Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

This time, there was no late-game heroics to save the Ravens.

No half-a-world-away kick from Justin Tucker.

No final minute punt return from Jacoby Jones.

No last gasp drive from Joe Flacco and the offense.

This time, it was just football for sixty minutes.

And, the Ravens got their rear ends handed to them by Tom Brady and the Patriots.  There’s no other way to slice it.  No fancy way to sugarcoat it.  Not on Sunday.  It was 41-7 in favor of the Patriots and the beating was as bad as the score would indicate, even if two of the New England TD’s were scored in garbage time.

It was a day to forget for Joe Flacco and the offense.  Going up against a beleaguered and injured New England defense, the Baltimore offense simply laid a colossal Christmas egg, coughing up the ball on four different occasions and failing to pick up a first down on two separate 4th and short situations in the second half.

On the first occasion, the Ravens were faced with a 4th and 2 at the New England 39.  They had already run the ball twice in the series — once for five yards and the other for three yards, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell eschewed the reasonable solution of running off the edge and instead asked Flacco to connect with Jacoby Jones on a short pass.  It failed.

Later on, at the New England four yard line, the Ravens had two chances to pick up one yard.  On 3rd and 1, Caldwell again called for a pass play, which was incomplete.  Facing a 20-0 deficit, the Ravens rightfully went for it on 4th down.  Flacco initially lined up in the shotgun with Rice to his right.  Just prior to the snap, the QB scooted under center and gave Rice the ball off tackle, where he was stopped for no gain.  Was that the play design coming out of a Baltimore time-out where the Ravens discussed a critical play-call?  If so, it looked sloppy at best, ill-executed at worst.

Those two 4th down failures didn’t cost the Ravens the game, but you can’t win football games in the NFL when you can’t pick up two yards and one yard with your season perhaps on the line.

Later, the Ravens made the wrong call on a field goal decision that all but sewed up the game for the visitors.  Trailing 20-0 and faced with a 4th and 5 at the Patriots’ 19 yard line early in the 4th quarter, John Harbaugh elected to send Justin Tucker on the field for a 36 yard field goal.  That Tucker would miss the field goal was almost poetic justice, for even if he would have connected, the Ravens still trailed by three scores at 20-3.  He missed it.

Sure, Tucker should make a 36-yarder every time, but the call there should have been to go for it on 4th down to try and get a TD on that series and make it a two score game.

If the game wasn’t over prior to Tucker attempting the field goal, it was over when he failed to connect.

The Baltimore offense has now scored one touchdown in its last eight quarters of action.  Six field goals last Monday night in Detroit and one “we don’t care if you score” TD allowed by New England on Sunday.  In fairness, one of those days where the ineptness of the offense finally catches up to the Ravens was bound to happen.  Other Sunday’s, Flacco and Company would figure out a way to put up a TD or two and add a few Justin Tucker field goals to win 23-20.

This was the Sunday where the football gods finally said, “You boys are gonna have to play some legit football on offense today.”

And, the Ravens didn’t answer the bell.

The Baltimore defense got picked apart early by Tom Brady, who used Julian Edelman like a fiddler with his bow.  When the Patriots took advantage of a pass interference call on Jimmy Smith in the end zone and a Flacco interception to go up 14-0, all they had to do from there was play smart, use the clock and not turn the ball over.  What quarterback in the world is better than doing those things than New England’s #12?

Brady expertly used the middle of the field as the Ravens’ secondary played a soft cover-2 that put little emphasis on physicality.

One week ago in Detroit, the Ravens defensive backs went toe-to-toe with Calvin Johnson from the first whistle and physically challenged him.

Against New England, there was very little of that press coverage scheme from Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham, although it’s fair to note Lardarius Webb was tight on his man most of the day.

The Baltimore defense put little pressure on the quarterback all afternoon.  Strong?  Yes.  Big in size?  Yes.  But the Ravens lack pace and speed in their defensive front seven and when they face a quick-release quarterback like the one in New England, there’s not much damage being done.

When Brady gets time to do his thing, it can get ugly.  Like it did on Sunday.

