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Perfection not a positive in the playoffs

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Perfection not a positive in the playoffs

Posted on 19 January 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

The NFL playoffs have a strange way of turning strengths into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths.

 

The playoffs sure have a way of punishing perfection, or near perfection. I have relayed several times on air this week a conversation I had with a friend on the night before the Vikings played the Falcons in the 1998 playoffs. On that occasion, one of the sports news shows was touting Gary Anderson, who had been perfect to that point in the season, as automatic. To that, my friend opined that the 15-1 Vikings were sure to see their season end on a missed field goal. That it happened the next day, at the hands of the Falcons was still quite a surprise.

Last weekend saw Tom Brady enter the postseason on the NFL’s all-time streak of passes without an interception. An early interception set the stage for the Jets’ improbable win. Likewise, Ray Rice entered the post-season without a fumble all year. While his fumble on Saturday was hardly the pivotal moment in the Ravens’ season ending loss, it certainly contributed.

 

You could even throw in Brady’s ’07 Patriots who went unbeaten into the Super Bowl, while striking a fear in opponents that kept them reluctant to blitz. The Giants ended that run unceremoniously with constant pressure on Brady. We could also mention that last season’s Colts were perfect in the times that they were trying to win. They too failed to finish the deal.

 

If we apply that logic to the remaining match-ups, we might guess that the Jets would beat the Steelers by running right at them. While that doesn’t seem to be the textbook game plan for beating Pittsburgh, the Jets already rode that strategy to a degree of success in the regular season. Perhaps instead they’ll win by causing Ben Roethlisberger to melt down in the two-minute offense, as that seems to be the Steelers other inherent strength. If the Steelers hope to win, they might make it happen by attacking Darrelle Revis often, or by backing out of their stacked fronts and spreading the field defensively, by making the Jets run and move down the field methodically.

 

In the other match-up, the Packers might win by kicking to Devin Hester or by attacking Julius Peppers at the line of scrimmage. And the Bears’ best bet might be to stuff the box and stop the Packers improbably successful ground game, and put the game on Aaron Rodgers’ seemingly able shoulders.

 

If history has shown us anything, it may be that regular season trends are subject to change in a big way once the post-season rolls around. On the other side of the coin, the ’06 Colts found their only opportunity in the Manning era to hoist the Lombardi trophy only when their historically bad (even for Colts standards) run defense turned stout for their playoff run. Or what about the ’08 Cardinals who couldn’t seem to get out of their own way on the road in the regular season? They became road warriors in the playoffs.

 

From that perspective it may make a little more sense. That teams would try to beat the Colts by running at them was predictable, so the fact that they were ready for it should have been equally predictable. Once teams found themselves at a loss to do it however, they had no answer for Indy. Maybe the Jets strategy against the Patriots on Sunday only worked because it was so out of the realm of the typical Jets / Pats game plan. Maybe Brady struggled with the pressure in ’07 only because the copycat nature of the NFL had teams backing away from the pressure against New England from at least week 6 on. Once charged with dealing with it again, as late as in the Super Bowl, the Patriots simply weren’t ready. And perhaps teams in ’08 simply failed to take the Cardinals seriously, assuming travel alone would have taken a heavier toll on them than in did.

 

To that end, perhaps we should count ourselves lucky as fans that the Ravens with perhaps the NFL’s best ever defense in 2000, were still able to ride that defense through the post-season. To that I’ll offer this, I always found it curious that as dominant as that defense was, they never scored on their turnovers. In week 17, against the Jets, Chris McAllister had an interception return for a TD, and Jermaine Lewis returned 2 punts for TDs too. Those were (by my count) the only defensive or special teams TDs that the team scored all season. Of course once the playoffs began the defense made up for lost time, piling up TDs on their way to the title. Maybe that was their saving grace against a shift in trend.

 

This much I’d bet. These have been some of the most curious / interesting playoff games in recent memory. If you could hit the reset button and start back over from the beginning 10 times, you’d almost certainly get at least 6 different winners. As the conference title games get closer and closer, someone else’s luck (2 more in fact) is bound to change for the worst.

