Tag Archive | "AFC Championship"

Ravens enjoying AFC Championship moment, but thinking ahead for more

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Ravens enjoying AFC Championship moment, but thinking ahead for more

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Ryan Chell

Owings Mills-It’s been a crazy 24 hours for the Baltimore Ravens, the media covering the team, and for the fans cheering on the team in Charm City.

Less than a day after coming back from a 13-7 halftime deficit to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro to win the AFC Championship and earn a chance to win Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans on February 3rd, the Ravens were back at work Monday working as if they would be taking on the next opponent-in this case the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re going to work,” Ravens center Matt Birk said in between meetings today. “With all the side stories- if you’re not playing in the game, you can enjoy all that. I think as players we’re just going to hunker down and focus in on the task at hand.”

“We’re going out there as a team trying to get where we’re at,” quarterback Joe Flacco said, who threw for three touchdowns in the Ravens’ 28-13 victory over last year’s AFC Champion Patriots. “We’ve got to win one more. ”

Despite the workmanlike attitude, Flacco however still says some of what happened Sunday night feels like a dream.

“I think we’re still on a little high from the game,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s quite believed it yet.”

His companion on the offensive line agreed.

“I’m just kind of numb to the whole thing. Slowly it’s coming, but hopefully you realize and appreciate the moment,” Birk noted.

But Birk couldn’t say enough about all the hard work and persistence the Ravens have shown over the season  pay off for a chance at a Super Bowl title.

“It’s great. That’s your goal,” Birk noted.  “That’s your dream. That’s why you play…with the closeness of this team and how far we’ve come my last four years getting close and finally breaking through, it’s pretty special.”

Certainly for the 15-year veteran in Birk, he admitted that he wouldn’t be in this situation if he felt like didn’t have a shot at reaching the Super Bowl, which is the first appearance for the 36-year old center.

“At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you. When I came back, I thought there was a legitimate chance that I felt like I could help the team.”

Meanwhile, Flacco, who is in his fifth year in his journey as an NFL quarterback, has hurdled Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and now Tom Brady in the quest for his first Super Bowl.  It seemed as if overnight, he made himself one of the best quarterbacks in the league, put himself on the map as an elite quarterback in the NFL, and has been the topic of discussion across many football circles.

But what has Joe Flacco been asked the most since winning the AFC Championship?

Super Bowl Tickets.

“Tickets are going to be limited,” Flacco joked. “There’s been a lot of text messages, and everyone’s really excited about it.”

Flacco said the quicker he can put those distractions behind him, the better he’ll be going up against Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and the rest of the San Francisco defense.

“You have to get all the mayhem that goes with the game out of the way and take care of that first,” Flacco said, “so when you focus on the 49ers, they have your full attention.”

Bernard Pollard reacts to Tom Brady slide and kick

One day after calling Patriots QB Tom Brady’s leg kick into Ravens safety Ed Reed, “bull-crap”, fellow Ravens safety Bernard Pollard backtracked a little saying that the NFL needs to call flags “both ways.”

Right before the end of the first half Sunday night with the Patriots up 10-7 with 0:26 seconds left before the break, the Patriots were knocking on the Ravens door threatening to score.

Brady, flushed out of the pocket by Paul Kruger, scrambled down to the Ravens’ 7-yd line with Reed barreling down on him. Deciding to give himself up, he took a slide-but not before sticking his right leg up, hitting Reed in the groin and tripping him up.

No flag was called with the side judge standing right next to the play, but several Ravens defenders petitioned for Brady to be penalized. A fine could be coming.

Pollard told CSNNE and other outlets Sunday night, “You’ve got to keep those legs down. We all know and understand what’s going on there. As a quarterback, when you go to slide, we’re taught we can’t do anything. When you come sliding, and your leg is up in the air, trying t kick someone, that’s bull crap.”

Today, Pollard was a little bit more reserved, but kept the same message.

“He knew what he was doing,” Pollard said. “I’m the kind of player where it has to go both ways. Hopefully the NFL will do something about it. If not, that’s fine if they do. For me as a player with all the emotions on the field, we’re going to say and do things. But when it’s all said and done,  if you want the game clean and you want everything to be moving forward in the right direction, everyone needs to be penalized for their actions.”

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for AFC Championship

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for AFC Championship

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Coming as close as they possibly could to reaching the Super Bowl last season before heartbreak occurred in the form of a Lee Evans drop and a Billy Cundiff missed field goal in the final seconds of the AFC Championship, the Ravens return to the scene of the crime in Foxborough as they again take on the New England Patriots.

Defeating New England for the first time ever in the regular season by way of a 31-30 final in Baltimore back in September, the Ravens will now try to win their second postseason game at Gillette Stadium in the last four seasons. Aside from their 33-14 blowout victory in the wild-card round of the 2009 season, the Ravens are used to seeing their meetings with the Patriots come down to the wire as each of their other four meetings in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by fewer than seven points.