On the flip side, the Ravens offense was unable to solve the mystery of the New England defense that somehow constructed a method to beat Baltimore on the inside and give Flacco something to think about most of the day.  Horrible against the run, the Patriots weren’t challenged that much by Caldwell, who went to the air 42 times.  It was a weird combination, it seemed.  New England WANTED the Ravens to throw it and the Baltimore coaching staff did just that.

It all added up to the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era.  With their playoff lives on the line, the Ravens turned in a stinker for the ages, at home no less, and made next Sunday’s game in Cincinnati a must-win affair.

Everyone’s shorts smelled on Sunday.

The coaches had a long day.

The offense had a longer day.

And the defense, which played respectably overall, got a lesson in how Tom Brady operates when the calls and the balls are both working in his favor.  He’s tough to beat.

Hell, Justin Tucker missed a 36 yard field goal.

You know you’re not winning if that happens.

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens are no strangers to big games with the New England Patriots as the teams meet Sunday for the first time since last January’s AFC Championship with high postseason stakes once again involved.

New England entered Sunday needing only a win or a Miami loss to clinch its fifth straight AFC East division title while the Ravens can punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year with a win and losses by both Miami and San Diego. Of course, the Ravens still have visions for an AFC North championship but need a win or a Cincinnati loss in Week 16 to set up next week’s showdown with the Bengals as a division title game.

Watchful eyes will be on quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice as both are active but were limited in practices this week. During pre-game warmups, Flacco was moving around fairly well while sporting a brace on his left knee and throwing to tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Jacoby Jones.

Rice is dealing with a mild quadriceps injury that forced him out of Wednesday’s practice, but the sixth-year running back downplayed the significance of the ailment earlier in the week. The Patriots are 31st in the NFL in rush defense, so this matchup sets up nicely for Rice and backup Bernard Pierce to have productive days.

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil is active and will play despite being a late addition to the injury report on Friday. Like Flacco and Rice, he was listed as questionable, but the rush specialist will play against the Patriots after being limited in Friday’s practice with a lingering ankle injury.

Tight end Dallas Clark is inactive for the second time in three weeks despite being listed as probable on the final injury report with an illness. He was active against Detroit in Week 15, but the veteran did not play a snap.

The Patriots will be without left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) today after he was downgraded to out Saturday night. As a result, New England is expected to shift veteran left guard Logan Mankins to left tackle as they did last week when Solder suffered his second concussion in as many weeks.

New England wideout Aaron Dobson is active and will provide a 6-foot-3 target in the red zone for a Patriots offense that struggled in that capacity last week in Miami.

Including the playoffs, Sunday marks the seventh time these teams have met in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens and Patriots splitting the series. Despite Baltimore’s postseason success against quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, New England is 6-1 all-time in the regular season against the Ravens.

Unseasonably warm temperatures reaching the low 70s and a 60-percent chance of rain — with the possibility of a thunderstorm — are in the forecast with winds up to 11 miles per hour for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ron Winter.

The Ravens will wear purple jerseys with black pants while New England sports white jerseys with dark blue pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Asa Jackson
S Omar Brown
LB Albert McClellan
C Ryan Jensen
WR Deonte Thompson
TE Dallas Clark
DT Brandon Williams

NEW ENGLAND
LT Nate Solder
TE D.J. Williams
LB Dane Fletcher
WR Josh Boyce
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
DT Isaac Sopoaga
DE Jake Bequette

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage from M&T Bank Stadium.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The Ravens renew what’s become one of the best rivalries in the NFL in recent years Sunday when the New England Patriots pay a visit with playoff implications for both sides.

A rematch of the last two AFC Championship games is compelling enough, but the Ravens enter Sunday with a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth straight year with a win and losses by Miami and San Diego. New England will clinch its fifth consecutive AFC East division title with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

These teams have dealt with their fair share of changes since the last time they met in Foxborough last January, but they find themselves in a familiar position with new faces emerging to replace the big names of past years. Counting the postseason, Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Patriots have met in the John Harbaugh era — it’s been a 3-3 split — with few teams having as much success against New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as Baltimore.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to clinch another winning season under Harbaugh and set up an AFC North championship game against Cincinnati in Week 17. Baltimore is just 1-6 in the all-time regular-season series against New England, but the Ravens hold a 2-1 edge over the Patriots in the postseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to continue their four-game winning streak and keep themselves in position for January football …

