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Ravens guard Yanda aiming for another chapter of greatness

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Last season was supposed to be the continuation of Ravens veteran Marshal Yanda’s reign as the best guard in the NFL.

His six straight Pro Bowl selections had tied Ray Lewis for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind only Jonathan Ogden (11 straight from 1997-2007) and Ed Reed (seven in a row from 2006-12). That exclusive company began prompting some discussion about Yanda’s chances of joining that trio — and perhaps current teammate Terrell Suggs — in Canton one day, especially if he were to add a few more years of elite play to his impressive resume. The Hall of Fame is certainly rare territory for a guard, but momentum had been building as analytic sites like Pro Football Focus touted his excellence and Yanda was even profiled by a national website last summer.

Then, his 2017 season was over soon after it started when he fractured his left ankle in Week 2, an injury that required surgery to repair the damage. After battling through countless ailments to play all but five games in the previous eight seasons, Yanda would sit out the final 14 contests and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the third straight year, in part because of an offensive line that struggled to gel without its best player in the first half of the season. The 2007 third-round pick has shown little interest in individual accolades over the years, but the thought of not being there for his team was difficult to take.

“It was a heart-breaking deal. I thought I was going to maybe miss some time but be able to find some way to fight through it and get back on the field,” Yanda said. “But to have the news that it was season-ending was really tough. It was really hard for me being away, but that’s part of football. You have to deal with it.”

The frustration didn’t end there as Yanda hurt his shoulder lifting weights just as he was winding down his ankle rehabilitation last December. Instead of risking further damage to his rotator cuff by trying to push through the injury, the 2007 third-round pick chose to have surgery early this offseason, a move that further delayed his return to the practice field.

There was no doubt that Yanda would return to action in 2018, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll regain his elite playing status as he turns 34 next month and comes off his third shoulder surgery — each arm has been worked on — in the last five years. Of course, he need look no further for inspiration than Suggs, who has recorded a total of 19 sacks in two seasons since suffering the second torn Achilles tendon of his career in 2015. At the time of that injury, many thought a 33-year-old Suggs might be all but finished, but he’s only strengthened his case for an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

It isn’t difficult envisioning the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman following a similar script to put himself in the conversation at the very least.

Yanda swats away any mention of him eventually being worthy of such a historic honor, but he has every intention of again being the leader and linchpin of the Baltimore offensive line after returning to the practice field this week for the first time in 11 months.

“You understand that guys can definitely come back from [injuries], and even though they’re older players, they can still be productive,” Yanda said. “They can still do everything they want to do, so I’ve just attacked [rehab] every single day. I feel like, as you get older as a player, this game means more to you every single year that you play.

“I obviously understand that it’s a young man’s game, but I’m going to be fighting every single day to be ready to roll and to be productive.”

Whether it was returning from emergency leg surgery in days to help the Ravens clinch a division title in 2011 or switching from right guard to left guard because of a serious shoulder injury and still making the Pro Bowl in 2016, Yanda has proven time and time again not to doubt him. His place among the top 10 players in franchise history is cemented, but his toughness is second to none in the 22-year history of the franchise.

How much longer Yanda will play remains to be seen as his current contract runs through the end of next season. With more than a decade in the NFL under his belt, the Iowa native is taking a year-by-year approach to his career.

“Me not playing pretty much at all last year, there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it,” Yanda said. “You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”

The Ravens are hoping it’s that same gigantic part as before.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of training camp

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first full week of training camp in the books and the Hall of Fame Game right around the corner, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Brown had a fine spring and flashed from time to time, but Thursday was the first time he consistently wowed observers with several big plays shown below. The talent he showed in a 1,000-yard season in Arizona three years ago is still there if he can just stay healthy.

2. Marlon Humphrey was victimized by Brown on a few occasions and didn’t have a good practice, but it’s evident he’s in line to start over Brandon Carr based with the way first-team reps have been distributed so far in camp. The 22-year-old is too talented to keep off the field.

3. Joe Flacco has carried a strong spring into the summer, showing improved footwork and more accuracy than he has in a long time. I have covered every training camp since 2009 and don’t recall the strong-armed quarterback ever showing so much touch on deep throws in particular.