The Ravens will again hope to extend the career of inside linebacker Ray Lewis by one more game and advance to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 28, 2001. And for Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, a win means taking another step toward elite status at their respective positions in the National Football League.

Of course, standing in their way are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the two men who have been at the top of their respective classes for the last decade.

Here’s what to expect as the 12-6 Ravens try to punch their ticket to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII …

1. The Ravens won’t have to deal with Rob Gronkowski, but Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez will cause major problems over the middle of the field. It’s no secret that slot receiver Wes Welker and Hernandez are the most dangerous weapons at Brady’s disposal, and they each provide difficult challenges to the Baltimore pass defense. Corey Graham is the clear choice to match up against Welker in the slot as the Ravens will run the nickel package extensively, and the cornerback is playing with more confidence than ever after intercepting two Peyton Manning passes last week in Denver. Welker will get his yards, but the Ravens are confident that Graham can prevent the Pro Bowl wideout from having a monster game. Hernandez will be trickier to cover as defensive coordinator Dean Pees will likely lose a combination of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and strong safety Bernard Pollard in trying to mix up coverages against Brady. I have my doubts that either player will be able to stick with him as the middle of the field has been a problem all year long. Hernandez will produce 80 receiving yards and a touchdown.

2. With the Patriots focusing heavily on Torrey Smith by matching Aqib Talib against the speedy receiver, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta will combine for 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Smith has been a major thorn in the side of New England as the second-year wideout has produced three touchdowns and 209 receiving yards in two contests against New England. The Patriots could use Talib against Smith exclusively – the Baltimore receiver usually lines up on the side of the field on which Talib plays anyway — but they will likely offer safety help as well if they were paying attention to what Smith did against Champ Bailey last week. Deep safeties will allow more room for Boldin and Pitta to work the middle of the field as the Patriots ranked 29th against the pass this season. Though still mixing it their spots to be aggressive with the vertical passing game, the Ravens will try to use Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on first and second down to create third-and-manageable situations in which Flacco loves to use his tight end and possession receiver. The Patriots will do everything they can to stop Flacco’s deep balls to Smith and Jacoby Jones, meaning the quarterback will instead choose to attack the intermediate portion of the field more frequently.

3. As he has for much of the season, running back Stevan Ridley will add another dimension to the New England offense that will wear down the Ravens in the second half. Pees downplayed the significance of his defense playing 87 snaps in each of the last two games, but you have to wonder how much more a group that’s already less than 100 percent can take if they’re on the field for extended periods on Sunday. Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards this season as the Patriots had the seventh-best rushing attack in the league. The New England offense still centers around Brady, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of Ridley in the second half to see if the Patriots can tire out the Ravens’ front seven, thus neutralizing any potential pass rush in the process. Inside the red zone, the Patriots won’t hesitate to use a quick-snap approach if the Ravens aren’t set and will hand off to Ridley before the defense even knows what’s happening. Any defense spends so much time studying Brady and trying to dissect him, so it’s easy to overlook the New England running game in the process. It will pay dividends in the second half for the Patriots, especially if they have a lead.

4. The team that wins the battle inside the red zone will come away with the AFC title. The objective is clear against the Patriots — even if it’s a difficult one. You know they’re going to score points, but if you can hold them to field goals on at least a few scoring possessions while you score touchdowns on your trips inside the 20, you’ll typically find yourself within striking distance in the fourth quarter. It will be a test of will in that area of the field as the Patriots scored touchdowns on 70 percent of their trips inside the red zone (best in the NFL) while the Baltimore defense was second in the league by allowing touchdowns on only 43.4 percent of opponent’s trips inside the 20. Conversely, Flacco and the offense must come away with touchdowns when they’re knocking on New England’s end zone. This is where Boldin and Pitta will be critical against the league’s 13th-ranked red-zone defense. If you want any chance of beating New England on the road, you cannot trade field goals for touchdowns or you’ll find yourself in a hole early. The Baltimore offense is playing at a high level and shouldn’t have any reason to believe they can’t move the ball against the Patriots at will, but they need to finish drives with touchdowns. Barring an inordinate number of special-teams and defensive scores – like the Ravens win in Denver last week, for instance — the team that prevails inside the red zone will be the one advancing to New Orleans.

5. Joe Flacco will continue a tremendous postseason with 250 passing yards and two touchdowns, but the Ravens will again fall excruciatingly short in Foxborough with a 31-27 loss. The Baltimore quarterback is playing the best football of his career over the last month and will have another strong performance against the Patriots on the second-biggest stage the NFL has to offer. However, Flacco needs to advance to the Super Bowl to truly receive the recognition he deserves. As was the case last week, the Ravens are matched up against a better overall team, but they have every opportunity to win against the Patriots, who have some clear deficiencies unlike the Broncos. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, this season should be viewed as a success considering the number of injuries this team has sustained and how badly it was struggling just over a month ago. In the end, however, the Patriots will just have a little too much offensively for the Baltimore defense to handle and for the Ravens offense to overcome. This one could very well come down to the final possession of the game, but I just can’t bet against Brady and the Patriots in the conference championship, a game in which they’re 5-1 in the Belichick era. It won’t come down to a devastating dropped touchdown or field-goal miss, but the Ravens will fall short yet again despite a terrific effort in New England.