1. Joe Flacco’s knee injury will affect his mobility, contributing to him being sacked four times for the first time since late November. One of the major factors for Flacco’s improved play down the stretch has been his ability to move around in the pocket and occasionally take off to gain yards on the ground, but the mild MCL sprain of his left knee figures to impact that to some extent. Trying to assess Flacco’s mobility during practices this week was impossible as quarterbacks only played catch from a stationary position during the open portion of practices, but he was still dealing with some swelling late in the week. The Baltimore offensive line has only allowed five sacks over the last three games, but Flacco will be more likely to stay in the pocket this week, leading to a few more sacks with defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich coming off the edges.

2. New England cornerback Aqib Talib will match up with Dennis Pitta, but the Ravens tight end will catch a touchdown. The Patriots have used the 6-foot-1 Talib against talented tight ends such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Miami’s Charles Clay, so don’t be surprised to see him covering Pitta from the slot position while New England tries to use Cover 2 to contain the deep-ball threats of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside. Talib is listed as probable on the final injury report, but he’s been dealing with a nagging hip issue, which might explain why defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick moved him inside last week in Miami. Talib will prevent Pitta from having a huge day, but Flacco will still find his favorite target inside the red zone for a touchdown after the tight end wasn’t targeted once in three red-zone trips last week in Detroit.

3. Brady will find rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a touchdown to help the Patriots’ recent red-zone woes. New England ranks 16th in the league in red-zone offense, and the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski has only made that area of the field more problematic for the future Hall of Fame quarterback as he lacks a big target to throw to. The Patriots were only 1-for-4 inside the 20 in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, but the return of the 6-foot-3 Dobson will help complement smaller receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Ravens must also keep tabs on Shane Vereen and his receiving abilities out of the backfield, but the league’s fourth-ranked red-zone defense will make the Patriots scratch and claw all day. Even with their personnel losses, the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in points scored and Brady will connect with Dobson for a touchdown.

4. Backup running back Bernard Pierce will earn a season high for rushing yards with Ray Rice less than 100 percent. Rice and the Ravens have downplayed the mild quadriceps strain he suffered in the Week 15 win over the Lions, but it’s difficult not to be concerned considering how tough this season has been for the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Pierce has experienced his own struggles — averaging only 2.8 yards per carry — behind an offensive line that’s underperformed. If the Patriots do match up Talib with Pitta and rely on two high safeties against the vertical threat, the Ravens will receive better looks in the box against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense that’s surrendered 132.5 yards per game. It’s difficult to trust the Ravens to run the ball effectively against anyone at this point, but Pierce will eclipse his season high of 65 rushing yards set in Week 3.

5. An improved effort inside the 20-yard line will go a long way as the Ravens win a 23-17 final over New England. Baltimore has won four straight games but has only gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over that stretch, leaving a slim margin for error and too much reliance on kicker Justin Tucker. That being said, Flacco has gotten the best of Brady in recent years and the Ravens are feeling more urgency than the Patriots with their playoff positioning. Sunday will be a nail-biter and you can never count out Brady when the stakes are high, but the Ravens will once again rise to the occasion to finish 7-1 at home. The offense will have a respectable effort on the ground and make a few big plays through the air to complement another strong defensive effort as the Ravens set up a massive Week 17 showdown with the Bengals.

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Flacco, Rice, Dumervil listed as questionable for Sunday’s game

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Flacco, Rice, Dumervil listed as questionable for Sunday’s game

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have no doubt that Joe Flacco will be available to play in Sunday’s critical meeting with the New England Patriots, but how effective the quarterback will be remains to be seen.

He along with running back Ray Rice and linebacker Elvis Dumervil were listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week after all three were limited in practice on Friday. Dumervil was a new addition to the injury report as it appears the ankle injury he suffered on Thanksgiving night continues to be an issue.

Flacco practiced on a limited basis for a third consecutive day and he’s only played catch during the media viewing portions of workouts, leaving observers to wonder just how mobile he is after suffering a mild medial collateral ligament sprain in Monday’s win over the Detroit Lions. The sixth-year quarterback will wear a brace on his left knee to protect its stability as the Ravens try to remain in position for a playoff spot in the AFC.

