OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nick Boyle dove for the end zone, ball gripped tightly in both hands beyond the reach of Patriots safety Devin McCourty when he landed in the newly-painted black end zone at M&T Bank Stadium.
Boyle stood up and had no time to react before Ronnie Stanley mobbed him in celebration. Willie Snead came next, then Hayden Hurst. Eventually, everyone got their celebrations in with Boyle.
On the the fifth-year pro's 2,128 career offensive snap, he found the end zone for the first time in the NFL.
“It was cool to see how many people were watching the game and rooting for me,” Boyle said of his touchdown. “It’s a good feeling. Like I said before, it’s good when my teammates celebrate with me, and then I see all my family members, friends back home all watching and still supporting me.”
But the aspect of his game that isn’t celebrated with as much fervor is his blocking at the line of scrimmage. It’s also his best attribute as a tight end.
His role on the Ravens isn’t as a pass-catcher, especially considering that 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are also on the depth chart at tight end. Andrews currently leads the Ravens in targets with 58.
Boyle is fourth on the Ravens in targets, ahead of Hurst, but just never was able to find the end zone. A large reason for that is that the Ravens need him blocking near the end zone on running plays.
“I always kid him all the time (that) he’s a glorified guard just playing tight end,” offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris said. “He is a good football player, and tough and physical and dependable.”
Boyle’s role on the Ravens through his time in Baltimore has been that of a traditional tight end, in that he’s mostly relied on for his blocking. That means that Boyle is in somewhat of a unique spot for one of the league’s most unique offenses.
While most tight ends in today’s NFL are counted on to be receiving threats, or at least multi-faceted, Boyle is relied on for his blocking first and foremost.
“When I first came in the league in 2006, every team had a Nick Boyle,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. “It just seems like they're a rare breed now. Because of college football, everything is wide receiver-ish — the gun and the read option and the RPO game.”
Boyle’s ability as a blocker on the edge of the line of scrimmage mirrors what D’Alessandris says about him, in that Boyle gives the Ravens more options than other teams in the running game.
The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing with 204.9 yards per game, more than 30 yards ahead of the next closest team.
“Nick affords us the ability to run certain plays that you probably wouldn't run with other different types of tight ends,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I think he's an ascending player. I think he's getting better every year, and he definitely gives us a chance to leverage the defense a little bit at times, just because of his skillset.”
With Boyle’s skillset, the Ravens are able to put all three tight ends on the field throughout the game and provide a variety of options for the offense.
And as Sunday proved, Boyle can find the end zone, too.
“I think we all do things so well,” Hurst said. “Nick might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL, just what he does, it’s totally unique. Mark does his thing, I think we all compliment each other really well.”
But while Boyle’s blocking ability isn’t the sexiest topic to discuss, even though its his best ability, his receiving prowess isn’t discussed enough.
Boyle’s high school team in New Jersey ran the triple option, which means he said he caught about seven passes in high school. At Delaware, the coaches realized his blocking abilities, too, and used him as a predominantly as a blocker.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes Nick the player he is, his willingness to be a blocker,” said Trent Hurley, Boyle’s former quarterback at Delaware. “At the end of the day, not everyone wants to be a blocking tight end, so to speak.”
Hurley recalled Boyle’s attributes as a blocker and their friendship in school well, but could recite the last touchdown pass he ever threw Nick Boyle like it happened yesterday.
Until Boyle’s touchdown on Sunday, he hadn’t scored since Nov. 22, 2014, when Delaware faced Villanova. Hurley, who left school the same year as Boyle, was the last quarterback to throw Boyle a touchdown pass until Lamar Jackson did against the Patriots.
“That pass was a middle screen to Nick,” Hurley explained. “We did an orbit motion with the wide receiver and I faked the orbit motion to the receiver behind me. Nick kind of went over to the right a little bit, let the linemen clear and came over to the middle of the field to his left. It was like a 10-yard completion.”
Hurley, who said Boyle was one of, if not the best, football players he’s ever played with, also mentioned he thought Boyle was incredibly undervalued as a receiver.
Boyle knows his role, though. And he’s OK with it.
“I’m not the fastest dude, so if I want to have a job out here and do something to the best of my ability,” Boyle said with a grin. “And if that ability is blocking, I’m going to put everything in there. I think it’s a good feeling when you demoralize someone out there and you physically impose your will and feel you’re stronger than them. Makes me feel good, at least.”
His touchdown against the Patriots, though, was just a deserved reward for the Ravens’ best blocker not listed as an offensive lineman.
And after 55 games and three quarters, it seemed time that Boyle got into the end zone with the ball in his hands.
“I don’t think anyone has ever been so excited as a whole offense or whole team to see one guy score,” Andrews said. “I had a lot of fun going out there and watching him do that. He works so hard for this team and does so much for us. To be able to see him score a touchdown and get some gratification from that, you can’t beat that.”
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