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Ravens embracing opportunity for second chance in New England

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Ravens embracing opportunity for second chance in New England

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the moments following the improbable 38-35 double overtime win over the Denver Broncos Saturday night, running back Ray Rice labeled the Ravens “a team of destiny.”

So, why wouldn’t the New England Patriots once again be standing in the way of Baltimore’s first trip to the Super Bowl since Jan. 2001? If you believe in such storybook treks, defeating the Indianapolis Colts and toppling Peyton Manning for the first time since 2001 were appropriate opening chapters, but a return trip to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough would be the ultimate climax.

The painful ending to last season’s AFC Championship was one that drove the Ravens throughout the offseason as they desperately worked — and hoped — to land themselves back in the same position. Even after a Week 3 win over New England in Baltimore earlier this season, another meeting with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots was impossible not to think about in many Ravens players’ minds.

“I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. It’s another matchup that I think that we’re excited about, and hopefully, we can get it done this time.”

Meeting in the postseason for the third time in five seasons, the Ravens and Patriots have built a rivalry similar to the one between New England and Indianapolis last decade as it seemed Brady and Manning were always on a collision course in January. The teams have met five times overall in the John Harbaugh era with all but one game — the Ravens’ 33-14 victory in the wild-card round of the 2009 season — being decided by fewer than seven points.

While games with New England may not challenge the annual meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harbaugh acknowledged how familiar the Ravens are with the Patriots and how familiar they are with playing in Foxborough.

“We’ve been there a number of times. It’s definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know how they feel about that part, but we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots.”

The Patriots own the advantage as they’ve won three of the five meetings between the teams since 2009, with no win bigger than last year’s 23-20 final that gave them the AFC title after the late failures of Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff.

As remarkable as their postseason run has been after losing four of their last five games to close the regular season, the Ravens know who stands in their way of achieving their ultimate goal, and they understand they will once again be considered a significant underdog as oddsmakers have favored New England by 9 1/2 points.

“They have the history,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “They have been there, and we want to get to where they have been. They were there last year. They knocked us out, and we want to get to that point, get this win, and get to the Super Bowl.”

As was the case last week, Ravens players expressed no interest in what the outside world thinks about their team, but they embraced the opportunity for a second chance to right the wrongs left on the field in Foxborough last season. And as the images of Evans’ drop and Cundiff’s miss are replayed all week, Baltimore is ready to turn the page for a different ending this time around.

“The feeling that we had in that locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC Championship,” Ngata said. “And then to actually have it be back in Foxborough, it’s a good story.”

Ayanbadejo apologizes for Patriots comments

After posting a series of critical comments about the Patriots on his official Twitter account Sunday evening, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo backed off his stance Monday as many were critical of the veteran special-teams player for conjuring bulletin-board material before New England had even officially advanced to the conference championship.

The 36-year-old apologized for drawing negative attention to himself and the Ravens six days ahead of the AFC title game.

“I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization,” Ayanbadejo tweeted Monday morning. “For that I apologize.”

It remains unclear how Harbaugh handled the situation at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills, but the Baltimore coach had little interest in discussing Ayanbadejo’s comments when asked to respond during his Monday afternoon press conference.

“That’s all stuff that just isn’t really relevant,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all stuff that I don’t think is worthy of the conversation right now.”

Ayanbadejo didn’t play any defensive snaps in Saturday’s win and was part of the coverage units that allowed two return touchdowns to Denver’s Trindon Holliday.

Earlier Monday, he didn’t receive much of an endorsement from his defensive teammate Ngata when the four-time Pro Bowl selection was asked whether he agreed with the linebacker’s assessment of the Patriots’ hurry-up offense.

“I’m not going to comment on that stuff,” Ngata said. “That’s all about him and his deal.”

Jones, Graham special contributors

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Here’s a tip from the top: Please don’t whine (again) this week as Ravens head to AFC title game

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Here’s a tip from the top: Please don’t whine (again) this week as Ravens head to AFC title game

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Drew Forrester

Well, the Ravens did their part on Saturday in Denver.

Now, let’s see if the fans in Baltimore can follow suit and do their part this week.

I was watching Joel Osteen on Sunday morning and he delivered such a timely, connecting message for Baltimore football fans that I just had to write about it today.

It doesn’t hurt that I tried to get the same message through everyone’s thick heads last week, but now that the Ravens have disposed of the Broncos and are headed to the AFC title game, I figured I’d bring up Osteen’s message and weave it into something worth reading here at WNST.net.

