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

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

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

John Harbaugh on WNST.net (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 9: Injury after insult after implosion – Psychology 2012

Posted on 20 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“There’s really no way to accurately describe it or predict what it means. I’m never going to get over it. It’s never going to be OK.”

– John Harbaugh (March 2012)

 

 

 

ONE SPLIT SECOND. THAT’S ALL it took for New England Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore to swat the ball out of the hands of wide receiver Lee Evans in the southwest corner of the end zone at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on January 22, 2012 in the waning moments of the AFC Championship Game.

The Ravens were a literally a blink of an eye away from going to the Super Bowl. Had Evans clutched the ball just a moment longer, the Ravens would’ve taken the lead in what was a 23-20 game with just 27 seconds left in regulation. Instead, a play later, as the play clock seemed to move at double speed and with head coach John Harbaugh still sitting on one timeout, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff raced onto the field to kick what felt like an almost automatic 32-yard field goal that would tie the game and send it to overtime.

The chaos, the confusion, the play clock was winding, the indecision, the snap – it all happened so fast. There were 138 plays in the game and Ravens fans will only remember two of them: the Evans swat and drop and the Cundiff miss. The Cundiff field goal would’ve tied the game, but the Evans play was far closer to being successful and some replays, if slowed down enough, certainly looked like he had possession for an instant.

“Honestly, for a split-second I thought he caught the ball,” said Flacco. “I thought we were going to the Super Bowl. I threw the ball and I threw my hands up for a split second because I

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Chapter 8: Just a regular Joe

Posted on 19 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“That’s just Joe being Joe! Joe is always gonna be Joe.”

– Ray Lewis (Nov. 2012)

 

 

 

 

THE TALLEST BUILDINGS IN THE skyline over downtown Philadelphia are vividly clear over the gridiron at Audubon High School. Not too far from this small town in New Jersey in the distance you can see the Comcast Center and One Liberty Place tower over Central City in the City of Brotherly Love. The white cement structure that serves as bleachers behind a tiny brick school façade can almost be confused for something from a movie set in 1950s Americana.

It was a field of dreams for Joe Flacco, but not necessarily a field of victories. Hop on the internet and take a look at the picture of his wife snapping him a bottle of champagne as if it were a football as part of their wedding album. She’s the center. His groomsmen are the linemen. Then you will understand this field and this scene. This is the place where Joe Flacco led the Audubon Green Wave to a 4-6 finish in his 2002 senior football season.

“We stunk,” says Flacco of his tiny high school with less than 100 in each graduating class. “It was a small school, and we were never really good, but we loved playing here. Football here was always fun because it was always with your friends and the kids you grew up with from the neighborhood.”

To understand and to fully appreciate Joe Flacco, you need to visit Audubon, New Jersey and see his view of the world as a Super Bowl MVP and Baltimore sports hero, where for months after the win storefronts still had homemade posters and window stickers celebrating their unlikely hometown champion.

“Where I live and where I’m from it’s right in the middle of the middle of all hardcore Philly sports fans,” Flacco said. “Philadelphia is in Pennsylvania, but the Jersey side is the heart of the fan base for all of the teams. It’s all Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers here. It’s always been like that, and it’ll always be like that. I’ve been around crazy, passionate, vocal fans all my life.”

These Philadelphia natives are the same fans who are famous for once booing Santa Claus. Toughness kinda came with the turf for Joe Flacco.

His hometown doesn’t look quite like a scene from Rocky, like the west side of the Delaware River or Highlandtown in Baltimore with traditional East Coast row homes and narrow, one-way streets. It’s more like something from a John Mellencamp song, like “Small Town” or “Pink Houses.” It’s more Main Street USA with the very apparent stability of blue-collar family life and small ranch-style homes separated by modest yards, and picket fences. If it were Baltimore, it’d be Parkville or Catonsville – just closer to downtown.

Audubon High School is exactly six miles from the front gates of Lincoln Financial Field, where Flacco had his own rocky homecoming vs. the Eagles in a Ravens 24-23 loss in Week 2 of the 2012 season, his only chance in five years as Baltimore Ravens quarterback to play a regular season game just a long jog from his hometown.

In Audubon, Flacco is, well, just a regular Joe for the most part.

“It’s almost like a different life because I grew up around here. I’ve always been around here, and I hope it stays like this,” he said. “It’s my home. It’s where I want to be, close to my family. All of my family is here.”

Flacco’s ascension to Super Bowl MVP and World Champion reads straight from the library of the Horatio Alger catalog.