4. The Ravens aren’t broadcasting how they’ve tweaked their defensive system, but the best way to describe it is how customized it is at every level. Rather than bunching certain fronts, blitzes, and coverages together in a standardized way, every option at every level could be in play. Sounds less predicable.

5. The Tim White hype borders on being out of control based on such a small sample size, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver and return man shows good hands and is very smooth in his movements. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the preseason.

6. No Raven has transformed his body more than Willie Henry, who is listed 17 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He’s added muscle and should provide more of a pass-rush threat for the base front, allowing Brandon Williams to play more at nose tackle in the process.

7. Orlando Brown Jr. is still developing and needs to improve his technique, but he’s handled the conditioning aspect of camp well for someone who faced questions about his weight in high school and college. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him raise his performance in a live-game setting.

8. Martindale mentioned Kenny Young as being in competition with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker job, which was surprising since he was responding to a question that made no mention of the rookie. Young hasn’t necessarily stood out, but this competition is one to watch.

9. The health of the rookie tight ends has been an early topic of discussion, but Hayden Hurst shows soft hands and an ability to make plays over the middle when he’s on the field. So many missed practices aren’t helping Mark Andrews’ chances for early playing time.

10. I’m rooting for Nico Siragusa to make a full recovery from the serious knee injury he sustained last summer, but it’s apparent he’s still knocking off rust and isn’t moving around particularly well. He’s taking a few more reps lately, but I’m interested to see how the team handles him.

11. Kenneth Dixon drew praise from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg during a kickoff drill Thursday before walking gingerly to the locker room with a member of the training staff a few minutes later. It had been the most explosive he’d looked over the first week of camp.

12. With Ray Lewis officially being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, Ed Reed deserving to follow next year, and Terrell Suggs still in the process of putting an exclamation point on his strong case, Ravens fans might as well become quite familiar with Canton, Ohio.

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Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

Posted on 02 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

Your lowest moment is always when you feel your greatest pain. When I tore my triceps, and the doctor looked at me and she told me that, you know, I was out for the year. And I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Nah. Doc – there’s no way I’m [going] to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ And she was like, ‘Ray, you know, nobody’s ever come back from this.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, nobody’s ever been Ray Lewis, either.’ ”

– Ray Lewis (January 2013)

 

 

 

AFTER ALL THAT THE RAVENS had been through in their rocky December – three losses in a row, the firing of Cam Cameron, the preseason-style game in Cincinnati to end 2012 – the road to a Super Bowl was still very much alive in January. And there’s nothing to stir the passions of Baltimore football fans like seeing the stolen blue horseshoe and the five-letter word that’s associated with evil in the land of pleasant living: I-R-S-A-Y. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to Baltimore again, a visit that still elicits plenty of emotion from the over-40 crowd.

And this time it wasn’t the bravado and no huddle mastery of Peyton Manning that would confront the Ravens. Peyton was staying warm in Denver, waiting to see if the Ravens would be journeying to the Mile High City next week. This time, the Colts had a different hotshot quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Ravens could never solve Manning – and still couldn’t earlier in December – but this time it would be a different look and a different team coming from Indy. In 2011, a gimpy version of the Colts on the last legs of the Dungy era and the Jim Caldwell head coaching run, were shellacked 24-10 by the Ravens in Baltimore as quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran for his life amidst a purple swarm all afternoon. Orlovsky wouldn’t be running the show this time.

This time, Caldwell would be running the Ravens offense and the guy who was running the Baltimore defense in 2001 would be the head coach of the Colts. There were plenty of emotions with the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and the quarterback prodigy of John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, who groomed Luck at Stanford as head coach of the Cardinal, before Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay made him the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in April 2012 after jettisoning Manning, who wound up in Denver.

Pagano had successfully battled leukemia over the previous three months, and the #Chuckstrong campaign in social media was as solid as the Colts had been on the field in his absence. During his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stabilized a youthful team around Luck. Indianapolis was the surprise team in the AFC with an 11-5 record, including 9-2 down the stretch. They had played a last-place schedule all year, but had been impressive throughout the year and brought a wave of emotion with them from the friendly heart of the Midwest as Pagano’s health and strength was a rallying point for them all season.