Osteen’s theme on Sunday morning was “Don’t let someone else take your joy from you.”  He went on to ask that you stay focused on what’s important to you and what matters most and to not let others take away your joy and happiness.  His message related to God.  Mine relates to football.

Last week, a lot of you — so many, in fact, I became agitated at first and then, later, just embarrassed – spent a great deal of time complaining and bellyaching about the “Ravens don’t have a chance” angle most of the national media were focused on as the lead-up to the game in Denver.

I must have had 25 calls about it and four times that many e-mails.  Whining, moaning, complaining, fretting.  ”I don’t understand why they’re not giving the Ravens more love…”

“I’m so fed up with the national media…why don’t they give us a chance? – waaaahh, waaaaaah, waaaaaah…”

“All I keep hearing about is Denver and Peyton and how Brady and Manning would be a great AFC title game, blah, blah, blah.”

SHUT UP ALREADY!!! I said to myself under my breath about a hundred times last week.

You could have done so much more with your time last week.  Rather than go on and on and on – and on and on and on – about how “no one likes the Ravens”, you could have walked your neighbor’s dog or washed your car or called an old friend just to shoot the breeze.

Instead, you called ME and just made a whining fool of yourself, complaining about something some guy wrote in Denver…or crying because Skip Bayless thinks “the Ravens don’t have a chance.”  Those people are paid to get you to watch, read, listen and react accordingly.

And, as I tried to tell you for five straight days last week – with the scoreboard supporting me on this Saturday night – the game will be played by the players and NOTHING anyone says or writes about it during the week before will have any bearing on the outcome.

Yet, you guys cried every single time you heard or read something disrespectful to the Ravens.

It was so unbecoming to hear it and read it over and over last week.  Like the teacher said in “Breakfast Club” — “I expected more from a varsity letterman.”

I expected more from you people last week.  Really, I did.

(Please see next page)

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One final “thank you” to Billy Cundiff for what I saw in New England last January

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One final “thank you” to Billy Cundiff for what I saw in New England last January

Posted on 26 August 2012 by Drew Forrester

I remember that scene like it was yesterday.

Ed Reed put on a pair of wildy oversized headphones, threw his bag over his shoulder and started singing a song about Jesus as he exited the Ravens locker room out of small back door that concealed the fact he was leaving without addressing the media.

Lee Evans sat at his locker, uniform still on, staring straight ahead, saying nothing.  It struck me for a moment that perhaps a player or two might literally have to undress him and force him into the shower so the plane could eventually leave the airport in Boston.

Joe Flacco dressed quietly, but his face didn’t show any obvious signs of distress.  He’s always Captain Cool, even in the midst of the second excruciating AFC championship of his young career.

And Sam Koch held court with a few members of the media, repeating time after time, “everything was fine…right up until the ball was kicked…then I don’t know what happened.”  His voice trailed off as he realized how close the Ravens had come to forcing overtime with the now-famous 32 yard “chip shot” that Billy Cundiff pulled wide left in the waning seconds of last January’s 23-20 loss to New England.

I remember Matt Birk saying to me, “I feel sorry for these guys.  They busted their ass all year.  And today.  We took it down to the last second.  It just wasn’t meant to be.”  I loved that Birk said “I feel sorry for these guys” as if he was watching over them.

But the thing I remember most about the aftermath of that loss?

Billy Cundiff.

Unlike Reed, who snuck out, Cundiff busted through the doors of the interview room and said – in so many words – “here I am”.

Cundiff then addressed the media for upwards of 20 minutes, answering every question with dignity and grace in the heat of what certainly was his toughest moment as a professional athlete.

(Please see next page) 

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Your Monday Reality Check-Best team all season ending up winning title

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Your Monday Reality Check-Best team all season ending up winning title

Posted on 28 May 2012 by Glenn Clark

It’s a particular shame Monday’s NCAA lacrosse Championship Game was in Foxborough instead of right here at M&T Bank Stadium. It would have been a special celebration of a beloved game in Charm City.

Instead, Memorial Day became a special celebration of a deserving champion at Gillette Stadium.

I was at Ridley Athletic Complex Saturday, March 10 to see the Loyola University Maryland Greyhounds face the Duke Blue Devils. The Hounds had gotten off to a nice 4-0 start at that point in the season, reaching double digit goals in every game and holding their opponent to single digits in every game as well.

The issue at that point was the competition. Home wins over Delaware and Towson and road victories at Bellarmine and Michigan did little to convince anyone the Greyhounds were on the cusp of a breakthrough campaign.

It changed that day.

Star attackman and eventual Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer put on an absolute clinic for Charley Toomey’s team, scoring six goals and leading the Hounds to a 13-8 win over the Devils. The Hounds were actually ranked ahead of the Devils in one of the recognized college lacrosse polls, but the victory still had the feel of an upset, as Duke was viewed as a legitimate national title contender.