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Overcoming a trainwreck weekend and starting anew …..

Posted on 17 January 2011 by Rex Snider

I cannot recall the last time I greeted a Monday with such enthusiasm. Like nearly every other sane person, I usually kick and scream my way into accepting the reality of another work week.

But, today is quite different. I just want to get started – on putting this past weekend and its disastrous chain of moments and events behind me. Indeed, this is the official beginning of my NEW YEAR …..

It doesn’t mean I won’t agonize, at times, over the Ravens loss in Saturday’s divisional playoff game with the Steelers. Heck, I will never forget it. But, as Ray Lewis said “you can only get better, that’s all you can do”; so, I’m inspired not to dwell on this defeat, either.

We’re always going to complain about officiating. And, Saturday’s holding penalty that negated Lardarius Webb’s returned punt for a touchdown represents an official’s ability to impact a game with poor decisions. That said, every team suffers a fair share of questionable penalties.

The game wasn’t lost on the Webb play, nor Anquan Boldin’s dropped touchdown pass, or T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s failure to extend the Ravens final drive. All three of these plays could’ve led to a win, but they certainly don’t define the loss, itself.

Everybody knows how the game was lost – TURNOVERS.

Surrendering the ball inside your own 25 yard line, on three consecutive possessions will likely seal one’s fate, right? Well, it will at least surrender a two touchdown lead.

Good teams can and will make such mistakes. Great teams, however, usually capitalize upon such blunders. Today, that’s really the essence of how the most disappointing loss in Ravens history can be summed up. The Ravens cracked the door, and the Steelers kicked it in …..

Today is not just a new beginning for me. It also marks the first day of the next chapter for the Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. All of these franchises can and will make changes – you can bet on that.

Here, in Baltimore, the popular consensus is Cam Cameron will be the greatest casualty of this past season’s fallout. Whether it’s the questionable play calling, sporadic offensive production or unrealized potentials, the artist of the offensive schemes is the rumored soul to be paying with his job.

However, I will offer up an additional “mitigating” reason for making a change at offensive coordinator. Perhaps, we’re confronting a potential crossroads with Joe Flacco and his command of an offense. With three seasons completely in the books, a fair argument exists with this quarterback …..

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Ravens stop up-and-coming QB in Freeman; hope to emulate success against Roethlisberger

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Ravens stop up-and-coming QB in Freeman; hope to emulate success against Roethlisberger

Posted on 29 November 2010 by Ryan Chell

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and his teammates may be one of the league’s biggest up-and-comers, and are clearly on the rise in the NFL.

But fortunately for Baltimore Sunday in their 17-10 victory over the Bucs, the Ravens defense did their best to halt his progression for one more game.

Josh Freeman

With Tampa Bay needing Freeman to get back in Sunday’s game after trailing at the half 17-3, the Ravens continued to blitz the second-year quarterback out of Kansas State, forcing Freeman to rush his throws as the Buccaneers fought to get back in the game.

“I played extremely poorly,” Freeman said. “There are a number of balls I usually hit that I missed. I felt like I really had an off-game. I just wasn’t getting it done.”

His coach felt like he didn’t deserve to put all the blame solely on his shoulders.

“He played the Ravens defense,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “We’re talking about a really good defense that’s really talented. He had some attempts to make some plays on a stretch, but just fell short. We lost this game by running out of time. It is what it is.”

Freeman finished the game 17-for-37 for 162 yards and one score. His longest play came on a 30-yard pass to tight end John Gilmore, but the Ravens defense stopped Freeman through the air and on the ground.

He nearly had an interception in the second half to defensive lineman Cory Redding- which would have been the first of his career-had Ray Lewis not gone for the ball as well.

Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson, who spent most of the game rushing the passer, was surprised by what we saw out of Freeman.

“He was a confident guy and controlled the offense well. I was very impressed with the way he runs around and throws the ball. We were able to get him off his spot, and he wasn’t real accurate, but I was real impressed with the guy,” Johnson said.

