In February 2013, Bynes made the final tackle for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Nearly seven years later, he is Baltimore's unlikely middle linebacker after not getting signed until a quarter way into the season.
It’s just the latest comeback for Bynes in Baltimore.
In 2012, Bynes was in a hospital bed with an uncertain future. He was unable to turn his body to either side. There was a tingling sensation running down his right leg. He couldn’t get out of bed or even stand up without grimacing. The pain was excruciating.
Doctors told him he had broken his back.
"I honestly thought my career could be over,” Bynes said.
Tests revealed cracked vertebrae at the bottom of his spine.
At first, Bynes didn’t think much of an awkward hit to his back while making a tackle on the practice field in July 2012. But when he got up, something didn’t feel right.
Surgery wasn’t required. Time would eventually heal his back. Bynes returned six weeks later, only to get cut by Baltimore in training camp that season. He began the next season on the practice squad but ended up with a well-earned Super Bowl ring.
"It was definitely a mountain and I was ready to climb it,” Bynes said. "It’s a story that I couldn’t have written better.”
Bynes has spent the past eight years trying to convince teams that he is a starter in the NFL.
He made six starts for the Ravens in 2013, but was phased out in 2014 when Baltimore drafted C.J. Mosley in the first round. Over the next four years, Bynes started 31 games for the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals, while never getting rewarded with a deal with long-term guarantees.
In 2018, Bynes was having a solid season for the Cardinals, recording 75 tackles in 11 games, before a thumb injury sidelined him for the final five games. He was cut by Arizona in the offseason and Bynes once again sat in career limbo.
He wasn’t invited to a minicamp in the spring or a training camp in the summer. There were a couple of workouts during the preseason and there was a free-agent visit to the New York Jets before the start of the regular season. When the season began, however, Bynes was watching games on his couch like many other football fans.
"It was tough. I’m not going to sit here and say it wasn’t,” Bynes said. "I thought I would be somewhere in camp. It’s another obstacle in the way. It was another tough situation. I kept my faith and kept working, knowing that I was going to be ready when the time came. It’s just something I’ve been dealing with since I came into the league.”
The Ravens underestimated the loss of Mosley, their middle linebacker, who signed with the Jets during free agency. Patrick Onwuasor never looked comfortable in switching from weakside linebacker to the middle, and Kenny Young struggled on the weak side.
In losses in Weeks 3 and 4, Baltimore allowed 140 yards rushing in Kansas City and 193 yards on the ground against Cleveland.
That’s when the Ravens called. In a span of five days, Bynes went from signing a contract to starting for the Ravens.
"He’s walked in and he’s known the defense,” Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald said. "Shoot, he learned the defense, or relearned it, I guess, because it’s similar to a couple of systems that he’s had in the past. So, the communication that he has and the confidence he has in the calls, as you get lined up, that’s a big comfort for everybody else on the field, not just the linebackers.”
With Bynes in the lineup, the Ravens have allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL (281.1) and have won all seven games. Bynes has the second-most tackles (32) over that span and has intercepted two passes.
Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said, "Josh brought a calmness to the middle of our defense.”
On Sunday, Bynes will be one of six players on the Ravens’ active roster who played in the Super Bowl against the 49ers.
In that 34-31 triumph in February 2013, Bynes made the play of his life, tackling returner Ted Ginn Jr. on the game’s final play. He tossed Ginn to the Superdome turf right in front of the Ravens’ sideline, which erupted in a championship celebration.
But this week, Bynes’ mind will be on this version of the 49ers, the one that’s 10-1 and the top seed in the NFC playoff race.
"I’m so much in the moment and doing what I got to do right now,” Bynes said. "So, I don’t think about [that Super Bowl tackle] as much as, I guess, everybody else does.”