From the opening whistle, it was apparent the Hounds were the more focused, determined squad. The 13-8 final didn’t even necessarily reflect the nature of the game, as Loyola held a 12-5 advantage after three quarters and appeared to let up late. The win came just after Toomey installed Jack Runkel as his starting goalie ahead of Michael Bonitatibus, a move that he would not have to reconsider at all the rest of the season.

On that day at Ridley Athletic Complex, the Loyola Greyhounds became more than just a team with a capable combination of scorers (Sawyer and graduate student Eric Lusby). They became more than just a fun team to watch. They became a legitimate threat to make a run to the Final Four.

Two and a half months later, they found themselves there. It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a run of good fortune. It wasn’t about bad luck for other teams. It wasn’t about an easy schedule.

This Loyola team proved that for the 2012 NCAA lacrosse season, they were unquestionably the best team in the country.

In Monday’s NCAA Championship Game, the Hounds dominated the University of Maryland in a way that perfectly encapsulated their entire season. They showed an incredible ability to score goals at times, but also showed that their midfield unit was as capable as their attack. Their wings battled for balls when face-offs appeared to be lost. Their defense was SUFFOCATING, preventing even a single goal from Maryland for a stretch of more than two and a half quarters, stifling a unit that had tallied 16 just two days prior against those same Duke Blue Devils. On top of all of that, Runkel was spectacular for a second straight game.

They left no doubt not only about who was the best team on Memorial Day Monday, but who was the best team in the country. They were a deserving #1 seed and they worked to become a deserving national champion.

A deserving national champion that didn’t play a single game on television until the postseason.

They lost just one game along the way, an overtime heartbreaker to a fine Johns Hopkins squad. They won THREE games over ECAC rival Denver University, two of those wins coming in the Mile High City. They recorded a win over every team that reached Memorial Day weekend.

Lusby and Sawyer now have name recognition, but the work of Runkel, Scott Ratliff, Chris Layne, Josh Hawkins, Pat Byrnes, Davis Butts, Justin Ward, Joe Fletcher, Nikko Pontrello, Patrick Fanshaw, Kevin Ryan, Phil Dobson, Sean O’Sullivan, Dylan Grimm, Pat Laconi, Kevin Moriarty and J.P. Dalton were deserving of having their names typed in a column like this as well.

Loyola becomes the smallest school to ever win a national championship in lacrosse. The title is the first and only Division 1 title in any sport for the school. The team was unranked before the season started. Toomey was able to accomplish the feat after being on the losing end as a goalie in the school’s only ever run to the National Championship Game back in 1990. Lusby broke the record for most goals in a single NCAA Tournament in the process.

The word amazing keeps coming to mind.

The title drought continues for the Terrapins, as they have not held the trophy since 1974. John Tillman has been to the title game twice in his two seasons in College Park, but the inability to win the big one will now already become a topic of conversation for the Terps’ alumni and fan base. They were a remarkably young team this season and will likely be right back in the title picture a year from now. It won’t help the sting of a Championship Game loss, but they showed many signs of being a team on the verge of greatness.

Loyola however was the definition of greatness. They were exceptional. And perhaps they even earned a measure of revenge for the city of Baltimore on the field where the Ravens saw their season end months earlier in the AFC Championship Game.

Eh…they were the best lacrosse team in the country. We’ll be more than happy to have that in Charm City.

-G

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Without Suggs, challenging road to Super Bowl becomes longer for Ravens

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Without Suggs, challenging road to Super Bowl becomes longer for Ravens

Posted on 03 May 2012 by Luke Jones

Only time will tell whether Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs will be able to return to the field at some point during the 2012 season.

But there’s no disputing Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations took a significant blow on Thursday with the news of the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year suffering a torn Achilles tendon in Arizona last weekend. Suggs insists he’ll be ready to play by midseason, but the severity of the injury suggests just how ambitious that proclamation might be.

Plain and simple, the Ravens must prepare for the 2012 season under the assumption that they won’t have their best defensive player for the entire year.

What looked more like a luxury pick six days ago when general manager Ozzie Newsome selected Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th overall pick of the NFL Draft now looks like a foretelling gift from a higher power as the rookie becomes the most logical candidate to assume Suggs’ spot at the rush linebacker position.

Most view Upshaw as a promising addition to the vaunted Baltimore defense, but the Ravens and their fans know the unforgiving truth.

There’s simply no replacing Suggs, who collected a career-best 14 sacks and earned an invitation to his fifth Pro Bowl a season ago. His subtraction alone transforms an elite defense into one without the dominant pass-rusher required in this pass-happy era of the NFL.

Ray Lewis is still the heart of the defense and Ed Reed the soul, but Suggs was the one-man wrecking crew that propelled the defense to an AFC-leading 48 sacks and the third overall defensive ranking in 2011. In addition to the sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles, Suggs’ impact on the defense goes beyond what you see on the stat sheet.