Sunday’s game for the Ravens pass defense could be seen as the best they’ve played this year given the talent they were facing. Freeman had several options with receivers Mike Williams, rookie Arrelious Benn, and Michael Spurlock.

And none of them could get anything going against the Ravens secondary.

“They have some young wide receivers that have been successful in this league,” Baltimore corner Josh Wilson said, who started in place of the deactivated Fabian Washington. “That was our job in the secondary to slow them down to give our team a chance.”

The Buccaneers also have running backs Carnell Williams and LeGarrette Blount and tight end Kellen Winslow, who caught a touchdown pass from Freeman with 3:05 left in the game to trim the
Baltimore deficit, 17-10.

Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said that they had a lot on their plate with both the physicality and combined speed of the Bucs receiving corps, leading the way with Winslow’s versatility.

“Kellen Winslow is like a receiver out there playing tight end,” Carr said. “Coverage wise, he might be the best tight end when it comes to covering him.”

Freeman was on a bit of a hot streak as of late. Going into Sunday, he had tossed 14 touchdowns with just five interceptions and 2,099 yards passing on the season.

In the previous three games against the 49ers, Panthers, and Falcons(two Tampa Bay wins), he threw two touchdown passes in each contest with a completion percentage of 63 percent.

An added benefit for stopping Freeman is his physical comparisons to next week’s quarterback—Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, when the Ravens play the Steelers with first place in the division on the line.

Much like Roethlisberger, Freeman, who stands at 6-6, 248 lbs and has shown flashes of being able to make plays in-and-out of the pocket as a quarterback who is hard to bring down, the Ravens could use this as a tool toward game-planning toward Big Ben.

“Josh is a very similar quarterback,” Wilson said. “Now we’re just focusing on Pittsburgh. We’ve just got to look at the film and be ready for next week.”

Linebacker Terrell Suggs backed Wilson up and was sure that they can repeat their success against Freeman Sunday versus Roethlisberger next Sunday.

“We said it all week, he was a Roethlisberger type,”  Suggs said. “He’s a good young quarterback but he faced off against a team of destiny today.”

Tune into WNST and WNST.net as we continue to follow the Ravens throughout the 2010 season! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Sunday Money  –  6-Pack

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Sunday Money – 6-Pack

Posted on 26 November 2010 by Rex Snider

Well, if you followed my advice, last week, your pockets are undoubtedly overflowing with plenty of cash for today’s Black Friday shopping spree. That’s correct …. I gave three LOCKS for the Week #11 NFL schedule, and I delivered in each one …..

My picks …..

New England (-3.5) vs. Indianapolis = MONEY

Dallas (-0.5, 40/over) vs. Detroit = MONEY

Baltimore (-13) vs. Carolina = MONEY

To add a little bit of credibility, I even predicted the Ravens vs. Panthers final score. Yep, it’s in the blog : Ravens 37 – Panthers 9

Thank me, NOW …..

For the believers among our WNST faithful, you’ve been rewarded with a financial pitfall …. and you’re welcome !!!! As for the more cynical crowd, you’ll get a shot at redemption, this week.

Don’t screw it up this time !!!!

Without further delay, here’s your trusted 6-pack for Week #12′s NFL games, along with a few personal guarantees …..

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Live from Owings Mills: Harbaugh said team has turned page on Atlanta, respect toward Panthers

Posted on 15 November 2010 by Ryan Chell

The Baltimore Ravens spent some extra time Monday going over what went wrong Thursday night down in Atlanta-and how to fix it as the team prepares for the Carolina Panthers, so much so that Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s weekly press conference was pushed back almost a half-hour.

“It was a good practice,” Harbaugh said. “The guys were excited to get back to work.”

“We went through the game tape. We spent a good deal of time on that and that was productive. We tried to make the corrections and get ready for a tough football game on Sunday.”

The Ravens will travel to take on the 1-8 Carolina Panthers on Sunday at 1PM.

