Tag Archive | "Peyton Manning"

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Flacco excited to see what rookie receivers bring to table

Posted on 01 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It wasn’t long ago that Joe Flacco joked about not knowing the names of most new teammates on the Ravens roster after an offseason filled with changes.

However, the Ravens quarterback isn’t saying that any longer about a pair of rookie receivers who could factor heavily into the Baltimore passing attack as early as Thursday’s opener against the Denver Broncos. Undrafted free agent Marlon Brown and seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette began the summer in relative anonymity in Flacco’s eyes but grabbed his attention after the pair combined to make 19 catches for 309 yards and four touchdowns in four preseason games.

“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re physical,” Flacco said. “They obviously have some talent. I think they are going to be guys that help us out a lot — in the short term [and] long term. We still have to go out there and play and feed them the ball and see what they can do.”

Mellette entered training camp as the bigger household name among Ravens fans after being taken with a seventh-round pick back in April. Playing for FCS school Elon, the 6-foot-2 receiver made an astonishing 304 catches for 4,254 yards and 44 touchdowns in his college career and grabbed 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior year alone.

The 6-foot-5 Brown didn’t live up to expectations as a prized recruit at the University of Georgia but could be an attractive option in the red zone with his statuesque frame. The Ravens have lacked a wide receiver of his height during Flacco’s career after 2012 sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter failed to pan out.

Brown finally appeared to be realizing his potential in his senior season with the Bulldogs when he caught 27 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns before tearing the ACL in his left knee in a game against Ole Miss on Nov. 3, 2012. The 22-year-old is still working his way back to full strength — missing spring organized team activities and even a handful this summer — but his ability began to shine as he became more comfortable physically and mentally in the Ravens offense.

“I have a mindset where I wanted to make the team and ultimately make a difference on the team, whether it’s on special teams or offense,” said Brown, who was in the weight room when coach John Harbaugh personally informed him that he’d made the team. “That’s what I’m trying to do. They haven’t really told me my primary role or anything. I’m going to go out there and work hard and if they tell me to go in, I’m going to go in.”

The biggest compliment paid to both Brown and Mellette is the amount of polish they showed in practices and preseason games despite their lack of experience. Unlike an array of other young receivers that failed to show marked improvement over the course of the summer, Brown and Mellette climbed from the third-string offense and working with third quarterback Caleb Hanie to eventually receive opportunities with Flacco and the starters over the final two weeks of the summer.

It was this climb that contributed to the likes of Tandon Doss, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams being let go.

“They don’t feel like rookies out there,” Harbaugh said. “Marlon has had the advantage of playing at a big program in the Southeastern Conference, and I think that shows. Aaron has had the advantage of having caught hundreds of balls in his college career.”

With Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Brandon Stokley ahead of the rookies on the depth chart, it remains to be seen how big of a role each will play in the early stages of the season. During Sunday’s practice, Brown and Mellette were wearing No. 87 and 88 jerseys, which appeared to be a product of the pair playing the scout-team roles of Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in preparation for Thursday’s opener.

The Ravens only hope that Mellette and Brown will one day make their mark in a way similar to that talented pair with the Broncos, forcing opponents’ scout-team receivers to wear their No. 13 and 14 jerseys in preparation.

But a simple continuation of the improvement they showed over the course of the preseason would be an encouraging start for the Ravens.

“I would anticipate that those two guys will be a factor here going forward,” Harbaugh said. “How much they’ll play early, or how much they’ll be a part of the game plan and those kinds of things are really, really hard to say.”

Webb ready to go

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Flacco’s “elite” mind is taking him — and the Ravens — to New Orleans

Posted on 23 January 2013 by Drew Forrester

There’s nothing in sports better than proving people wrong.

It’s one thing to win.

But, it’s far better to do so when folks said you couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.

Lots of baseball fans said Alex Rodriguez would never sport a championship ring.  He proved them wrong.

Plenty of folks opined that Peyton Manning was great in the regular season, but wasn’t quite “tough enough” to win the whole thing.  Manning quieted those people in Miami back in January of 2007.

Hell, we, here at WNST, have been proving Baltimoreans wrong for the better part of decade.  A few years back, after the station made several on-air changes, a bunch of “experts” who listen to talk radio went on our web site or other cyber-space venues and predicted our imminent demise.  “That’s the end of ‘NST,” they wrote.  “They’re circling the drain,” others said.  Not only are we alive and well, we continue to kick everyone’s ass in town when it comes to quality content and a full-service media offering that no else in Baltimore comes close to duplicating.