Pagano had believed it a cruel, strange twist of fate that he even got the Colts head coaching job the previous January. As the Ravens went down the field on the final Lee Evans-Billy Cundiff drive in Foxborough, Pagano was thinking that he was finally going to the Super Bowl.

“If we win that AFC Championship Game that would’ve put me two weeks further out and no coach can have any discussion about a job,” Pagano said. “I would venture to say that Indy would’ve had to get their guy in place and they had already interviewed with a bunch of guys. I don’t think that it would’ve happened for me with the Colts. I know there were more qualified candidates than me, guys they had talked to in the process.”

Instead, the Ravens suffered the agonizing defeat and Pagano got the Indy job the next day. “It’s crazy how fate and destiny works,” he said. “I thought I’d be going to Indy that week. I just had no idea it’d be to be coaching the Colts. I thought I’d be coaching the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl.”

Now, a cancer survivor in remission with thin strands of gray hair returning to his previously bald head, Pagano was back in Baltimore on the sidelines as the head coach of an NFL playoff team almost 12 months later. He was coming back to Baltimore in an attempt to end

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following mandatory minicamp

Posted on 15 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp to conclude their offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A year ago at this time, tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Tavon Young had already been lost for the season. The Ravens are dealing with some minor ailments, but the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith to practice this week further signaled the good health so far.

2. Alex Lewis and John Brown being among those dealing with minor health concerns isn’t as encouraging. These two could be pivotal in determining whether this offense makes meaningful progress from last season, but they must stay on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson was given the keys to run Thursday’s practice from the quarterback position as several veterans rested on both sides of the ball, and he responded with his most consistent passing performance to date. The rookie knows he has a long way to go, but his confidence is impressive.

4. Some pundits have cherry-picked quotes complimenting Jackson while ignoring the parts about him being a work in progress, but anyone who’s watched this spring knows Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Ignore any noise from those pushing a quarterback controversy this early in the game.

5. It’s been evident that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has stressed mobility, pocket movement, and footwork timing with Flacco. The quarterback being healthy and another year removed from the knee injury is crucial, but these skills have been lacking since Gary Kubiak was in Baltimore.

6. Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald labeled Tyus Bowser the most productive linebacker of the spring as he even recorded an interception return for a touchdown on a Flacco pass. Bowser making a Matt Judon-like leap from his first to second year would create some much-needed long-term stability at outside linebacker.

7. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs is again in great shape as he enters his 16th year and comes off his first double-digit sacks season since 2014. He’s entered that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed territory in that the Ravens won’t easily replace what he’s brought to the table for so many years.

8. It’s difficult to evaluate line play in the spring, but Orlando Brown Jr. definitely showed growth from rookie camp until the end of spring workouts. This next month will be critical for him to keep himself in good shape to continue that momentum into the summer.

9. Willie Snead is developing a good rapport with Flacco as they frequently connected over the middle. Flacco complimented the slot receiver for having “a knack for seeing the game the way the quarterback does.” You can see why Drew Brees liked him a couple years ago in New Orleans.

10. I’ve been as critical as anyone about this Ravens offense, but I do believe it has more intrigue and potential than it’s enjoyed the last few years. The problem is there are so few sure things, meaning the floor remains very low.

11. Hats off to John Harbaugh for offering this truth about spring workouts: “This isn’t football practice. This is just getting ready for football practice. … Nobody is going to make a play here that’s going to make the team.” We now return to our regularly-scheduled overreacting.

12. Between Eric Weddle dropping a Wolverine reference about Smith and Wink Martindale joking that Suggs must have done his offseason training in Wakanda, this week’s quotes were a Marvel fan’s dream. You just hope Thanos stays away from the roster when training camp gets underway.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from first open OTA workout

Posted on 25 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first open organized team activity session on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Most attention was on what Joe Flacco said in his first press conference since the draft, but the 11th-year quarterback looks leaner and is moving better than he has in quite some time. He threw the ball well and is pleased with the efforts made to improve the pass-catching spots.

2. Lamar Jackson connected on a beautiful back-shoulder touchdown to fellow rookie Jaleel Scott during a red-zone drill, but he later threw a bad interception to safety Kai Nacua in the flat. Patience is needed with his development, but he’s sure fun to watch when he takes off with the ball.