Even if Upshaw is ready to contribute immediately at the position, the trickle-down effect of Suggs’ absence will be felt in all aspects of the defense. His ability to consistently beat offensive tackles allows the Ravens to play more four-man fronts and rely on fewer blitzes in passing situations. Opponents game-plan specifically for the rush linebacker, having to account for him on every play while defensive teammates often reap the benefits along the way.

With so little cap room – less than $2 million — at their disposal and the draft and primary wave of free agency already in the rear-view mirror, the Ravens won’t have the luxury of making dynamic changes to their makeup on either side of the football. They have little choice but to depend on those already on the roster to make the game-changing plays Suggs provided in past seasons.

Replacing Suggs’ production and impact cannot simply fall on the shoulders of the rookie Upshaw.

Third-year linebacker Paul Kruger, who looked like he had found himself in a competition with the Alabama rookie, will presumably take the reins of the strong-side backer position left behind by veteran Jarret Johnson. In addition to setting the edge and becoming an every-down player, Kruger will need to provide a larger presence as a pass-rusher after collecting 5 1/2 sacks last season.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees may now be forced to take more chances upfront by using defensive end Pernell McPhee more often than he anticipated since projected starter Arthur Jones doesn’t offer as much in the pass rush as he does defending the run. This would leave the Ravens lighter along the defensive line and vulnerable against the run in certain situations.

Young reserves such as Albert McClellan, Sergio Kindle, and Michael McAdoo will now find themselves a spot higher on the depth chart and only an injury or two away from potentially being forced into action.

However, the component of the defense facing the most pressure without Suggs is the Baltimore secondary, which surprisingly ranked fourth in the league in pass defense a year ago. Taking nothing away from the breakout seasons enjoyed by Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams, there’s no arguing how much the secondary benefited from Suggs’ ability to pressure the quarterback.

Webb, Williams, and 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith – with Reed still patrolling in center field – will need to take additional steps forward as opposing quarterbacks won’t have No. 55 chasing them around in the pocket — at least for the first half of the season. After signing a new long-term contract and proclaiming his unit the best secondary in the NFL a few weeks ago, Webb and his teammates in the defensive backfield will need to prove just that to prevent the defense from taking a substantial step back in 2012.

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — I almost thought about just re-posting the column I wrote two years ago.

I DEFINITELY thought about writing nothing at all.

But after the Baltimore Ravens traded their first round pick in the NFL Draft to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for the Vikes’ 2nd and 4th round picks Thursday night, I had a few thoughts cross my mind.

After making the trade, General Manager Ozzie Newsome described the decision as “good business” for the Ravens. He might very well be correct. According to the famous Jimmy Johnson trade chart, the Ravens’ 29th overall pick was worth 640 points. The two picks acquired by the Ravens (35th and 98th overall) are worth a combined 658 points. Based on the chart alone, the trade really does appear to be “good business.”

Let’s drag this out a little bit though. The combined value of having the 129th-160th picks in the Draft (or ROUGHLY the entire 5th round) is 1,093.5 points. The 14th pick in the first round of the draft is 1,100 points. The value is almost exactly the same.

So with that in mind-which would you rather have? Would you rather have the 14th pick in the NFL Draft or the entire 5th round in the NFL Draft?

Don’t think about this TOO much. I don’t think there’s really a correct answer here.

The point I’m trying to drive home is that the acquisition of an additional pick or the breakdown of picks based on a numerical chart does not guarantee a selection in the draft is necessarily “good business.”

The last time the Ravens traded out of the first round was in 2010, when the team famously dealt the 25th overall pick in the first round of the Draft to the Denver Broncos for the 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks in the Draft. The team would go on to select LB Sergio Kindle with the 43rd pick, TE Ed Dickson with the 70th and TE Dennis Pitta with the 114th. While Kindle has been almost a complete non-factor in the two seasons since the deal (and it is hard to imagine him becoming much more than that), Dickson and Pitta have established themselves as capable contributors at the pro level.

The player selected in the 25th spot was now New York Jets QB (and Special Teamer?) Tim Tebow. At first blush, the deal appears to have been “good business” indeed for the Baltimore Ravens.

But if we step back even a bit more, it’s worth identifying some of the players selected between the 25th and 43rd spot in the 2010 Draft. The list includes New England Patriots Pro Bowl CB Devin McCourty and TE Rob Gronkowski, as well as players like New Orleans Saints CB Patrick Robinson (4 interceptions in 2011), Miami Dolphins DL Jared Odrick (6 sacks in 2011), Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best (over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 6 combined TD’s in 2010 before an injury shortened 2011 campaign) and other promising young players.

The Ravens picked up Kindle, Dickson and Pitta but could have had Gronkowski.