I take great pride in that, personally, because I was well aware that people in town thought we were going to fall apart.

We owe our sponsors a great debt of gratitude for sticking with us and, of course, we owe our loyal listeners and readers a huge group hug for always supporting our media efforts.

But…if I’m thrilled with the fact that we’ve proved people wrong here in Baltimore, you can only imagine how Joe Flacco feels about his impending trip to New Orleans.

Joe Flacco had doubters in Baltimore.  And Boston.  And Dallas.  And Washington, DC.  And Los Angeles.  In fact, just about every major media outlet in the country plus a bunch of national talk radio shows and NFL Game Day “experts” questioned Flacco’s ability to play at a high-level in the NFL.

I wonder if those goofs like their crow plain…or marinated in a marsala sauce?

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Joe Flacco isn’t a perfect quarterback.

In fact, that person probably doesn’t exist. If you ask someone with a real discerning eye for quarterbacking, they’d probably tell you the two men in the NFL who most closely resemble the “perfect quarterback” are Tom Brady – the guy Flacco just ousted from the post-season on Sunday night – and Aaron Rodgers.  Brady is the guy who will slice you apart in the pocket but not use his feet much to beat you, while Rodgers has an accurate, rifle-arm and the ability to move around and make plays with his legs.

Neither of them made the Super Bowl this season.

Flacco did.

And he’s far from perfect.

Well, he might actually be perfect in ONE way.

And that’s why he’s going to New Orleans next week despite the fact that lots of folks in Baltimore and around the country didn’t think he was capable of doing that.

Every Sunday from September until January 20, the comments flew fast and furious on Twitter, Facebook and on blogs all across the nation.  The calls came in to talk radio every day, every hour.  You might have been guilty of authoring one of those remarks about Flacco.

“I don’t care how good that defense is, Flacco will never take the Ravens to a Super Bowl.”  Heard that one before?  Yeah, me too. About ten thousand times.

“Flacco isn’t an elite quarterback. We better start thinking about drafting someone this April.”  How many nutjobs in Baltimore wrote or said that during the regular season?  Right.  A-freakin’-lot.

“I sure hope the Ravens don’t sign this guy to a long-term deal.  He can’t win the big one.”

He had some believers, of course, but the critics were loud.

Oh, and as it turns out, the haters were dead wrong.

How did it come to pass that Flacco proved himself to everyone?  Because he has “the perfect mind”, that’s why.

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The truly special athletes in the world all have one common trait.

Woods has it.  Federer has it.  Brady and Manning(s) have it.  Jordan had it.  So did Gretzky and Lemieux.  Justin Verlander has it.  I’m sure there are plenty of others I’m not listing who have “it” too.  Martin Brodeur might have it better than any active athlete right now.

And Joe Flacco has it too.

What is “it”?

It’s the ability to forget what just happened — good or bad — and worry only about what lies ahead.

The greatest-of-the-greats were never afraid of the moment in front of them because they believed they were going to deliver the goods.  They didn’t always make the play, of course, but that didn’t stop them from trying to do it the next time the opportunity presented itself.

There was a great Michael Jordan story, back in the glory days, when he was 0-for-11 in the second half of a critical regular season game against the Pistons.  With seven seconds left, the inbounds play went to him and No. 23 hoisted up an 18-footer that found nothing but net and the Bulls won.  Afterwards, reporters asked him why he would take such a shot when it was clear with his 0-for-11 shooting half that it just wasn’t his night.  Jordan explained: “I just assumed there was no way I could miss twelve shots in a row.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in my career, so I figured I’d make it.”

That’s the difference between a guy who would have passed on that shot and someone who wanted the game in his hands.

(Please see next page) 

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Ravens enjoying AFC Championship moment, but thinking ahead for more

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Ryan Chell

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

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

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

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

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

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

His companion on the offensive line agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl Tickets.

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

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

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

Bernard Pollard reacts to Tom Brady slide and kick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow WNST on Twitter for your Ravens Super Bowl News! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

 

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

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Drew Forrester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Please see next page)

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Your Monday Reality Check: Hyperbole aside, line play why Ravens still riding

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Glenn Clark

WNST.net Ravens insider Luke Jones joined us for “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” late Saturday night after the Baltimore Ravens’ unbelievable 38-35 2OT win over the Denver Broncos.

