Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ worst fear became reality Monday as tight end Dennis Pitta underwent surgery on his dislocated right hip and will miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news a day after Pitta injured his hip for the second time in 14 months, leaving many to ponder his future after he was injured while trying to turn up field while catching a simple short pass in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-21 win over the Browns. Pitta remained hospitalized in a Cleveland hospital overnight before undergoing the surgical procedure Monday afternoon.

“We do not have the results of the surgery, specifically, yet,” Harbaugh said. “We do know that he’s going to be done for the season.”

Pitta’s absence now leaves the Ravens to rely more heavily on veteran Owen Daniels, rookie Crockett Gillmore, and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has the versatility to line up at the tight end position and caught three passes for 54 yards on Sunday. Harbaugh acknowledged that the organization will be looking to add another tight end, but it remains unclear whether the Ravens will promote Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad.

The disappointing news for Pitta comes so soon after a rigorous four-month rehab last year that allowed him to return for the final four games of the regular season after initially injuring his hip on July 27, 2013. Some medical experts have offered opinions that Pitta’s career could be over after suffering a second traumatic injury to the same hip.

For now, the Ravens will await the initial results and hope there wasn’t significant damage to the hip area beyond the dislocation and a likely fracture. The first injury did not damage any ligaments or cartilage, which helped facilitate a quicker return, but medical experts will surely look at the structure of his hip with even more scrutiny this time.

“I don’t know the ramifications of that long term,” Harbaugh said. “The specialists will probably give us some information on that, so I really don’t know. I’m going to be really hopeful for Dennis’ return, and I’m sure we’ll learn about that in the coming weeks.”

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Report: Ravens immediately learned graphic details of Rice incident

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Report: Ravens immediately learned graphic details of Rice incident

Posted on 19 September 2014 by Luke Jones

On the same day in which a Ray Rice jersey exchange was held and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed remorse without divulging any specifics in an afternoon press conference, a report attempted to shed light on the Ravens’ mishandling and potential coverup of the running back’s domestic violence incident.

According to an ESPN report, Ravens director of security Darren Sanders spoke to an Atlantic City police officer who’d watched the now-infamous video hours after the February incident and learned the explicit details of what transpired between Rice and then-fiancée Janay Palmer. Sanders then relayed that information to team officials, but it remains unclear whom he spoke with directly.

Upon the TMZ release of the first video just four days after the incident, head coach John Harbaugh and senior personnel assistant George Kokinis reportedly recommended that the organization release Rice, but team owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and team president Dick Cass rejected the suggestion, instead choosing to stand by the troubled running back. After offensive lineman Jah Reid became the third Ravens player arrested in the offseason, Harbaugh again approached team officials about releasing Rice, Reid, and wide receiver Deonte Thompson — the other player arrested in the offseason at that point — but was rejected again, according to ESPN.

The Ravens denied these allegations in a statement included in the ESPN piece saying, “John Harbaugh did not want to release Ray Rice until he saw the second video on September 8 for the first time. The video changed everything for all of us.”

Harbaugh was the only member of the Ravens’ brass to meet with reporters on the day Rice’s contract was terminated.

The report does not indicate that the Ravens ever had a copy of the video showing what happened inside the elevator, but Cass spoke to Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, in early April after the defense team had acquired a copy of the elevator security video from the Revel Casino via subpoena. ESPN reports that Rice’s lawyer told Cass that what was on the video was “f—ing horrible” and it was apparent that “Ray knocked her the f— out.”

Cass reportedly never asked Diamondstein for a copy of the video — the NFL didn’t either — and instead continued to urge Rice’s defense team to gain acceptance for their client into a pretrial intervention program that would not only eliminate the possibility of prison time but prevent the elevator video from ever being made public.

ESPN cited four sources indicating that Ravens officials — including Bisciotti, Cass, and Newsome — continued to push for only a two-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in disciplining their star running back. The report also indicated that the organization believed Goodell had viewed the video, imploring Rice to tell the entire truth when he met with the commissioner in June.

Upon releasing Rice when the second video was released by TMZ on Sept. 8, Bisciotti sent Rice a text message stating the following:

Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.

When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.