The Ravens were disappointed with their showing Thursday in their 26-21 loss to the Falcons last week, but overall, Harbaugh said the team understands that that’s how the cards were dealt.

“I’d rather be 9-0,” Harbaugh said. “Are we happy we’re 6-3? No. But that’s what we are.”

And despite the loss that Pittsburgh received to the New England Patriots on Sunday-which keeps the Ravens atop the AFC North-the Ravens coach ultimately feels like that Thursday was a chance to make up some ground in the AFC Playoff picture.

“Every time you don’t win in this league, it’s a missed opportunity,” Harbaugh replied.

And the Ravens don’t expect any other teams to let up when they square off against them.

“You look around the league, it’s tough. Week-in and week-out, it’s a battle every single week, and teams pull things out by the skin of their teeth and lose games just the same way. And it’s close,(cont)

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Losing to good teams on the road ensures your postseason plight …..

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Losing to good teams on the road ensures your postseason plight …..

Posted on 15 November 2010 by Rex Snider

If you’re a casual listener of my show, you probably know about my opinion regarding the intersection of LOSSES and EXCUSES.

I’m blunt about it whenever the discussion comes up.

It’s a belief that was drilled into my head when I was very young.  It’s a belief that I’ve taught my one and only child.  And, it’s a belief I’ll take to my grave …..

EXCUSES ARE FOR LOSERS

Offering a dismissive, half-hearted reason for losing is nothing less than acknowledging that failure is acceptable.  It also guarantees you’ll get more of it – unless you change something.

To be very honest, it insults an intelligent mind when winnable contests in New England and Atlanta are summed up with the customary “the Ravens lost to a very good team on the road” defense.

Call that line exactly what it is ….. an EXCUSE.

I didn’t buy it after the loss against New England and I’m certainly not buying it after last Thursday’s loss, in Atlanta.

Do you wanna guess how many 4th quarter comebacks Tom Brady has engineered this season?  The answer is ONE.  And, we know all about that game, huh?

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens stripes the ball from Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter of the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

I get the aura of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  I know their careers very well, and I pay attention to that team.  But, I also know many football fans assume Brady pulls out last minute heroics every week, and that’s just not true.

In fact, Tom Brady has thrown only ONE game-impacting, 4th quarter touchdown, this season.  Once again, we know all about that game, right?

As for last Thursday’s loss in Atlanta, the Ravens defense orchestrated Matt Ryan’s elevation from budding star to full blown ROCK STAR, in just 80 seconds.

I’m pretty sure Ryan is being bestowed with the Congressional Medal of Honor on the front steps of the United States Capital, later this week.

But, here’s another meaningless stat for the excuse makers and believers …..

Do you know how many two-minute drives have been capped off with a winning touchdown in Matt Ryan’s season?  You are correct …. ONE FREAKIN’ GAME.

Of course, I think Tom Brady is approaching a legendary career.  And, I think Matt Ryan is one of the bright, young stars in the NFL.  But, I also think many fans and observers believe these quarterbacks are leading their teams to dramatic, come from behind wins, on a consistent basis – and, that’s simply not true.

But, they’ve made hay against the Ravens defense, recently.

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Are you upset about last night? I’ll straighten you out …..

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Rex Snider

Many of us are reflecting back on the Ravens latest trip to New England, as we compile the pieces to last night’s failures, in Atlanta. That’s where we saw some initial cracks to the formation of a storied defense, right?

I had my suspicions then, and I’m certainly agonizing over those suspicions, now.

But, for me, I’m blessed with a silver lining that avails a truly profound perspective into the football season’s last month.

When the Ravens squared off against the Patriots, I gathered with a large group of friends to watch the festivities. Most of us live here and all of us share a love for Ravens football. It was a great day at our favorite watering hole, mixed with a bad ending in Foxboro. But, we still enjoyed ourselves.

That Sunday also marked a special situation for many members of our group.

One of our friends has been battling an opponent much tougher than the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets, combined.

That’s right, he’s fighting for his life against the “BIG C” …..

He’s been worn down by the effects of chemotherapy. His last six weeks have been tougher than anything the Buffalo Bills have endured.