“He looked good. I don’t know if there’s a progression,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He looked pretty much the same all week and he got through all the practices and took his reps. He did well.”

Over the course of Baltimore’s four-game winning streak to elevate their record to 8-6, Flacco has shown good mobility in occasionally taking off to gain yards on the ground and to extend plays by eluding pressure in the pocket. A more-statuesque Flacco would put immense pressure on an offensive line that has been inconsistent in allowing him to be sacked a career-worst 42 times this season.

Flacco has gained 130 yards on 24 rushing attempts this season, averaging a career-high 5.4 yards per carry. Interestingly enough, he is on pace to set a career low in carries despite being so productive when he takes off.

“He’s always been a mobile quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “Go back to his very first game against the Bengals [with a 38-yard touchdown run in 2008]. If you’re saying people don’t take stock of that, they probably haven’t been paying attention. That’s definitely a big part of his game and it’s made a difference for us in a lot of games this year so far.”

Rice practiced for a second straight day as he has nursed a mild quadriceps strain that surfaced on his final run from scrimmage against the Lions. The sixth-year back was a non-participant in Wednesday’s workout but downplayed the significance of the injury and is expected to play.

Acknowledging earlier in the week to the New England media that his early-season hip flexor strain has continued to be an issue, Rice has looked more explosive in recent weeks, making his thigh injury a concerning development for the Ravens.

Harbaugh would not reveal whether Rice’s injury is related to his hip.

“You know I’m not going to get into all that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s on the injury report and that’s what it is. What the injury report says is what it is.”

Dumervil’s status is unclear after he wasn’t listed on the injury report before Friday. Harbaugh was available Friday before the final injury report was released, so it’s unknown whether Dumervil suffered a setback during the workout.

The Ravens’ only other question marks in terms of game-day status are linebacker Albert McClellan (neck) and cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring). Neither player practiced all week as Baltimore listed McClellan as questionable and Jackson as doubtful for Sunday’s game. It’s worth noting that McClellan, a key special-teams contributor, missed several weeks of practices earlier in the year without missing a game despite a lingering shoulder issue.

Meanwhile, New England ruled out wide receiver Josh Boyce and listed seven players as questionable, with the most significant concern being left tackle Nate Solder. The offensive lineman suffered his second concussion in as many weeks last Sunday but practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.

Others listed as questionable for New England included rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Alonzo Dennard, and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

After a mild week in terms of any potential trash talk between these teams who’ve met in plenty of meaningful games over the last five years, Patriots safety Devin McCourty provided some bulletin board material to get the Ravens’ attention ahead of Sunday’s game. McCourty acknowledged hating the Ravens “a little bit” and admitted New England clinching its fifth consecutive AFC East title wouldn’t be the only goal on his mind.

“I’ll put it this way: there would be no better feeling than us beating them Sunday and…we eliminate their season right there,” McCourty told Comcast SportsNet New England. “For me and a lot of my teammates, there’d be no better feeling.”

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ron Winter.

The forecast is calling for unseasonably warm temperatures approach 71 degrees, but there is a 60-percent chance of rain that could include thunderstorms and winds around 20 miles per hour. Of course, it’s just the latest example of unusual weather this season as the Ravens have endured two weather-related delays, high winds, significant snow, and even a tornado warning at different points.

“Thunderstorms go with lightning, so that could be a delay,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “We won’t be surprised if that happens.”

It was also announced Friday that Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy was not fined for his helmet shot delivered just below Flacco’s knee that wasn’t penalized during the game. However, Ravens safety Matt Elam was fined $7,875 for unnecessary roughness on his hit delivered to a sliding Matthew Stafford.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), QB Joe Flacco (knee), LB Albert McClellan (neck), RB Ray Rice (thigh)
PROBABLE: TE Dallas Clark (illness), S Brynden Trawick (ankle)

NEW ENGLAND
OUT: WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Kyle Arrington (groin), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Aaron Dobson (foot), LB Dane Fletcher (groin), T Nate Solder (concussion), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
PROBABLE: WR Danny Amendola (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), S Steve Gregory (finger), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), T Will Svitek (ankle), CB Aqib Talib (hip)

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Ravens vs. New England — It’s a “7-Star Lock” game

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Ravens vs. New England — It’s a “7-Star Lock” game

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

You know how it goes in gambling.