In an interview with The Sun last week, Newsome maintained that Rice had told the truth about what was on the graphic video throughout the process while Cass and Bisciotti have indicated in interviews that his story didn’t necessarily align with what they saw on the video for the first time on the morning of Sept. 8.

In a press conference held earlier in the day in New York, Goodell reiterated that he mishandled the Rice case with the initial two-game suspension handed down on July 25.

“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter, and I’m sorry for that,” Goodell said. “The same mistakes can never be repeated.”

 

 

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Ravens cornerback Jackson leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

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Ravens cornerback Jackson leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already playing without Lardarius Webb in Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens were dealt another blow in their secondary when cornerback Asa Jackson sustained a concussion in the second quarter of the 26-6 win.

The injury left the Ravens with only two active cornerbacks after Webb missed his second straight game while continuing to work his way back to full health from a back injury sustained at the start of training camp. In an unorthodox move, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used strong safety Matt Elam at the nickel position with reserve Jeromy Miles playing safety next to Darian Stewart in the secondary.

Jackson made his first NFL start as he received the nod over last week’s starter Chykie Brown in place of Webb.

“Asa had a concussion, and I don’t think it’s too major,” head coach John Harbaugh said following the game. “But again, you never know with those things.”

The Ravens are hopeful that Webb will be ready to return against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, but his status remains in question until he finally plays in a game after practicing fully these last two weeks. Webb said Tuesday he expected to play against the Steelers before he was held out once again.

Harbaugh acknowledged there were two other players who sustained ankle and knee injuries, respectively, but downplayed the significance of either. He did not name which players were dealing with those conditions following the game as the Ravens will now wait nine days to play their next contest.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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Will Ravens rise to occasion after tumultuous week?

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Will Ravens rise to occasion after tumultuous week?

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

A national audience will be hoping the Ravens fail when they take on the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

Virtually everyone outside Baltimore will be rooting against an organization viewed in a negative light for its handling of the Ray Rice saga over the last seven months before the ultimate release of the disgraced running back earlier this week. The integrity of the organization has come into question as owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in a letter Tuesday that the Ravens needed to do more to investigate what happened between Rice and then-fiancée Janay Palmer instead of simply deferring to the New Jersey legal system.

Needless to say, it’s been a rocky 19 months for the Ravens since winning Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, 2013. In addition to Rice, four players on the current 53-man roster were arrested this offseason while there have been other examples of questionable choices — don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the “Sweet Pea” saga — over the last 12 months or so.

The former heart and soul of the Ravens — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — have both questioned leadership at different times over the last calendar year. The roster turnover has been clear with only 25 members of the current 53-man roster having been with the organization for Super Bowl XLVII. Veteran leaders have departed in addition to Lewis and Reed, including Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk.

And even if too much emphasis is put on the impact of leadership and off-field issues in terms of on-field results, Baltimore has gone a mediocre 8-9 in the regular season since raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. However you want to explain it, the Ravens haven’t been particularly good since winning their second NFL championship.

Is it fair to ask if the Ravens, who long held an excellent reputation, have lost their way? There’s little disputing that the aura of the organization has taken a severe hit over how it handled the Rice situation over these last seven months.

“I don’t think of it that way,” said head coach John Harbaugh when asked if he’s concerned about the Ravens’ image taking a hit. “You do your best with the situations that are put before you and try to handle things the right way and do the right thing.”

Shifting their attention back to the field after a few difficult days, the Ravens are as close as you get to facing a “must-win” game in Week 2 as they’ve already lost to the Cincinnati Bengals and would fall to 0-2 with a defeat to the hated Steelers Thursday night. According to NFL Network research, no team has ever made the playoffs after dropping two divisional games at home to start a season.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have dealt with difficult losses before and have consistently answered the bell in the face of adversity. But Rice’s release stems from something that goes beyond football or the business of the salary cap. It isn’t the loss of a standout player because of retirement or a season-ending injury but due to his cruel actions that the entire world saw on video Monday morning.

And players have faced more questions about Rice than ones about what it will take to slow Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers this week. The focus began to shift on Tuesday when some semblance of normalcy — in the context of preparing for a football game, of course — returned to the facility in Owings Mills, but the challenge of playing on a short week is hefty enough despite the Ravens owning the home-field advantage and seeing a familiar opponent.