Emotions were high in the Zone Superstore Studios of WNST.net. It was hard to have a legitimate conversation. A group of us had gathered to sit and watch the game and just found ourselves shouting “no way” and “unreal” at the television as the Ravens delivered perhaps the most miraculous victory in franchise history.

It was hard to discuss anything beyond the emotion of the moment, the will of the football team, the observations related to the Ravens truly being a team of “destiny”.

Even Head Coach John Harbaugh was caught up in the moment, once again tying the success of a football team to a level of divine intervention in his postgame press conference.

(I have no idea if the Messiah has any interest in determining the outcomes of football games. Perhaps maybe he (she?) felt as though the Broncos had to pay a price for parting ways with the known prophet Tim Tebow in the offseason. And if the Ruler of the Universe really does have concern related to the pigskin, I would vastly prefer a divine preference for the Ravens myself.)

I wish I could tell you what Luke’s response was. More than 24 hours later, I don’t fully remember. What I believe I remember him saying was something about Joe Flacco and then more about the will of the football team. I’m completely in agreement, but it didn’t necessarily answer my question. I’m sort of glad for that.

There’s a well known joke that says “Joe Buck is to baseball what the Catholic Church is to sex. It’s okay that it’s happening just as long as no one is enjoying it.” I’m glad Luke didn’t ruin the beauty of the moment by going all “Nate Silver” and killing us with football nerd-dom. It’s much better that we had a full 24 hours to enjoy and celebrate perhaps the greatest non-Super Bowl win in franchise history before we returned to a more X’s and O’s based discussion of what happened for the Baltimore Ravens Saturday and what they’ll need to do to win moving forward.

(This is the part where you say, “that’s a nice set-up Glenn. You’re a real pro’s pro.”)

The Baltimore Ravens DID win Saturday because of their will. They DID win Saturday because they believed in each other and never lost hope. They DID win Saturday because they have tested veterans who simply refuse to give up or allow a beloved teammate to step into retirement without leaving every last ounce of effort they’re capable of giving on the field.

It’s not just hyperbole. There’s absolute truth to it. It’s just not the entire story. In fact, it’s not even close to the most important part of the story. We go to that stuff first because it’s more likely to get clicks. We’re not stupid.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Postcard from Denver: The Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

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Ravens win and Flacco sticks a sock in the mouth of his detractors (shhhhhhh…)

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Drew Forrester

That should, finally, shut up everyone in town when it comes to Joe Flacco.

Thank.  God.

After a season of being raked over the coals – make that five seasons – by fans in Baltimore, the quarterback went into Denver and engineered an epic Ravens post-season victory on Saturday afternoon.  He only beat one of the game’s greatest field generals, in his arena, on the biggest stage possible.  The coup de grace, of course, was the 70 yard strike to Jacoby Jones with 0:31 left in the game that sent the contest to overtime.  A week ago in Baltimore, Joe out-dueled the NFL’s new Fair Haired Boy, Andrew Luck, and today he knocked off the guy that Luck replaced on the league’s Love Chart.

Read it – and weep if you’re a #5 hater:  Joe Flacco went to Denver and beat Peyton Manning.

I assume we’ll no longer be hearing from Flacco detractors, which is truly -golden-silence-to-my-ears.

And I’m also guessing that seals the deal on a new Flacco contract sometime over the next six weeks or so.

With the Ravens making their third AFC title game appearance in Flacco’s five-year career next Sunday, even his most ardent haters have to finally wave the white towel and hop on the bandwagon.

Let’s see now…in his first season with the team, the-then rookie went into Nashville and eliminated the top seed Titans.

In the 2009 season, it was a trip to Foxboro and a playoff win over Tom Brady.

There was a post-season road demolishing of Kansas City in 2010.

And then, today, it was Flacco beating Peyton Manning in his own building.  Another first seed eliminated.  Five seasons in the league and a playoff road win in four of them.

Other than a Super Bowl trip, what more could you possibly ask for from your quarterback, his coach, and the team?

There must be nothing more satisfying for Flacco than to shut up the experts in town who kept saying he couldn’t play a lick or that he wasn’t worth “the big money” he was expected to get at the end of this season.  But, he hasn’t talked much about it, because Joe knows the truth.  Words don’t mean jack.  Winning games is all that matters — and that’s basically all he’s done since showing up in Baltimore back in 2008.