Still, he was there with us, rooting for the Ravens to survive Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Deion Branch.

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Ravens DE Paul Kruger as ready for Falcons as he ever would be

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Ravens DE Paul Kruger as ready for Falcons as he ever would be

Posted on 11 November 2010 by Ryan Chell

Paul Kruger
The Baltimore Ravens kick off the NFL Network Thursday night schedule of the 2010 season tonight against the Atlanta Falcons, and no one is more excited than Ravens defensive end Paul Kruger, who joined Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” Wednesday to discuss a battle between two similar teams atop their respective divisions.

“I think they are a great team,” Kruger told Forrester. “We have been watching tape as much as we can and you know I have nothing but good things to say. They do a lot of things well.”

The Ravens-along with the Falcons-are coming off a short week as Baltimore defeated the Dolphins 26-10 on Sunday, and had to prepare for a first-place team in Atlanta (6-2) in only several days of work.

“It’s tough,” Kruger said. “It’s definitely mentally and physically taxing but at the same time we are used to playing and the coaches have done a great job of getting us ready. You know, it has basically been full-go since we got done with the game on Sunday.”

But Kruger said they are ready to go.

“I think we are pretty prepared mentally,” Kruger said. “I think we are there and the trainers and staff have done an excellent job getting everyone ready for the game this week. A little more stretching and massaging, and more recovery this week with the real quick turnaround.”

The expectations for Kruger have been high since he was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Utah. Not seeing much action in his rookie year due to his inexperience playing on special teams and not being up to standards when it came to conditioning, Kruger has seen action in three games this year and has been more of a need for the Ravens after Baltimore released Trevor Pryce early in the year.

Kruger said that he has put  a lot of effort toward improving that aspect of his game, wanting to be that pass rusher that the Ravens expected him to be when they drafted him high in last year’s draft.

“That is definitely something I have improved on a lot this off-season, and a real strength for me this year as a lighter guy is playing inside, kind of playing outside, and moving to different positions.”

And now healthy from a knee injury that he suffered early in October, he expects to be on the field each game out and he wants to perform in each of those games.

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to be playing from here on out unless I do something wrong or stop playing the way I can. The coaches have done a great job keeping me positive and informed me of everything going on.”

“And if anything is going to change, I am pretty much aware of it before anyone else is.”

And hopefully Kruger can make a play in Thursday’s game like he did in his only significant action in 2009.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVLPgq74yg8&feature=related[/youtube]

Tune into WNST and WNST.net as we continue to follow the Ravens throughout the 2010 season! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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I’m rooting for the Falcons, but not tonight …..

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I’m rooting for the Falcons, but not tonight …..

Posted on 11 November 2010 by Rex Snider

Tonight’s game between the Ravens and Falcons is being billed as a matchup of two very similar teams, with characteristics and qualities mirroring each other. And, for the most part, I understand the comparisons …..

Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan spawned from the same draft class and they’ve assumed starting duties, since day one.

John Harbaugh and Mike Smith ascended into their head coaching roles at the same time, as well. And, they’ve experienced early success.

Ray Rice and Michael Turner have developed into a couple of the NFL’s best running backs.

Both teams have achieved regular season records of 26 wins and 14 losses, since the Harbaugh/Flacco and Smith/Ryan tandems joined ranks.

The comparisons really are aplenty.

That said, I think it’s quite fair to suggest one team has overcome much more adversity and dysfunction, as they’ve climbed back to respectability.

To be blunt, it’s not even close …..

When Brian Billick left the Baltimore Ravens, he left a solid, organized, respectable franchise in his wake. The Ravens were a better team, thanks to his nine years of commitment. While the 2007 season was dismal, the organization was still foundationally strong.

However, the same flattering description cannot be attributed to the Atlanta Falcons …..

As we all know, the Falcons were a dysfunctional mess as the world celebrated the New Years holiday, in 2008. Their head coach deserted them, much like a call girl leaves her john behind …..