“We’re going to be playing really soon, so we have to get our minds right,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “But more importantly, we have to do everything we can to physically feel good by the time that whistle blows on Thursday night, and that’s what we’re doing.”

While everyone else will be talking about the individual who is no longer with the organization on Thursday night, the Ravens must focus on getting off to a much quicker start offensively while also trying to slow a Steelers offense that produced 30 points and 490 yards against what was expected to be a good Cleveland defense last week. The general consensus among the so-called experts before the season was that Baltimore and Pittsburgh were fairly evenly matched — both finished 8-8 last year — so the the Ravens will need to hold serve on their home field and put the bad taste of last week’s loss behind them.

Over the course of his seven-year run in Baltimore, Harbaugh has typically been able to rally his team in these types of games to perform at their best and secure a much-needed win. But he hasn’t dealt with a situation quite like this before.

And there is evidence of cracks in the foundation — both on and off the field — since the Ravens reached the pinnacle of the NFL less than two years ago. We saw it late last year when the Ravens were 8-6 and needed only one win to secure their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason before losing their final two games by a combined 51 points.

A win calms nerves and puts the Ravens back at .500 as they receive the extra rest that follows a Thursday night game before preparing for a third straight division game. A defeat puts the Ravens in an early-season hole in the AFC North while the rest of the world mocks their misfortune.

The best teams come together under these circumstances, even when their organization is guilty of its own mistakes as the Ravens were with Rice. The lesser ones wilt under such adversity.

The Ravens know they already face a crucial game Thursday with the season less than a week old. They’re out to prove they haven’t lost their way on the field.

“It’s everything. You don’t want to come out of an 0-2 hole, especially giving up two at home,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Wins in the NFL are hard to come by, so that’s why you’ve got to win your home games. We unfortunately dropped one; [the Bengals] cashed in and they won one — a division game. We’ve definitely got to cover up some ground, but it all starts with this one on Thursday.”

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Full transcript of John Harbaugh’s Monday press conference

Posted on 09 September 2014 by WNST Staff

TEAM RELEASE

Opening statement: “I want to thank everybody for being here, and we appreciate you being here. We had a good practice coming off the tough game yesterday, and we’re going to work on our next game. Obviously, you’re here for more than just that. We had a chance – after seeing something this morning – after seeing the video this morning, we had a chance to get together with Steve [Bisciotti], Dick [Cass], Ozzie [Newsome] and myself, and we had a meeting. It was not a long meeting, and we came to the decision that we came to, to release Ray [Rice]. And that’s what we did. So, you know that. I had a chance to talk to Ray along with Ozzie this afternoon after we did it. [We have] nothing but hope and goodwill for Ray and Janay, and we’ll do whatever we can going forward to help them as they go forward and try to make the best of it.”

John, what was it like to see that video? “It’s something we saw for the first time today – all of us – and it changed things, of course. It made things a little bit different.”

John, did Ray Rice mislead you? Were you mislead in anyway, because you stood up here and defended the guy, and now you see the video and make this decision? “I don’t want to get into all that. I don’t think of it that way. Everything I said, in terms of what I believe, I stand behind. I believe that still, and I’ll always believe those things. And we’ll always stand and support them as a couple, and that’s not going to change.”

Coach, how come the team wasn’t able to see the video until today? “I have no answer for that.”

John, as a football team, how do you feel as far as what you’ll have in the backfield? “Well, we will have exactly what we’ve had so far. We have the guys that we have, and I’m excited about our offense. I’m excited about some of the things we did yesterday in terms of yards and points and our opportunities to score points. We need to score more points and first downs and things like that. I know we can play a lot better than we did, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we do.”

John, you said it changed for you. How did it change after seeing the video? “I don’t know if I want to get into all the details about it. I think it’s pretty obvious and pretty apparent. Everybody [has] seen the video, and we’ll leave it at that.”

Coach, do you believe the NFL has seen the video before today? “I don’t have any understanding or knowledge of any of that. I don’t know.”

Was there discussion between the Ravens and NFL today before you both came to the conclusion? “Not that I’m involved with. I’m involved right now with the football team and getting ready for Pittsburgh.”