3. Many wide receivers can look great this time of year — Breshad Perriman has fit that description in the past — but Michael Crabtree stands out in a way similar to when Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin first arrived in Baltimore. You can tell Flacco is happy to have him.

4. Many players have cited new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale offering more freedom and flexibility within schemes, and John Harbaugh even used a military analogy to describe the changes (11:59 mark). It’s an interesting concept, but with great power comes great responsibility.

5. Kenneth Dixon could still stand to shed a couple pounds — Harbaugh acknowledged he hadn’t been in the best shape returning from last year’s knee injury and suspension — but he showed shifty moves in the open field. He remains a wild card for this offense if healthy and committed to football.

6. Kamalei Correa is again working at outside linebacker after attempts to make him an inside linebacker, but Martindale — formerly the linebackers coach — said last fall he envisions him in an Albert McClellan role being able to play all positions. That’s his best path to a roster spot.

7. Willie Snead looks the part of a slot receiver, using his running back-like frame to quickly change directions. I don’t expect him to put up huge numbers in this offense, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive addition.

8. Harbaugh said Patrick Ricard will continue to be used as both a fullback and defensive lineman, but his build more closely resembles a nose tackle now rather than the hybrid player he was as a rookie. He definitely got bigger this offseason.

9. Marshal Yanda won’t take part in spring workouts, but he watched part of practice and continues to work his way back to full strength. The muscle atrophy in his lower left leg is still noticeable, but the Ravens remain confident he’ll be ready well in time for the season.

10. The new kickoff rule drew praise from Harbaugh, who sees the potential for bigger returns with the kicking team no longer allowed a running start. The former special teams coordinator says teams could counter that by booting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks more frequently. We’ll see.

11. With Jimmy Smith still on the mend and carrying a $15.675 million cap figure next season, the Ravens would be wise to begin viewing Marlon Humphrey as their No. 1 cornerback. It’s easy to see the potential for him to be a special player sooner than later.

12. I liked seeing Ed Reed speak to the Ravens rookies during OTAs, but how could the timing not remind you of his annual flirtations with retirement and desires for a new contract this time of year? Those good old days also brought one of my favorite tweets of all time:

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on array of offseason topics

Posted on 12 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With free agency a month away and the Ravens offseason still taking shape, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m intrigued to learn just how “significant” Ozzie Newsome’s post-2018 position will be as Eric DeCosta succeeds him as general manager. The two have a great relationship, of course, but it’s not difficult envisioning such an arrangement being problematic if DeCosta is truly supposed to be in charge.

2. The Jimmy Garoppolo deal is the latest reminder of how expensive a franchise quarterback is if you’re not willing to roll the dice in trying to draft one. That won’t stop Joe Flacco’s detractors from complaining about his contract, but it’s the cost of doing business.

3. The Ravens eyeing a bargain at inside linebacker or 5-technique end is fine, but the catalysts for defensive improvement need to come from within and from Wink Martindale’s fresh perspective. Citing the offense’s late statistical improvement as an excuse to use meaningful resources on defense would be a major mistake.

4. Speaking of coaching impact, Sports Illustrated NFL analyst Andy Benoit is a big fan of new quarterbacks coach James Urban. He offered a look into Urban’s football mind last year, and offered more insight on the new Ravens assistant from Radio Row in Minneapolis.

5. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are already recruiting free-agent-to-be Jarvis Landry. He caught a career-high 112 passes at a career-low 8.8 yards per catch in Miami’s mess of a passing attack in 2017. His price tag as a slot receiver will be interesting, but certainly not cheap.

6. I’ve debated what should be done with Brandon Carr, who’s owed a bonus next month and brings $4 million in savings if he’s cut. Baltimore sure could use him if Jimmy Smith isn’t ready for Week 1, but Carr is a backup with a $7 million number if he is.

7. With the Ravens lacking any semblance of a consistent red-zone threat for years, Jimmy Graham is intriguing at the right price despite his lowest yardage total since his rookie season. Of course, other teams with more cap space are likely to find his 10 touchdowns just as enticing.