There are games you “like”, games you “feel good about” and games where you say, “it’s a lock!”

I have a slam-dunk thing called the “7-Star Lock” that I only bring out for very special occasions.

I’ve only used the “7-Star Lock” twice this season.

It hit both times.

The first go-round was in Baltimore last month when the Ravens edged the Bengals 20-17 in overtime.  The Friday before, I ended our award-winning segment – “Picks and Comment” – with the stunning revelation that the game in Baltimore two days later was “the lock of all locks”.  Hence, the reason it was a 7-Star Lock.

You just don’t label a game a 7-Star Lock unless you know it’s a done deal.

In fact, the 7-Star Lock is just like a honeybee.  When a honeybee stings you, that’s essentially its final act, as it will perish hours later.

If the 7-Star Lock ever fails, it, too, is dead.  A 7-Star Lock can only be used while owning a perfect record.

Anyway, following the successful application of the 7-SL on the Bengals in Baltimore (“I don’t care what you say, Cincinnati isn’t coming to Baltimore and beating the Ravens this Sunday…”), I took a few weeks off before finding another 7-SL game.

Last Sunday in Miami, I called the Dolphins over New England a 7-Star Lock for the hometown ‘Fins.

You can up that record to 2-0 on 7-SL’s this season.

Oddly enough, New England will once again be involved in a 7-Star Lock game.  It’s this Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.

Baltimore 26 – New England 13

And, yes, you can make that a 7-Star Lock.

New England’s not coming to Baltimore and winning on Sunday.  They don’t have enough offense, even though they have the best QB in the league.  They don’t have a defense that can stop the Ravens long enough to let the referees work their expected late-game magic for Bill Belichick’s team.

They have a very good kicker.

The Ravens have a great one.

New England doesn’t have to win the game.

Baltimore does.

The Ravens don’t lose big home games.  Not under John Harbaugh, anyway.  Not in December.

The last time the Ravens spit the bit in a home game of this kind of magnitude was January 13, 2007 when the ’06 campaign ended abruptly with a 15-6 loss to the Colts in the AFC playoffs.

Ain’t happenin’ this Sunday in Baltimore, trust me.

Ravens in a romp.

Book it.

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s the dirty little secret that can’t be overlooked despite a four-game winning streak that’s put the Ravens in control of their path to a sixth consecutive playoff appearance as they welcome the New England Patriots to Baltimore on Sunday.

While improving on a 4-6 start to move two games above .500 with their Monday win over the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. Finishing drives inside the 20 with a touchdown just 42.9 percent of the time, coach John Harbaugh and his team know they can’t continue to depend on good fortune and 61-yard field goals to overcome the league’s 29th-ranked red-zone offense.

But fixing the problem is easier said than done at this late stage in the season.

“There are things that we’ve come up with that we’ve noticed that we have addressed and will continue to work on,” Harbaugh said. “That’s as much as I would like to share with you at this time.”

Of course, the Ravens coach doesn’t feel like broadcasting the details, but a simple look at the offensive personnel makes it easier to explain. A strong running game is clearly ideal once you push closer to the goal line, but the Ravens’ struggles in that department are nothing new by now.

The Ravens’ passing game largely depends on the speed of receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but the red zone is constricted and depends more on size and precision, two areas in which there have been deficiencies this season. Until the recent return of tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have lacked a big receiving target inside the 20 beyond rookie Marlon Brown, who has made plays but needs to run more precise routes to be a consistent threat.

And while veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley — the latter now on injured reserve — earned reputations as brilliant route-runners earlier in their career, their declining speed neutralized their ability to find windows in coverage near the goal line this season.

Those shortcomings along with some untimely penalties have added up to a small margin for error that quarterback Joe Flacco has often been unable to overcome, forcing the Ravens to depend on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker to convert field goals. In their 18-16 win over the Lions, the Ravens were 0-for-3 on trips inside the 20 and needed a franchise-record six field goals to pull off the victory.