You came into the league when Ray Rice came into the NFL as a head coach. You had a strong relationship with him. This has to be personally kind of devastating to you. “It’s always … When someone that you care about does wrong and is faced with the consequences of doing wrong – and rightfully so – it is tough, it is hurtful. My pain is for both of them as a couple and going forward. My hope is that they can make it work. From everything that I understand in talking to Ray up until his suspension – talking to him a lot – it seemed like they really were working hard and really doing well in that direction. I hope they can weather this part of it, too. And I’ll be praying for that. If I can help in any way, [if] my wife and I can help in any way, we will. That’s where it’s at.”

Can you share any of RB Ray Rice’s reaction to the news today? “I really would rather not. That’s more personal.”

Coach, are you satisfied with the level of diligence that the organization took to see what occurred on that video? “Absolutely. Sure. I’m not following where you’re going with that.”

I’m just curious why the team wasn’t able to see the video. “I don’t know why that would be a hard thing to understand. It wasn’t made available. It wasn’t there for us.”

From a legal standpoint? “As far as I know, yes. It wasn’t something we already saw [or] ever had access to.”

Did you discuss it with the team as a whole today? “We did. The team responds the way everybody responds to these things. And again, you’re talking about somebody you know. It’s a little more challenging when you’re talking about someone that’s part of your family, so to speak. So our guys, they felt it. All the same emotions that everybody out there would feel, we all felt.”

Why did the video change the team’s reaction so drastically? What did you think happened in that elevator before you saw the video? “I don’t want to get into all of that. Talking about feelings and all that stuff … It’s pretty easy for everybody to understand. Anybody that has a heart would understand how that goes.”

How did Ray Rice relay the events of the evening to you guys? “I’m not going to get into all of that. Those are personal conversations, and that’s really where that belongs. I want to respect that.”

What do you think about the timing of this whole video and how that impacts the team in the midst of a short week with a game coming up? “The timing is the timing that it is. We have a football game to play Thursday night. We have no control over that. I don’t have any feelings about that at all. It will not impact us in any way, football-wise. You can’t allow that. This is professional football, and we’ll be ready to play Thursday night.”

This affects the organization on so many different levels, John. Which is the most difficult? “I wish I had an answer for that. That’s a pretty deep question. I haven’t given it that much thought to think of it in that many levels right now.”

What would be one, if you can think of one? “I don’t have those options in front of me. I don’t have that list right now.”

Do you expect Ray Rice to play in the NFL again? “I don’t have any expectation for anything right now. My expectation right now really is to move with our team going forward and [being] the best football team we can be.”

Were the financial implications, cap-wise … Was that discussed today? “Certainly. Everything is discussed. Like I said, it was not a long meeting, though.”

Why wasn’t it that long? “Anyone else?”

Is there any reason why G Marshal Yanda wasn’t practicing today? “We held Marshal back. He’s healthy. No injury there, but we just sat Marshal out today.”

Who’s your starting running back Thursday? “Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett – they’ll both play a lot. Lorenzo Taliaferro will be a big part of it, too. Good question. Thanks.”

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Ravens must rebuild reputation in wake of Rice’s departure

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Ravens must rebuild reputation in wake of Rice’s departure

Posted on 09 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There was no other choice for the Ravens but to sever ties with running back Ray Rice on Monday afternoon.

The release of the second elevator video by TMZ depicted the worst-case scenario of what Rice had done to then-fiancée Janay Palmer and removed any lingering benefit of the doubt one could reasonably have in defending or understanding the 27-year-old’s actions on that February night in an Atlantic City casino. And it brought the Ravens’ embarrassing missteps to the forefront as the organization was forced to terminate the contract of the man they’d spent the better part of seven months defending and building up amidst intense criticism from the rest of the world.

Whether they were simply misled by Rice, the New Jersey legal system, and the NFL or callously turned a blind eye to what really happened is open for debate as this saga isn’t over — even if the three-time Pro Bowl running back’s career in Baltimore is. The truth is the Ravens will now face the challenge of rebuilding their own image and trust with the general public as their reputation for being one of the finest organizations in the NFL took a massive blow in their handling of the Rice incident.