8. He may never hit the market, but a healthy Allen Robinson is an excellent fit for what Flacco needs in a receiver. Some have suggested his signing coming at a discount after last September’s ACL injury, but I’m not convinced that happens with the 6-foot-3 target only being 24.

9. Philadelphia winning the Super Bowl despite losing its franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl left tackle, starting middle linebacker, and a productive third-down running back sure doesn’t help the perception of the Ravens not being able to overcome injuries to sneak into the playoffs with one of the league’s easiest schedules.

10. With many anticipating the Ravens being selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game for the first time, head coach John Harbaugh will surely like having additional training camp practices. It’s also an extra week and an extra meaningless game putting players at risk for injury.

11. Brian Dawkins being voted into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility gives me greater confidence that Ed Reed will be inducted next year. Voters haven’t been kind to pure safeties over the years, but Reed not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer would be a joke.

12. I was glad to see both Marlon Humphrey and a fan have a sense of humor about his recent arrest. It was certainly a mistake from which the young cornerback hopefully learns, but another 2017 first-round pick is in far deeper trouble.

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Chapter 21: For Baltimore, a second Pa-RAY-ed

Posted on 01 February 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“I’ve got two tickets to paradise!”

– Ed Reed (February 5, 2013)

 

 

NO ONE GOT A LOT of sleep on the evening of Sunday, February 3, 2013. The Baltimore Ravens brought the Lombardi Trophy back to the Hilton Riverside, rolled Mary J. Blige onto the stage and Ray Lewis taught her The Squirrel as Jay-Z and Beyonce photo bombed players’ pictures. Champagne flowed, laughter ensued, a championship was won.

It was that kind of night in New Orleans for anyone in purple.

Joe Flacco’s family threw a party on Bourbon Street for the Super Bowl XLVII MVP. Fans pouring into the French Quarter in a celebration of mass force. Back in Baltimore the city was in the streets, banging pots and pans, partying from Federal Hill to Fells Point.

Work was a rumor in the Charm City on Monday. It was an extended holiday. And everyone realized they were 24 hours away from a parade and a civic celebration unlike any in the history of Baltimore sports.

The team’s plan ride home was legendarily boisterous as everyone on the plane took turns taking pictures with the Lombardi Trophy and in the era of internet connectivity, most players had pictures on their Twitter within seconds so many Ravens fans felt like they were on the plane back to BWI.

As the Super Bowl MVP, Flacco had a different kind of day. He had an 8:30 a.m. press conference at the Convention Center along with John Harbaugh. While the team flew back to Baltimore, Flacco went on a private lear jet that whisked his family to Orlando, Florida where he did a one-hour parade stint at Disney World and then went back to the airport to fly to Newark, New Jersey where he took a helicopter into New York City to do The David Letterman Show at Times Square.

 

“Yeah, it sounds like jet setting but it was all over a lot quicker than you realize,” Flacco said. “I was back in Baltimore at my place before 10 o’clock the night before the parade. There was no way I was missing that.”

On the morning of Tuesday, February, 5, 2013, Baltimore was under siege and awash in purple.

In 2001 when the franchise celebrated Super Bowl XXXV, the parade left from the stadium parking lot and meandered eastbound on Pratt Street toward City Hall. This time around, the Ravens didn’t know what to expect but wanted to end the parade inside the stadium where the most people could have comfortable access to the speeches. Many in the organization were fearful that 70,000 stadium seats plus the long parade route might make the stadium look empty. After all, fans would have to choose. There was no way to be on the east side of the harbor and in the stadium. You had to pick one: parade route or stadium.

By 10 a.m. on Tuesday, it was clear the stadium wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate all of those who were trying to enter. By noon the stadium had been locked down and fans were scaling the walls trying to enter. It was surely the day you’ll be telling your kids and grandkids about if you witnessed it or participated in any of the sheer madness that encapsulated a complete traffic-jammed, people-jammed, energy-jammed, love-jammed scene in downtown Baltimore. It was the greatest day in Baltimore sports history for its sheer size and energy.

More than 250,000 people crammed the parade route and downtown area as the players were delayed because many couldn’t navigate the traffic to get to the stadium, where buses were staged to bring the players to City Hall to begin the parade.