This “which would you rather?” argument is nearly as compelling as the earlier one presented. In the spirit of full disclosure, the Ravens have said Gronkowski failed a physical before the 2010 Draft that took him off their board.

The 2010 deal could perhaps prove to ultimately be known as “good business” or it could ultimately be known as the year the Ravens missed on a chance to get one of the more dynamic players in the National Football League. Moreover, two of the players selected between the time the Ravens traded out of the 25th pick and ultimately selected with the 43rd pick in 2010 went on to help a Pats team eliminate the Ravens in the 2012 AFC Championship Game and prevent the Purple & Black from reaching their first Super Bowl in over a decade.

So while we’re quick to accept the idea that trading out of the first round with talented players still on the board like LB Courtney Upshaw, WR Stephen Hill, OL Peter Konz and OT Jonathan Martin was “good business” for the Ravens Thursday night, let’s tell the whole story and paint the entire picture. Trading out of the first round MIGHT have been good business for the Ravens.

It MIGHT be looked upon as the time the Ravens missed out on a future superstar like Vikings S Harrison Smith, San Francisco 49ers WR AJ Jenkins, New York Giants RB David Wilson or (perhaps) Indianapolis Colts LB Upshaw.

As the headline of this column suggested, the Baltimore Ravens may have pulled off “good business” by dealing out of the first round, but the more important need for the team is to acquire good players. If the Ravens acquire good players with the 35th and 98th picks this year, the deal will ultimately prove to truly be good business.

If the Ravens instead miss out on those picks, the deal will be known more as the year where a team looking to make the next step towards a Super Bowl title failed to acquire good players.

You’ll probably tell me I’m being negative. I’d like to think I’m just being realistic.

-G

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Your Monday Reality Check-Now We’ve Officially Gone From Full Throttle to Neutral

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Your Monday Reality Check-Now We’ve Officially Gone From Full Throttle to Neutral

Posted on 06 February 2012 by Glenn Clark

As the confetti dropped Sunday night at LucasOil Stadium in Indianapolis to punctuate the New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI win over the New England Patriots, a harsh reality set in throughout Charm City.

While the Baltimore Ravens were eliminated some 14 days earlier, the immediate hangover effect of an AFC Championship Game loss lingered into Super Bowl week. The significance of the Super Bowl even without the Ravens’ involvement prevented the malaise of the football offseason from setting in too quickly.

It’s here now though, and it absolutely stings.

Just as we’ve finally had enough time to get over the Ravens’ heartbreaking defeat in Foxborough, we’ve been forced to accept the fact that there really isn’t anything on the sporting horizon that we can deflect our purple energy towards. After working ourselves into a frenzy over the course of the last two months, we have basically no choice but to sit on our collective hands for the better part of the next seven months while we wait for John Harbaugh’s team to take the field once more for real.

Sure, we’ll all drink some beer and tell our favorite Earl Weaver stories on Opening Day. Most of us will throw down a few shekels on the Kentucky Derby winner on Preakness Saturday in May. We’ll be gripped to any rumors related to the Purple Birds.

The moments of excitement will be fleeting and there will certainly be no outlet for us to channel any level of sporting fervor.

Here’s the rundown on the “Reality” of the situation:

-Much of the country will immediately shift their focus to College Basketball season. In past years, an exciting University of Maryland has provided a level of excitement after football season concluded. Barring a miracle it won’t be the case this season, as the Terps sit at 3-5 in ACC play with no significant victory and none likely to come. This was to be expected in Mark Turgeon’s first season but it won’t help anyone in the area shake themselves awake from an “end of football season coma.”

One small shining light is Loyola University basketball, as the Greyhounds find themselves tied with Iona for first place in the MAAC at 11-2. This year’s team is the best Jimmy Patsos has ever had, and has a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament. The only cloud for the Hounds’ chances is that the Gaels certainly have more overall talent. It doesn’t mean Loyola couldn’t figure a way to a MAAC Tournament title, it’s just reality.

Coppin State entered Monday with a respectable 7-3 MEAC record and a legitimate crop of talent. Morgan State’s season has been mired by a mid-season suspension of head coach Todd Bozeman and has lead to a disappointing 3-6 conference record entering Monday. The Eagles have a semi-realistic chance of winning the MEAC Tournament, the Bears can’t be completely ruled out but have struggled.

Towson and UMBC have basketball teams. One has a first year coach (the Tigers’ Pat Skerry), one has a coach who might be in his last season (the Retrievers’ Randy Monroe). Neither are even a little good.

Before I leave the topic, the University of Maryland women (who provided us a pleasant distraction with their 2006 NCAA Championship run) have a nice team again under Brenda Frese. They’re not liking a team that could make a Final Four run, but they weren’t supposed to be that year either.

-Other fans across the country will turn their attention to the NHL and NBA. With no team in either sport (and no arena for hope of a team relocating here in either sport) Baltimore isn’t afforded the opportunity to shift attention to such areas.