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 09:  Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Atlanta Falcons looks to congratulate Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings after Petrino's NFL head coaching debut as the Vikings defeated the Falcons 24-3 at the Metrodome on September 9, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Their franchise quarterback was no longer the “franchise quarterback,” and the team was horrible, as it finished up with a 3-13 season.

As Michael Vick was settling into prison life, Bobby Petrino was familiarizing himself with the University of Arkansas …. and the Falcons were limping to close out a horrid 2007 campaign.

Say what you want, that organization didn’t deserve such an obstructed road of hardship and anguish.

It was beyond bad luck. It was wrong …..

In Baltimore, we’re spoiled by the riches of a football franchise built on stable management and in-depth personnel – on and off the field.

In Atlanta, just three short years ago, the Falcons faced the potential of unraveling into an era of disaster. They faced the uncertainty of finding the right general manager, head coach and quarterback to reverse the team’s wrong direction.

Enter Thomas Dimitroff …..

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Falcons FB Ovie Mughelli knows his old team is going to be physical Thursday night

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Falcons FB Ovie Mughelli knows his old team is going to be physical Thursday night

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Ryan Chell

Ovie Mughelli

Atlanta Falcons and former Baltimore Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli knows that Thursday’s match up in prime-time between his two NFL teams is going to be a hard-hitting game.

Mughelli joined “The Afternoon Drive” with Rex Snider Wednesday afternoon to chat about his old team in the Ravens, and his team that he has been with in his fourth season in a Falcon uniform.

“I’m impressed,” Mughelli told Snider. “I always watch the Ravens since they are my old team and a fun team to watch. To see them go out week in and week out and dominate the teams they play, and squeeze out some tough games showing people that Baltimore toughness they are known for, it’s fun to watch.”

But Mughelli is ready to reciprocate that toughness right back at the Ravens in an attempt to get Falcons running back Michael Turner going.

“I’m excited for the challenge and I’m excited to show them what we do here in Atlanta,” he said.

Mughelli was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of Wake Forest and was also a solid special teams performer.

He was at the time only the second Demon Deacon to be drafted into the NFL, and after finally seeing time at the fullback position, he began to succeed in the running game, helping the Ravens rush for 1,605 yards in 2005.

In 2006, Mughelli scored his first NFL touchdown and also helped Jamal Lewis rush for 1132 yards  and nine TDs in Lewis’ last season in Baltimore.

His resume spoke for itself-so much so that Mughelli earned All-Pro honors in that season, so much so that the Falcons made Mughelli the richest fullback in the league at that time, as he signed a six-year deal worth 18 million dollars.

And now in Atlanta, he has quite the rapport going with running back Michael Turner, who he has helped spurt to back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in the last two years.

Right now, he and Turner are loving what they are doing.

“He had fun,” Mughelli said. “Coach always says you have fun when you win. You have fun when you execute. And we executed…we wanted to run down hill, and when everything is clicking like that and the offensive line is dominating the line of scrimmage. It’s what we did all season, and what we want to keep doing.”

Mughelli said that he has loved blocking for all the backs he has been in front of during the years and said each of them brings something different to the table.

“Definitely, blocking for Jamal and Chester, then Michael Turner, they all have different styles but Jamal and Mike are hard-nosed runners-both downhill runners- make someone miss, or run right through you or over you.”

Mughelli was big in the Falcons 27-21 victory over the Buccaneers Sunday in a battle for first place.

Mughelli helped Turner rush for 107 yards and two scores in the victory. The one thing he saw out of Sunday was that Tampa Bay was not the team they have been in recent years where a team could just walk over them.

“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not the team of last year,” Mughelli said. “They are a brand new team with new motivation. I don’t know if its heart or passion, or what has changed but you know they changed the right things and play hard and gave us a run for our money…they came to play.”

And he expects as much from the Ravens Thursday.

“Baltimore is definitely a physical and tough team,” Mughelli said. “It’s going to be a tough, physical game.”

Tune into WNST and WNST.net as we continue to follow the Baltimore Ravens throughout the 2010 season! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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