“Just little things, one thing here and one thing there,” Flacco said. “When you don’t take advantage of the one play that you get down there to score a touchdown or if you are giving yourself one play to do it, if you have one little slip up, then you are putting yourselves in a tough situation to really convert and put the ball in the end zone. That is kind of what happened to us the other night. We didn’t take advantage of some of the good opportunities we had and left ourselves in bad situations and then didn’t convert.”

The Ravens hope that Pitta’s return will boost their shoddy red-zone play over the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond, but the play-making tight end wasn’t targeted once in their three red-zone trips against the Lions and finished the game with only two catches for 24 yards.

His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and reputation for running exceptional routes should help considerably on both third down and near the goal line, but Pitta acknowledged that Detroit used some bracketed coverage to neutralize his dangerous abilities.

The book is certainly out by now on his reputation as Flacco’s favorite target on the current roster.

“It just depends on who is open, what coverages they deploy, and how we respond to them,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That could change up. Some guys are going to have big games; some guys are not going to have a great game. We usually have somebody that shows up week after week.”

Of course, Sunday’s game will provide a major test in future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but the Patriots have been dealing with their own offensive struggles with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury and the recent absences of rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Entering Week 16 ranked 16th in the league in red-zone offense, the Patriots were 1-for-4 inside the 20 in their loss to Miami last Sunday — their first game since Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury — as Brady was forced to throw to 5-foot-10 Julian Edelman and 5-foot-11 Danny Amendola inside the 20. The two are talented route-runners and productive receivers, but they are targets unable to go up and get the ball in traffic like the Pro Bowl tight end Gronkowski.

With the 6-foot-3 Dobson back at practice this week, he and talented receiving back Shane Vereen are likely to see opportunities when New England moves inside the red zone, but neither should be considered an easy fix to the Patriots’ offensive problems.

That said, the 10-4 Patriots have found success throughout the year despite Gronkowski missing all but seven games this season. Much like Flacco adjusting to life without Pitta and departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Brady has continued to succeed without the likes of Gronkowski, former slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez this season.

“When they haven’t been full-strength, they have found ways to win football games,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve had a lot of those same situations, and we’re just now starting to capitalize on them and win them. Earlier in the year, we probably weren’t able to win quite as much, and these guys have.

The casts have noticeably changed on each side of the ball, but Sunday’s contest is still likely to come down to which quarterback makes more plays as Flacco has gotten the best of Brady over the last few meetings between the teams, including last January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s apparent that neither offense is clicking on all cylinders with the end of the season quickly approaching, putting more expectations on each signal-caller to carry his team on his back. The Ravens have essentially been in must-win mode for the better part of a month while New England still needs one more win to lock up its fifth consecutive AFC East championship.

The battle inside the 20 will be critical like always, but the Ravens will be facing the league’s 21st-ranked red-zone defense while the Patriots must deal with the fourth-ranked unit in those situations and Brady has often struggled against Baltimore’s defensive schemes throughout his career.

Both Flacco and Brady will need to be at their best to give their flawed units a chance to succeed in what figures to be another classic matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. But with so many changes everywhere you look on these rosters, the spotlight will be even brighter on the quarterbacks than usual.

“Being able to execute under pressure, being smart, knowing the situation, keeping their poise, knowing how to handle [adversity],” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “[It’s] all the things — the play, the defense, clock management — [and] just good situational football. Each situation is a little bit different, no matter how much you practice it or how many situations you practice. [It’s about] being able to adjust and have that gamesmanship, poise and intelligence on the field to make good decisions at critical times.”

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Rice, Flacco practice on limited basis Thursday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received good news Thursday with the return to the practice field of running back Ray Rice as they continued preparations for Sunday’s showdown with the New England Patriots.

Rice practiced on a limited basis a day after sitting out with what was listed as a thigh injury. It appears Rice’s day off was more precautionary than anything after he was present for Wednesday’s practice despite being listed as a non-participant on the official injury report.