From the emphatic insistence that his job status was not in jeopardy and strong praise for Rice’s character to the embarrassing initial press conference and the examples of profound support published on the team’s official website, owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and head coach John Harbaugh must all take responsibility for what was an error in judgment and a lack of sensitivity to what was a startling case of domestic violence. It was unfair for the organization to leave Harbaugh alone to field questions Monday evening as the masses — including Ravens fans and the local community — deserved to hear from the team owner and high-ranking officials following the decision to terminate the employment of one of the Ravens’ biggest stars since 2008.

Harbaugh told the media that Monday was the first time anyone in the organization had viewed the second video published for the world to see that morning. When pressed if he felt misled by his former running back and asked what about the video had changed the team’s reaction so drastically, Harbaugh didn’t “want to get into all that,” which isn’t a good enough answer from an organization that was labeled tone-deaf by many for their unwavering support of Rice throughout the entire ordeal.

It’s human nature to want to think the best of someone you admire no matter what the circumstance, and the Ravens certainly cared — and still care — about Rice as a person. But the organization allowed the goodwill Rice had built over his first six years in Baltimore to cloud its preparedness for — and sensitivity to — the worst-case scenario that proved to be the truth with the released video of Rice viciously striking his future wife and knocking her unconscious in that casino elevator.

Throughout the process, the Ravens gravitated toward what they wanted to believe — and perhaps how Rice and the New Jersey legal system had portrayed the incident — with little regard for the possibility that this incident of domestic violence was as bad as some had reported and many had feared. Yes, the Ravens knew Rice had done wrong, but their actions and words over the last seven months didn’t demonstrate an appropriate grasp of just how violently he had potentially acted.

The Ravens showed more than enough support for Rice by simply not cutting him from the start and instead allowed the legal process to play out, even if many believed they shouldn’t have even wasted that much time. However, the organization went out of its way to continuously remind everyone about how great of a guy Rice was, which — unintentionally or not — portrayed him as more of a victim than a perpetrator and showed a lack of sensitivity and compassion toward victims of domestic violence.

The recent partnership formed with the House of Ruth to help combat domestic violence was a good start, but much more will need to be done to put the memory of the last seven months behind them.

As an emotional Chris Canty stated, Monday was a sad day for the Baltimore Ravens as they severed ties with one of their biggest stars. Make no mistake, it was a sickening act committed by Rice alone that led to his deserved termination, but the Ravens only hurt themselves in the way they handled the matter along the way.

And it will take much longer to fix that tarnished reputation than it did to clean out Rice’s locker on Monday.

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Too many shades of 2013 as Ravens fall flat in Week 1 loss to Bengals

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Too many shades of 2013 as Ravens fall flat in Week 1 loss to Bengals

Posted on 07 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A half-smile came across the face of Terrell Suggs when asked if the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday reminded him of last season.

It was clear the 12th-year linebacker didn’t feel like reminiscing about Baltimore’s first non-playoff season under head coach John Harbaugh, but the similarities were there. A poor first-half performance by the offense and a “bend-don’t-break” defense failing to finish strong doomed the Ravens on Sunday as it did so many times a season ago when they finished 8-8.

“I don’t even want to talk about last year,” Suggs said. “If you remember last year, we gave up seven touchdowns in the opener. It’s a pretty big difference. It doesn’t feel like last year. We just can’t give them the big play. Pretty much our big thing coming into this week was to not let one get over our head. We let one get over our head, but it’s the NFL. It happens.”

The Ravens spent the offseason trying to improve an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL a season ago, adding new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, pass-catching targets Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, and veteran center Jeremy Zuttah. The running game was supposed to be fixed and quarterback Joe Flacco would have more weapons to throw to, which would allow the Ravens to move the ball consistently and with balance.

A defense that lost defensive tackle Arthur Jones and cornerback Corey Graham in free agency would be helped by the improved offensive attack and would not be put in a position when they’d spend too much time on the field with little margin for error.

But Sunday’s loss to the Bengals brought the same problems from 2013 as the Ravens were held to zero points and only 97 total yards in the first 30 minutes of play. The Ravens ran for just 23 yards on nine carries, and Flacco completed only 10 of 23 passes for 78 yards while committing what he called “the stupidest play” of his career that sent his team to the locker room trailing 15-0.