A handful of sports fans in Baltimore are interested in the Washington Capitals, who have made the NHL Playoffs in each of the last four seasons. After firing coach Bruce Boudreau earlier this season, the Caps find themselves sitting on the outside looking in at the playoff picture now under Dale Hunter and aren’t likely to make a run longer than last season’s advance to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

There are less than a handful of Washington Wizards fans in Baltimore, which might be good news because the Wizards are unthinkably terrible.

-College Lacrosse season gets underway in the next 10 days, and both Johns Hopkins and Maryland find themselves in the Top 10 of preseason polls. A run to the Final Four from either the Blue Jays or Terrapins would be pleasant, but with the National Semifinals and Finals back in Foxborough Memorial Day weekend is not likely to register the same way for any local sports fan.

-That of course brings us to baseball. The Baltimore Orioles play their first Spring Training games on March 5. They’ll hope to avoid being mathematically eliminated from the AL East race before their first game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards April 6. There’s no guarantee they’ll succeed.

That’s where we are. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s reality. I don’t write this to try to depress anyone. The good news (for you) is that you won’t have to talk about it for four hours a day. I’m not afforded the same opportunity. And it’s not as if I’m really telling you anything you didn’t know, I just felt as though Monday was the day everything sunk in.

We’ll still be here for you however…if for no other reason than to pass the time.

Flexing my mic muscles since 1983…

-G

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Terrell Suggs Named NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Posted on 04 February 2012 by WNST Staff

TERRELL SUGGS NAMED AP DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Baltimore Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs has been named the 2011 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.

This marks the fourth time in 12 seasons that a Raven has earned the prestigious honor: Suggs (2011), S Ed Reed (2004) and LB Ray Lewis (2003, 2000).

Finishing with a career-high and AFC-best 14 sacks on the year, Suggs also forced an NFL-high seven fumbles, setting a personal best and a franchise single-season record. He added 70 tackles (50 solo), two interceptions and six passes defensed for a Ravens team that made its fourth-straight playoff appearance (12-4 record) and advanced to the AFC Championship game.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization, my teammates, my position coach, Teddy M. [Ted Monachino], all of our defensive coaches, and most importantly, the City of Baltimore,” Suggs stated. “Our fans are the NFL’s best. I’ve always said that I play for our fans, and this honor is a tribute to them. I’m very appreciative of Ravens Nation and their love and support throughout the past nine years.”

En route to his fifth-career Pro Bowl in 2011, Suggs was a key contributor to Baltimore’s stingy defense, which ranked third in the NFL in fewest points permitted (16.6 ppg) for the fourth-straight year. With that mark, Baltimore tied an NFL record for consecutive seasons of being in the Top 3 for points allowed. Overall, the Ravens’ unit ranked third in the league in both yards allowed (288.9 ypg) and sacks (48, tied with NYG).

The Ravens also finished No. 1 in red zone defense (38.1 TD%), opponent QB rating (68.8), fewest offensive touchdowns allowed (21) and fewest touchdown passes permitted (11). Baltimore was second in rush defense (92.6 ypg) and third-down defense (32.1%), with the Ravens also holding nine of their 16 regular season opponents to 17 or fewer points.

“Terrell Suggs had another outstanding year,” Monachino, the Ravens’ linebackers coach, stated. “He showed the rare ability that we all know he has. He was technical, physical, tough and explosive in nearly every phase of his game. People see the sack totals and know he is a special player, but it’s all the other parts of the game that prove, week-in and week-out, what a valuable player he is for our defense and for our team.

“His professional approach, along with his undeniable talent, paid off not only for him personally, but for the Ravens and the City of Baltimore.  Knowing the other finalists and how stiff the competition was makes this award a tremendous honor for him.”

Suggs’ 14 sacks in 2011 ranked third in Ravens history, with only DE Michael McCrary (14.5 in 1998) and OLB Peter Boulware (15 in 2001) producing more in a Ravens’ season.

As the Ravens’ all-time sacks king (82.5), Suggs’ quarterback drops rank seventh among active players since he entered the NFL in 2003. During that span, his 610 yards lost from those sacks stand fourth. Including playoffs, Suggs has racked up 30 sacks over the past two seasons (36 total games), ranking fourth most in the NFL. In Baltimore’s last 20 games (dating back to 2010 playoffs), he has tallied 19 sacks.

Terrell Suggs: 2011 Honors

• Defensive Player of the Year (Associated Press)
• Defensive Player of the Year (Pro Football Weekly)
• AFC Defensive Player of the Year (K.C. NFL 101)
• Pro Bowl (starter) – Fifth Invite
• NFL First-Team All-Pro (Associated Press)
• NFL First-Team All-Pro (Pro Football Weekly)
• Butkus Award (co-winner, DeMarcus Ware)
• AFC Defensive Player of the Month – December/January

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