight end has put up better numbers at times during his 14-year NFL career, this just might be his most impressive season — in spite of the Ravens’ mediocre 4-5 record.
“It’s been a long journey, and my goal was to get to a place where I would contribute to this team, and contribute to this team winning,” Watson said Wednesday. “We haven’t won as many games as we would have liked. But it is satisfying, anytime you have an injury like that, to be able to come back.”
Signed as a free agent in March 2016 after a successful run with the New Orleans Saints, Watson couldn’t wait to make his mark with pass-happy Ravens. Then, in the third preseason game, he tore his right Achilles tendon.
And that was that for 2016, except for a lot of rehabilitative work and no small amount of prayer.
“Very disappointed,” Watson recalled. “Obviously, injuries happen. You can’t control that. But it’s tough, especially on my family, moving all the way up here and having that happen.”
At that point, Watson made it his mission to set an example for his five kids.
“Life is full of adversity. What’s important is how you deal with it, how you fight through it and what kind of message you send to others around you,” he said. “That includes my children, who have prayed for, and continue to pray for, my Achilles for the last year and a half.”
In spite of his relentless effort to return, Watson wasn’t sure if the hard work was going to pay off.
“There were times in that training room when I felt like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to play in the NFL again at a level that I’m satisfied with, or at all,'” he recalled. “But God blessed me to be able to come back. My goal this year has been do the best that I can with what I’ve been given, to contribute as much as I can. I really have a sense of gratitude just to be able to be out here.”
Watson broke into the NFL in 2004 with New England, then played three years with Cleveland from 2010-12 before joining the Saints. He signed with Baltimore after enjoying a banner year with New Orleans — 74 catches, 825 yards receiving and six TDs.
Though last season was a wipeout, he’s flourished this year despite battling a variety of aches and pains.
Watson has more catches than any Baltimore wide receiver and trails running back Javorius Allen by only one reception. Watson has a knack for finding the seam in the opposing defense, which makes life a lot easier for quarterback Joe Flacco.
“He’s been through a lot this year and he suits up every week. Just the toughness that he’s shown is unbelievable,” Flacco said. “He’s always in the right spot; he’s been huge.”
When he signed with the Ravens, Watson was eager to make an impression. It took a year for that to happen.
“You want to come in and make a statement as a new player,” he said. “You want to prove that you’re someone that’s committed to this organization, someone that wants to help the organization be successful.”
Consider it done.
“At his age, to come back, he’s so motivated,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And it’s not just that. He’s been playing through different kinds of bumps and bruises all year. He’s just a very tough person, a very determined individual. We’re very fortunate to have him.”