Flacco is keenly aware that plenty of people around town have questioned him over the years.  And, as a competitor, there’s no doubt he’s taking particular joy from proving himself RIGHT and proving everyone else WRONG.

With one more win, the Ravens will head to the Super Bowl in New Orleans and Joe Flacco will be their quarterback.  That’s all that’s left on his “Next To Do” list.  Once he gets there, the goal changes, naturally, but for now — coming up — he’s one win away from playing in the biggest game the league can offer.

I’m just so happy that we won’t have to hear from the anti-Flacco crowd anymore…finally, finally, finally – their ship has sailed.

 

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Ravens-Broncos: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Few pundits have given them much of a chance, but the Baltimore Ravens have exuded a quiet confidence throughout the week as they travel to Denver to take on the No. 1 seed Broncos in Saturday’s AFC divisional round matchup.

The memory of a 34-17 beating suffered against these same Broncos in Baltimore last month has been a difficult one to erase, but the Ravens hope the return of five starters injured for that contest and the continued development of the offense under new coordinator Jim Caldwell will reverse those fortunes. Despite being a 10-point underdog, Baltimore aims to advance to the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row.

The Ravens are healthier than they’ve been at any point since the early stages of the season as the final injury report listed 17 players as probable for Saturday’s game. Offensive lineman Jah Reid was ruled out but was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday.

With Reid out for the wild-card game against Indianapolis, the Ravens made the long-awaited move to place veteran Bryant McKinnie in the starting lineup at left tackle while shifting Michael Oher to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at left guard. Head coach John Harbaugh hopes the line shuffle will pay dividends again Saturday after the Denver defense pummeled Joe Flacco in Week 15, sacking him three times and hitting him nine times. It won’t be easy as Denver’s Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 1/2 sacks, the highest total among any pass-rushing duo in the league.

In his final meeting against Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense hope to finally get the best of the future Hall of Fame quarterback after nine straight losses. Baltimore hasn’t won a game in Denver since the 2001 season, the same year in which the Ravens won their last contest against Manning.

It will be bitterly cold in Denver with temperatures not expected to even reach 20 degrees for the 4:30 p.m. ET start. And, of course, the high altitude has been a topic of discussion as the Ravens play a game in Denver for the first time since 2006.

Saturday’s referee will be Bill Vinovich.

Baltimore will be wearing white jerseys and black pants while Denver sports its orange tops with white pants.

The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 5-4 margin and own the victory in the only playoff meeting between the clubs, a 21-3 final in Baltimore on Dec. 31, 2000. That was the same postseason in which the Ravens won their only NFL championship in Super Bowl XXXV.

Here are Saturday’s inactives …

BALTIMORE
WR David Reed
S Omar Brown
CB Chris Johnson
LB Adrian Hamilton
OL Ramon Harewood
WR Deonte Thompson
DT Bryan Hall

DENVER
QB Caleb Hanie
WR Andre Caldwell
CB Tracy Porter
FB Chris Gronkowski
TE Julius Thomas
OL C.J. Davis
NT Sealver Siliga

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the day as Nestor Aparicio brings live updates from Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for divisional round Saturday

Posted on 11 January 2013 by Luke Jones

The Baltimore Ravens haven’t beaten Peyton Manning in their last nine tries, a span covering more than 11 years, and will receive their latest opportunity in Saturday’s divisional round meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Embarrassed in their 34-17 home loss to Denver in Week 15, the Ravens are hellbent on showing they’re a much better team than the one shut out in the first half as the offense could generate nothing against the Broncos’ stout defense. However, the Broncos enter the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and haven’t lost a game since Oct. 7, finishing the regular season on a league-best 11-game winning streak.

Though the stakes aren’t quite as high as the two AFC championship games in which the Ravens have appeared under coach John Harbaugh, they might feel just as much urgency on Saturday knowing 37-year-old linebacker and spiritual leader Ray Lewis will retire after the season. The wave of emotion seemed to work in their favor in last week’s 24-9 wild-card playoff victory over Indianapolis, but traveling to Denver to deal with the bitter cold and altitude is another challenge entirely as the Broncos possess the league’s fourth-ranked offense and second-ranked defense in terms of yardage.

The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with Denver by a 5-4 margin and own a win in the only other playoff meeting against the Broncos, a 21-3 final in the franchise’s first postseason game on Dec. 31, 2000. However, the Ravens haven’t won a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since 2001, which happens to be the same season in which they last secured a victory over Manning.