The sixth-year back felt his quadriceps tighten up slightly during his 19-yard run to close out the 18-16 win over Detroit, which explains why he elected to go down on the play rather than try to score a touchdown. It has been assumed by most observes that Rice simply wanted to run out the clock without giving the ball back to the Lions with under 30 seconds remaining.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (knee) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day as quarterbacks only played stationary catch during the portion of practice open to media on Thursday. The sixth-year quarterback suffered a mild MCL sprain in Monday night’s win over Detroit and will wear a brace on his left knee, but he is fully expected to play.

It remains a mystery how mobile Flacco will be on Sunday with the open portions of practice not revealing much in terms of his movement.

“If they can take the field, they can play,” said offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell on how Flacco’s health could impact Sunday’s game plan. “Obviously, the doctors will make that determination. Joe has been practicing and we fully anticipate he’ll be able to do his job.”

Tight end Dallas Clark was a full participant on Thursday a day after missing practice due to an illness.

Linebacker Albert McClellan (neck) and cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring) missed their second straight day of practice as the status of both players remains up in the air.

Meanwhile, the Patriots received good news as starting left tackle Nate Solder returned to the practice field on a limited basis after suffering his second concussion in as many weeks in New England’s Week 15 loss at Miami. It remains unclear whether he has been cleared for contact, but his presence at practice paints a more positive picture for his status than many had suggested earlier in the week.

Rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) both practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, which bodes well for their prospects of returning to game action.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) was limited once again, but head coach Bill Belichick is known as a notorious manipulator of the injury report and the future Hall of Fame signal-caller is not considered to be in any danger of missing Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Asa Jackson (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (knee), RB Ray Rice (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Dallas Clark (illness), S Brynden Trawick (ankle)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Danny Amendola (groin), CB Kyle Arrington (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Aaron Dobson (foot), LB Dane Fletcher (groin), S Steve Gregory (finger), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), T Nate Solder (concussion), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Will Svitek (ankle), CB Aqib Talib (hip), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

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Flacco limited, Rice sits out during Wednesday’s practice

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Flacco limited, Rice sits out during Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 18 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Taking the practice field less than 48 hours after injuring his left knee in the Ravens’ 18-16 win over Detroit, quarterback Joe Flacco was present in what was little more than a walk-through on Wednesday afternoon.

Sporting a brace underneath his pants, Flacco played catch and wasn’t moving with a noticeable limp during the media viewing portion of practice, but none of the Baltimore quarterbacks were doing much in the first 30 minutes of a workout that didn’t include helmets. Flacco is expected take it easy over the next couple days, but he isn’t considered to be in any danger of missing Sunday’s contest against the New England Patriots.

A magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a mild MCL sprain in Flacco’s left knee, according to an ESPN report.

“He went through practice today on a limited basis, and we listed him as limited today,” said coach John Harbaugh, who acknowledged cringing when he saw the replay of the helmet shot delivered to Flacco’s knee by Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy. “We’ll just take it the rest of the week on a day-by-day basis, but we do anticipate that he will play. We’ll see where we’ll go from there.”

Flacco described the brace as “a little bit” uncomfortable, but he confirmed that he will wear it during Sunday’s game whether he needs to or not to prevent further injury. He has experienced stiffness and swelling since hurting the knee midway through the fourth quarter Monday night, but the knee is getting better, according to the quarterback.

The sixth-year signal-caller admitted he was initially scared when he was hit and hesitated to get up in fear of there something being seriously wrong with the knee. Sunday will mark the first time Flacco has worn a knee brace during an NFL game, but the University of Delaware product said he wore one on his left knee during his junior year after suffering an injury to his medial collateral ligament.

“I got up and I put a little pressure on it and was able to run off the field and all that,” Flacco said. “You’ve got to feel pretty good about that. You’re able to go back out there and do everything. My mind was at ease as soon as I got up, so that wasn’t that big of an issue.”

There is little doubt that Flacco will play on Sunday, but how effectively he can move around remains to be seen with the viewing portions of practice unlikely to reveal anything of real substance this week. Recently, Flacco has shown a willingness to not only take off and gain yards on the ground but to escape pressure in the pocket to extend plays and make throws downfield.

Flacco has never missed a game in his professional career — making 107 starts including postseason games — and has the third-longest consecutive games played streak among active quarterbacks, trailing only New York’s Eli Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers. His durability is considered one of his biggest strengths and has allowed the Ravens not to feel the need to invest heavily in a backup quarterback in recent years.