The Lombardi Trophy arrived with the players and Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs stood on the veranda at City Hall and saluted the throng. “The city of Baltimore — I love you for ever and ever and ever and ever,” Lewis told crowd.

The parade featured a variety of Humvees, vehicles and even a few floats, which the 2001 events didn’t have. Reed took the Lombardi Trophy toward the barricades near Baltimore Street and the crowds eventually broke down the gates and followed Ray Lewis’ tank down Pratt Street in a scene that resembled a jog in Rocky.

It was the crowning moment as Ray Lewis entered the stadium holding the Lombardi Trophy and dancing his true “Last Dance” as as Super Bowl champion. Reed and Jacoby Jones joined Lewis in doing “The Squirrel.”

No one could write a script like this one in Baltimore.

John Harbaugh led the old high school cheer: “What’s our name? What’s our name? What’s our name?”

“Baltimore! There is nothing in the world, there is no place on this earth, that is better than Baltimore. This city, this city, we believed in each other from Day One, from 1996 to now,” Lewis told the fans. “We believed in each other, Baltimore. If I had to describe our team in one phrase or one paragraph, you all know what it is: ‘No weapon, no weapon, no weapon formed against us shall prosper.’”

Harbaugh, Flacco, Reed, Lewis and owner Steve Bisciotti, who all thanked the fans for their support.

“Baltimore, we did it,” Flacco said. “Super Bowl champs, baby! Hey, this is for you guys. Hey, we’ve been through a lot this year – a lot of highs, a couple lows. And you guys stood there through it all. Just like you always do. You’re a special group and we love you.”

And of course, it wouldn’t be a celebration without Reed taking the microphone to sing “Two Tickets To Paradise,” just like he’d been doing the last couple weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. He also led the crowd in a Seven Nation Army chant. “Hey, Baltimore, the best team, the best team in the world, is right here. Right here,” Reed said. “No better team right now. This year, nobody can beat these boys. Not us. Not in the world.”

“I don’t know how many more times we can do this, bringing championships home before Baltimore loses that chip on its shoulder,” Bisciotti said. “I hope it doesn’t ever happen.”

At 2:45 that afternoon, president Barack Obama called Ozzie Newsome to congratulate him. Newsome was a little worried about being back in the office in the time to take the call.

By 5 p.m. Newsome was watching film. At 6:30 p.m. he was back on a treadmill in Owings Mills next to Michael Oher. The Super Bowl was almost 48 hours old. It was time to get back

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Chapter 20: Sup-Harb Bowl – A Crescent City Crowning for Ravens

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“We want to win Super Bowls. We want to make history. We want to do things that have never been done in the NFL before. Don’t we all want that in life? Don’t we all have dreams?”

John Harbaugh on WNST.net (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

THE NFL ALLOWS THE TWO TEAMS that win their conference championship game an extra week to prepare for the Super Bowl. For the Baltimore Ravens, it was just what the commissioner ordered – a few days to rest and enjoy their monumental accomplishment. Despite the need to prepare to beat the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens were in dire need of a little time to breathe after what had been a physical and emotional roller coaster over the previous 21 days.

The Ray Lewis Last Ride. Beating the Colts. A new offensive coordinator. New personnel on both sides of the ball over three games. The brutal cold in Denver. The drama in Denver. The miracle in Denver. The emotions of Denver. And then the exorcising of some old demons in Foxborough, beating Tom Brady and overcoming the role of being a huge, road underdog two weeks in a row in the biggest games of their lives. It was indeed time to rest.

Sure, the Ravens were lucky to win in Denver. But statistically, and if not for shoddy coverage on the two Trindon Holliday returns for touchdowns, the Ravens played extremely well on offense and defense at Mile High. But it was in New England, where they fell behind early and took no mercy after halftime, that they showed true championship mettle. The Ravens beat the snot out of the Patriots in the second half on both sides of the ball. Flacco ran the offense up and down the field, and the Ravens defense held Brady scoreless in the second half. “When is the last time that happened at Foxboro?” said center Matt Birk. “Like, never? It’s unbelievable!”