Baltimore is 1-3 in four games against the Broncos in Denver.

Here’s what to expect as the 11-6 Ravens attempt to secure their second consecutive AFC championship game appearance with an upset over the Broncos …

1. Ed Reed will secure an interception of Manning in what may be his final game with the Ravens. I incorrectly predicted the 34-year-old free safety would pick off Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, so I’ll go to the well one more time for the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. The Ravens’ interest in retaining Reed’s services after the season appear lukewarm at best, and there’s no guarantee the chronically-injured defensive player will decide to play in 2013 anyway. Even so, with it being a cold and potentially snowy afternoon in Denver, Reed will capitalize on a rare mistake by Manning to force a takeaway to set the Ravens up on a short field. With dangerous targets Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker providing tough matchups against Baltimore cornerbacks, Reed will need to play his assignments to offer help over the top. Even so, the veteran is notorious for gambling and he knows Manning as well as any quarterback in the league.

2. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller will collect two sacks for the Broncos while Paul Kruger continues his hot streak with 1 1/2 sacks for the Ravens. The installation of veteran Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and the presence of right guard Marshal Yanda — who was inactive for the Week 15 loss — will help an offensive line that allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked three times and hit nine times by the Broncos last month. McKinnie will do a respectable job against defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but Miller is an absolute nightmare as he can line up on either edge or stunt from the strong-side linebacker position. Kruger will continue his best season as a professional and collect 1 1/2 sacks after picking up 2 1/2 against Indianapolis last week. The sobering thought is that Kruger is likely pricing himself beyond the Ravens’ budget with his strong finish to the 2012 season. They’ll enjoy his services for at least one more afternoon as he provides the most consistent heat on Manning with the banged-up Terrell Suggs virtually a non-factor these days.

3. Bernard Pierce finishes with more carries and more yards than Ray Rice as the Ravens try to find the edges more than you’d think against a fast Denver defense. The conventional wisdom is to run north and south against the speedy Broncos unit, but the numbers suggest otherwise as Denver has been stout against inside runs and vulnerable when running games have tried to run beyond the edges. The Broncos have allowed 3.76 yards per run behind left guard, 3.23 yards per run behind center, and 2.82 yards per run behind right guard. That last number is interesting with Yanda being the Ravens’ best offensive lineman. In the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens tried to run five plays behind veteran Bobbie Williams at the right guard spot and gained only nine yards. The Broncos have allowed 4.9 yards per carry around the left edge and 5.54 yards per carry to the right end. In terms of the workload for Pierce and Rice, the former’s ability to explode through running lanes and create yards after contact is the more appealing option against the league’s third-ranked run defense, but Rice will receive plenty of touches as well as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will try to create mismatches for Rice to get the ball in open space as a receiver. Baltimore will exceed the measly 56 rushing yards gained against Denver on Dec. 16, but seeing them run for much more than 100 total would be very surprising. An effective running game would go a long way in keeping Manning off the field, so the Ravens will stick to the run even if only earning modest gains.

4. Flacco will receive better protection this time around, but he will have difficulty finding open receivers as he struggles to crack the 200-yard passing mark. The running game will be critical in determining how much time Flacco receives to throw as the Ravens are likely to use some play-action roll-outs and bootlegs to move the pocket and keep Miller and Dumervil honest in targeting the quarterback behind the offensive line. If Pierce and Rice are unable to gain positive yardage, the Broncos won’t respect the play fakes and the Baltimore quarterback will be unable to evade rushers when trying to throw on the move. Even if Flacco is able to receive more time, the question of whether Baltimore receivers can gain separation against Champ Bailey and Chris Harris remains to be seen. Anquan Boldin was held without a catch and Torrey Smith made one reception for 14 yards before leaving the first Denver game early in the second half with a concussion. Flacco will try to take shots downfield with Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside, but the Denver secondary has been exceptional all year, averaging a fifth-ranked 6.4 yards allowed per passing attempt. The Ravens will move the chains more effectively than they did in Week 15 — 1-for-12 on third down — but Flacco’s short-to-intermediate passes to tight end Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin will become more difficult over the course of the game unless they can connect on a deep ball or two to back up the secondary.