With eight seconds remaining in the half and facing third-and-15 from the 15, the Ravens elected to run one more play, which needed to be a quick three-step drop and throw to the end zone — or out of the end zone — to at least save enough time for a field goal try. Instead, the seventh-year quarterback rolled to his right and allowed time to expire before being sacked by Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap.

Flacco’s gaffe was just one of many mistakes made by countless offensive players in the first half, but it seemed an appropriate way to end a miserable 30 minutes of football in which the Ravens had just 9:41 of possession.

“We just played about as bad as you can, in terms of just simple fundamental things,” Flacco said. “Throwing, catching, running routes, staying up, just running the ball, couple mental busts. Just fundamental things that you do every day, and it’s just part of the routine.”

Even with the offense struggling mightily, the Ravens remained in the game thanks to a defense that allowed the Bengals to consistently move the ball before finally tightening up on third down — Cincinnati went 4-for-14 in that department — and holding them to field goals on two trips inside the red zone. It reminded of last season when the defense would stretch and stretch and stretch before making plays when needed to to keep the Ravens in the game.

But the defense also followed the 2013 fourth-quarter script of allowing the big play after Flacco connected with Steve Smith on an 80-yard touchdown to put the Ravens ahead 16-15 with 5:46 remaining in the game. Less than a minute later, defensive coordinator Dean Pees sent nickel back Asa Jackson on the blitz — the defense was unable to provide much pressure throughout the game — but Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton recognized it and threw deep to wide receiver A.J. Green, who beat cornerback Chykie Brown in 1-on-1 coverage for a 77-yard touchdown.

It was the big play the Ravens surrendered too many critical times last season and another example of the defense failing to make a big fourth-quarter stop when needed. And the deciding touchdown washed away what was an acceptable — but not stellar — effort from a unit playing without starting cornerback Lardarius Webb.

“It was kind of a bend-don’t-break philosophy,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “We were trying to figure out the new scheme they had in. They threw a lot of new things at us, the zone read and all of that. We didn’t let them get in the end zone until the end when we let that play get away from us.”

Yes, the “half-full” outlook would point to the 16 points and 323 total yards the Ravens offense produced in the second half. The running game even got going in the final two quarters as veteran Justin Forsett — replacing the benched Bernard Pierce — rushed for 70 yards and a 13-yard score for the first touchdown of the season to put the Ravens on the board.

But the skeptic will hear the same song as last season with an offense that had little balance and took more than two quarters to finally wake up — and still dropped too many passes in the second half — and a defense that couldn’t finish the job at crunch time.

As the Ravens learned all too well in 2013, there are no moral victories in the NFL.

“It’s tough to look at it too many ways other than the fact that we lost the game,” Flacco said. “Overall, we didn’t play well. As a player, you don’t look for good things in losses. It was a bad day.”

The good news is the Ravens won’t have time to dwell on their season-opening defeat as they must immediately turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a Thursday night game back at M&T Bank Stadium. But they know they’ll need a more complete effort to avoid an 0-2 start in the AFC North as the Bengals and Steelers are already a game ahead in the division.

Yes, the Ravens led late in the fourth quarter and were in position to win the game, but they played too poorly for too long to reasonably expect to prevail.

“We all could’ve done something better today,” Suggs said. “We dropped one. It’s a long season and hopefully this won’t prevent us from doing what we want to do later on in the year.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed starting cornerback Lardarius Webb as questionable on their final injury report ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully all week after missing five weeks of summer practice due to back spasms first sustained on July 25. Webb is expected by most to play against the Bengals’ explosive passing attack, but it remains to be seen how effective or limited he might be after missing all of training camp.

For players such as Webb and veteran tight end Owen Daniels who missed significant practice time last month, this week was an encouraging development as all 53 players participated fully. Running back Bernard Pierce was the only other player listed and is probable after being cleared from the concussion sustained in the third preseason game against Washington.

“This week is valuable for all the players. They all have done a great job,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where you’re at as a player, you need to prepare. And [Webb and Daniels] prepared like everybody else. Everybody is at their own spot in terms of what they need to do to get ready to play.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) at the start of the week and listed rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as questionable for Sunday. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder) were listed as probable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (back)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Rex Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DOUBTFUL: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
PROBABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (concussion)

 

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