But it was Flacco and the offense that put the pedal down and attacked the banged-up and depleted Patriots defense. “We realized that we just needed to put some pressure on them in that way,” Flacco said after the game in the Gillette Stadium locker room. “In the first half we were probably a little bit run-heavy, and they did a good job of stopping it, and we came out in the second half and decided to go with what we went with. We didn’t come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to win the AFC Championship Game, and you have to play to win and you have to do some of those things, and our guys made plays – Anquan [Boldin] came up huge – all of our receivers [and] all of our tight ends, our linemen, everyone came up big when they needed to. We’ve definitely overcome a lot, but I think that – if you look at the Super Bowl winners over the past few years – I’d probably say that we’d have a lot in common with that. It’s about who can get ready and who can become their best at the right time and hit the ground running and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Ravens wouldn’t need to run to New Orleans. Like Fats Domino sang, they could’ve walked or floated with the emotional high they were on after New England.

The Big Easy would be waiting in seven days, and even though the strategy on the field would take a backseat to the Super Bowl media madness and storylines, the Ravens knew they had their hands full with upstart quarterback sensation Colin Kaepernick and his hard-to-mark “Pistol” offense. San Francisco also prided itself on a stingy defense led by a head coach that Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh knew all too well.

And as much as John Harbaugh begged the media to not delve to deeply into this unique story of brother vs. brother, he knew there was no stopping that train.

Let’s just cut that right out,” Harbaugh joked with the media from the podium immediately following the win in Foxborough. “Can we all agree? Just forget about that stuff. We did that last year, OK? It was fine. It got old last year. Did it not? My dad is definitely on board with that. [My parents] don’t take any interviews anyway. He’s in the basement down in Mequon [Wisconsin], and I hope he’s on his fourth or fifth beer

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 18: Fast as _ _ _ _! The Mile High Miracle and Jacoby Jones

Posted on 29 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“I told myself Joe might throw it to me if I haul my butt off the line,”

– Jacoby Jones (January 2013)

 

 

 

THE NFL PROVIDES PLENTY OF connectivity between its personalities, teams, cities, and rich history. The Ravens had never played a playoff game in Denver and had only faced the Broncos once in January – in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. That was during the 2001 Super Bowl run when Trent Dilfer beat Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe caught a miracle pass.

However, this January 2013 game would forever change how NFL fans remember Broncos vs. Ravens.

Baltimore already had plenty of history with both John Elway and Peyton Manning, who had joined forces in the Mile High City. Peyton had now gone to his second NFL outpost and dropped another vicious regular season beating on the Ravens in Baltimore. The Elway history in Baltimore had aged 30 years, but was still very real and a debt unpaid for anyone who had a true sense of local football history and the magnitude of his actions in 1983. Elway was one of the building blocks that allowed the Ravens to exist if you consider that the Colts needed to leave Baltimore before Art Modell could come.

Both Elway and Manning had richly earned villain status in the Charm City. And once again Ozzie Newsome would endure one more battle with Elway and Denver, bringing back the sick history from his Cleveland Browns days. Newsome told author John Feinstein in 2004 that the last words his father ever said to him were: “Watch out for Elway!”

The Manning history was a much fresher scab in Baltimore.

The ugly, pre-halftime Flacco interception and the 98-yard futile chase by the lumbering quarterback was 27 days old, yet still fresh in the minds of his supporters and detractors. The replay ran all day, every day the week of the game. There was that famous picture of Flacco, face down at the goal line after chasing Chris Harris the length of the field that painted a tale of abject failure. It was a well-circulated meme in social media with a myriad of Charlie Brown-like captions.

Ten days after throwing the interception, the Ravens clinched the AFC North crown for the second straight year and made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Flacco came to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown as the guest of Dennis Pitta for a WNST.net & AM 1570 live radio show. He addressed the Harris interception with his usual droll sense of humor.

“It wasn’t any different than any other interception I’ve thrown for a touchdown the other way,” Flacco said. “It’s not good, but stuff like that happens. I try to limit it and do all the things you want to do to make sure it doesn’t happen. But if you play aggressively, you have to deal with it.”

“The next day I was able to try to joke around a little bit about it,” Flacco said. “At least I wanted to see what everybody thought of my blazing speed trying to catch that guy,” Flacco delivered with a smile, sitting next to his best

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