5. The Ravens will put forth a better showing than they did against Denver last month, but Manning and the Broncos will prove to be too much in a 27-17 final. The notion uttered by many this week that the Ravens have no shot against the Broncos is a silly one and wreaks of not paying attention to what happens around the NFL every week. The Broncos are the better team, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore isn’t capable of pulling off the upset, especially with a big return by Jones or a crucial turnover that goes in their favor. Despite their many critics, the Ravens are a good football team and should be commended for winning 11 games this season after the slew of injuries they suffered, particularly on the defensive side of the football. However, the Broncos are a great team and Manning will be too much to overcome as a Baltimore defense that will bend but not break for the first three quarters will wilt on a late touchdown drive to put this one out of reach. The Baltimore offense won’t be embarrassed like it was at M&T Bank Stadium last month, but the unit just won’t be productive enough against one of the best defensive units in the league. The Ravens’ season and the career of the future Hall of Fame Lewis will come to an end in Denver on Saturday.

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Other factors aside, upsetting Broncos begins and ends with Flacco

Posted on 10 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s no secret that quarterback Joe Flacco can’t do it by himself if the Ravens are to pull off the upset against the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos in Saturday’s divisional round playoff at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Better pass protection, a more productive running game, and a stronger defensive effort in the second half against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are just a sampling of the goals the Ravens must accomplish to fare any better than they did in the humbling 34-17 defeat suffered at M&T Bank Stadium last month. But if Baltimore is to have any chance of advancing to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year, the fifth-year quarterback must play like he did in last year’s conference-deciding game when he outperformed New England’s Tom Brady and was a Lee Evans catch away from sending the Ravens to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 2001.

All other factors aside, the ball will rest in Flacco’s hands at some critical juncture — if the Ravens are fortunate enough to play well in other phases of the game — and he will be counted upon to make a game-changing play.

Flacco did just that in the regular-season loss to Denver, but it was arguably the lowest moment of his career when tossing an interception to Broncos cornerback Chris Harris that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown to create a 17-0 deficit instead of a one-possession game at halftime on Dec. 16. The crucial turnover was Flacco’s second of the afternoon and finished a stretch of three straight games in which the quarterback had lost a fumble and thrown an interception.

The sight of him lying face down on the turf after trying to chase Harris the length of the field threatened to be the defining moment of the season for both him and the Ravens as they suffered their third consecutive loss that afternoon.

“Stuff like that happens sometimes, and believe me, I’m the last guy that wants it to happen,” Flacco said. “But you’ve got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game, and I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That’s why we are where we are right now.”

Flacco hasn’t thrown another interception since then, a span covering 92 attempts. He threw for 591 yards and four touchdowns in wins over the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, the two real games the Ravens have played that sandwiched a cameo appearance by starters in the regular-season finale. Baltimore scored a combined 57 points in those victories and posted a combined 974 yards of offense, albeit against two defenses that hardly stack up to the Broncos’ formidable unit.

For the most part, the offense has looked more productive and crisp since new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s debut against Denver. The Ravens have shown a more consistent commitment to run the ball and have effectively moved the pocket, using play-action roll-outs and even the occasional bootleg to allow Flacco to throw the ball on the run.

Of course, the Ravens must run the ball effectively to make such calls feasible against the second-ranked Denver defense that includes the best pass-rushing duo in the league in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos teed off on Flacco in their first meeting, hitting him nine times and collecting three sacks. Even the threat of moving Flacco around will make it more difficult for the Denver pass rush to find the same success on Saturday.

“It’s helped us because of the fact we should be able to move the pocket some, particularly with some of the elite pass rushers that we have been facing,” Caldwell said. “If they know your launch point, it’s going to be in the same spot all the time. That can make things a little rough for you.”

Trying to win a shootout against the second-highest scoring offense in the league would be a near-impossible task, so the Ravens must move the chains on third down to sustain drives and keep Manning off the field as much as possible. Baltimore went 0-for-9 on third down against Denver in the regular-season meeting before finally converting for the first time late in the third quarter when the Broncos had already built a 31-3 lead. The Ravens finished that ugly game going 1-for-12 in that department.

In limiting the Ravens to 41 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half, Denver forced Flacco into third-and-long situations throughout the first half when the game was still undecided. Efficiency will be key in not just creating third-and-manageable chances but also in needing to score touchdowns when the Ravens are able to move the ball inside the red zone. Kicking field goals rarely gets the job done against quarterbacks and offenses the caliber of Manning and Denver.

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