Son of a mortgage banker Steve Flacco and his wife, Karen, who were high school sweethearts, Joe is the oldest of six children – five boys and a girl. Flacco played three sports and loved all of them as long as he can remember. Despite his dad being just 5-foot-10, Joe went through a surprising and dramatic growth spurt in high school, sprouting more than six inches. His unusually strong arm caught the eye of a handful of college

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Chapter 7: How to find a franchise quarterback

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“You can always look at how the guys play. You just look at the tape. But at the combine you find out what kind of people they are. What’s important to them? How important is football to them? How important is their family to them? If we get those two things right, we’ll be right most of the time.”

 – John Harbaugh (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

AN NFL SCOUT’S LIFE EXISTS with the perpetual hope that every time he shows up on a campus to watch a kid run, or gets on a plane to fly to a college town to see a game in the fall, or fires up his iPad to watch film, he wants to believe he’s about to find the next player who will help his team win the Super Bowl.

It’s the eternal quest for any NFL scout – find the next Pro Bowl player who can become a Hall of Famer. Or, at the very least, find a player who can help you win every year for the next decade.

By the time Baltimore Ravens area scouts Andy Weidl and Joe Douglas got in their cars and made the one hour drive north up Interstate 95 from Owings Mills to Newark, Delaware on November 10, 2007, Joe Flacco wasn’t a secret to the college scouting world. And he certainly was no stranger to Douglas, who joined the team in 2000 and is known to all in the Ravens organization as “Big Joe D,” whose job it was to scout the Northeast for the team from 2003 through 2008. Douglas was made famous during the Ravens’ summer of 2001 filming of “Hard Knocks” on HBO as “The Turk,” the lowly scout who has the duty of summoning players from the locker room to the office of the head coach where “Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook” means you’ll be leaving the campus and chasing your NFL dream elsewhere.

Incidentally, UrbanDictionary.com defines “turk” as “someone who is extremely brave.” Joe Douglas spent six months talking Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz into drafting a Division 1-AA quarterback from Delaware in the first round of the NFL draft.

Douglas, by any measurement, is as brave as Joe Flacco is fearless.

By 2007, Douglas had moved up the ranks of the scouting system and was making that fateful Saturday a “quarterback doubleheader” – a rare chance to see two teams in one day, both with targets who could be the next quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. The afternoon game in Newark featured the Delaware Blue Hens hosting the Richmond Spiders in a Division I-AA matchup. The nightcap on the docket was Boston College visiting the Maryland Terps in College Park and Douglas would be joined by longtime Ravens scouts Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz, whom he’d meet at the I-95 Park and Ride near Catonsville so they could travel together to Byrd Stadium. Their target that evening was visiting Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan, who many thought would be the first quarterback – if not the first player – taken in the April 2008 draft.

Incidentally, Douglas was rooting hard for Richmond that afternoon and not out of disdain for Flacco or Delaware. Douglas was the starting left tackle for the Spiders from 1995-1998 and had been through many battles with the Blue Hens on the field. He was also quite familiar with many of the coaches and players in this contest. Even when he didn’t attend Richmond games – and it was rare to see his alma mater in person because NFL scouts don’t scout a lot of I-AA football games unless there’s a specific prospect they want to evaluate – his father would give him weekly Spiders reports from stands.

It was Douglas’ dad, Joel Douglas, who first told Big Joe D about Joe Flacco a year earlier after seeing the 2006 matchup in Richmond.

“He went to the game with my uncle and he called me up and said, ‘I don’t know who that Delaware quarterback was, but Richmond couldn’t stop him,’” Douglas said of a day when Flacco, then a junior who was making his seventh start for the Blue Hens, went 31-of-45 for 305 yards and a pair of TD passes in a come-from-behind 28-24 win over the Spiders. “Honestly, I was more mad that Richmond blew the lead than I was concerned about who Delaware’s junior quarterback was that day.”

The NFL scouting calendar begins in May after the draft. DeCosta and Hortiz enlist the entire organization to target potential candidates to scout for the following year. By August, the scouts plan their entire schedule for the fall, trying to chunk as many practices, games, campus visits and interviews as possible into the schedule while also trying to see the Ravens play some games at home and away. As an NFL scout, this is the most important time of

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Join our 25th Anniversary Legendary Roadtrip to Canton for Ray Lewis induction ceremony in August

Posted on 17 January 2018 by WNST Trips

WNST proudly presents our 25th Anniversary Legendary Purple Roadtrip to Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the Ray Lewis Induction.

We’ve known this trip was coming for No. 52 for a long time and we’re heartened that so many folks have reached to us to go along for the ride.