“That is one of the first things you think about when you get hit there and you go down,” Flacco said. “You’re like, ‘Shoot, I better not be able to not be able to play.’ I’m definitely very proud of that. At some point, it may happen that I can’t go out there and start a football game, but we’re going to try to hold that off for a while.”

Though he was present on the practice field while the Ravens worked indoors, running back Ray Rice was listed as a non-participant for Wednesday’s workout with a thigh injury. He rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries against Detroit, which represent his second-highest yards per carry average (4.7) this season.

Rice did not appear to be in serious pain after Monday’s game or during practice and could have simply received a day off on Wednesday as the Ravens periodically do with veteran players. His mere presence on the field is a good indication that his injury is unlikely to be serious.

Tight end Dallas Clark (illness), linebacker Albert McClellan (neck), and cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring) were also absent from Wednesday’s practice, but only Jackson came away with a reported injury from the win over the Lions. Clark was active for Monday’s game but did not play at all.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle) was present and working during Wednesday’s practice after returning to action in Week 15 and playing 33 of 65 defensive snaps.

The Patriots were without starting left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) during their Wednesday practice as the starting lineman is once again dealing with a concussion.

As is typically the case, New England head coach Bill Belichick listed a number of players as limited participants, including quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), and wide receivers Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip).

Here is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Dallas Clark (illness), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (neck), RB Ray Rice (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Brynden Trawick (ankle)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Josh Boyce (ankle), T Nate Solder (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Danny Amendola (groin), CB Kyle Arrington (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Aaron Dobson (foot), LB Dane Fletcher (groin), S Steve Gregory (finger), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Will Svitek (ankle), CB Aqib Talib (hip), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Lions

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Lions

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions Monday night at Ford Field…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Louis Delmas called for unnecessary roughness after Joe Flacco pass intended for Marlon Brown incomplete on 3rd down (2nd quarter)

Ended up giving the Ravens three points in a spot where they would have gotten nothing.

4. Daryl Smith sacks Matthew Stafford for five yard loss at Baltimore 47 (1st quarter)

Lions had moved the ball at will on first two drives until this play, game appeared to be headed to a shootout or even a blowout.

3. Matt Elam intercepts Matthew Stafford pass intended for Nate Burleson (4th quarter)

The “ender”.

2. Jacoby Jones 27 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 15 (4th quarter)

The significance of this play has somehow been lost.

1. Justin Tucker 61 yard field goal GOOD (4th quarter)

I still don’t believe it.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Banged-up Flacco declares himself fine after injury scare

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Banged-up Flacco declares himself fine after injury scare

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Luke Jones

After taking a shot to his left knee midway through the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ 18-16 win over Detroit, Joe Flacco indicated that his health will not be a major concern moving forward.

The sixth-year quarterback was hit just below the knee by Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy and was examined by team medical personnel on the sideline as backup Tyrod Taylor warmed up, but he did not miss any snaps before orchestrating a 25-yard drive that resulted in the game-winning 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker with 38 seconds remaining.

National outlets report that Flacco will take it easy for a couple days and be fitted for a knee brace, but he is not expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

“It wasn’t really bothering me after the initial hit,” Flacco told reporters in Detroit. “I was probably more scared than anything from just what I felt and also just trying to get a couple of yards out of it. Yeah, it feels fine. It feels strong.”

Flacco expressed displeasure after the game that a penalty wasn’t called for a low hit to the quarterback, but he benefited from a Detroit scoring drive of almost six minutes to regain his bearings before the final offensive drive.

The 2008 first-round pick has never missed a game in his professional career, and it appears there are no major concerns that his status would be in jeopardy for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. There were no immediate plans for the quarterback to undergo magnetic resonance testing on the left knee.

“That was tough,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “He got a helmet right below the knee, so that will be something that I’m sure [the NFL will] take a look at. He fought through that. Joe Flacco is a tough guy, and he’s a great player in crunch time.”

Flacco went 20-for-38 for 222 yards and completed a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones on third-and-15 to put the Ravens within Tucker’s range on the final drive.

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