One of our favorite WNST trips was a unique long weekend trip back in 1998 to Cleveland and Detroit for baseball games and museum tours. So, in the spirit of that and knowing that many folks want to experience more than just the Saturday night Ray Lewis speech under the Ohio stars – but that will certainly be the highlight and the destination – we’re arranging a few packages in the hopes that one catches your eye and you’ll support WNST and join us this summer for a memorable sojourn with friends!

We will be offering a few upgrades on the pricing of the seating for the Saturday night event but all of our packages currently include an “upper admission” to the stadium for the Ray Lewis and Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Saturday night. All of our packages also include a Sunday trip through Pittsburgh to see the Pirates-Cardinals game at PNC Park. It’s a lovely stadium and it’ll break up the trip home.

There is a serious expectation that the Baltimore Ravens will be playing in the Thursday Night Kickoff Game in Canton once Ray Lewis gets the nod on Saturday, February 3rd. So, the first (and pricier) package includes a longer trip and a ticket to that game. Clearly, we can refund folks the difference in the shorter packages if the Ravens aren’t in the Thursday game or add you for Thursday if you decide you want to see the game.

Also, it’s our expectation is that a lot of folks won’t want to take the extra day off of work and the expense of a preseason game but we want to make sure we offer all options. The expectation is that the Friday-Sunday PLAN B trip will be our most popular. But we expect to run buses on all three days because the demand has been very high and it’s hard to get rooms in Northern Ohio that weekend.

Our prices are – by FAR – the best in the marketplace for the trip. We’ve taken over 20,000 Baltimore sports fans on trips over the past 25 years. We’d love to have you with us this summer in Canton as Ray Lewis gives a speech for the ages and probably does one more Squirrel Dance.

 

ALL PACKAGES ARE CURRENTLY DISCOUNTED $50 PER PERSON!!!

PRICES WILL GO UP ON MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5TH!!!!

PLEASE BUY EARLY AND SAVE SO WE CAN PLAN!!!!

 

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PACKAGE A

(This assumes the Ravens are playing in the Thursday Night Preseason Kickoff Game.)

Itinerary:

We will depart from White Marsh Park N Ride at 7am with a pickup at the I-70 Security West Park N Ride at 7:30am and arrive at the Cleveland Doubletree around 1pm. Bus will depart for Pro Football Hall of Fame at 4pm for Ravens game.

On Friday, bus will depart at 9am for Pro Football Hall of Fame visit and return to Cleveland Doubletree at 4pm. We will attend Cleveland Indians-Oakland Athletics game at Progressive Field on Friday night at 7pm.

On Saturday, we will have an optional bus to the Canton Hall of Fame parade at 6:30am that will return at 10am. Our group will tour the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame (next door to our hotel) from 10am-1pm. Buses depart for Ray Lewis induction at 3pm. Induction ceremony at Canton stadium is 7pm. We expect Ray to be the last on the podium and speak sometime around 11pm. We will return to Cleveland Doubletree after the induction.

On Sunday, our buses will depart at 10am for Pittsburgh PNC Park where we’ll see the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals. Game is 1:35 p.m. and we’ll bus back to Baltimore after the game or 4:30pm and expect to arrive home by 9pm Sunday night.

What’s included:

Roundtrip Charter Bus transportation courtesy of Gunther Charters

Beer, soda, water and snacks on the bus with Ray Lewis/old Ravens videos for the ride

Three nights at downtown Cleveland Doubletree (chocolate chip cookies included!)

Upper game ticket for Ravens-TBD Preseason game

Pro Football Hall of Fame admission on Friday

Athletics-Indians baseball game on Friday

Rock And Roll Hall of Fame admission on Saturday

Ray Lewis induction ceremony upper deck seat Saturday night

Cardinals-Pirates baseball game on Sunday

Pricing (per person):

SINGLE: $1,000

DOUBLE (two in a room): $852

TRIPLE (three in a room): $752

QUAD (four in a room): $700

 

How many in your room?

 

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PACKAGE B

(I’m assuming this will be our most popular package)

Itinerary:

We will depart from White Marsh Park N Ride on Friday, August 3rd at 6am with a pickup at the I-70 Security West Park N Ride at 6:30am and arrive at the Pro Football Hall of Fame around 11am where we’ll visit for a few hours and then depart for the downtown Cleveland Doubletree at 4pm. We will attend Cleveland Indians-Oakland Athletics game at Progressive Field on Friday night at 7pm.

On Saturday, we will have an optional bus to the Canton Hall of Fame parade at 6:30am that will return at 10am. Our group will tour the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame (next door to our hotel) from 10am-1pm. Buses depart for Ray Lewis induction at 3pm. Induction ceremony at Canton stadium is 7pm. We expect Ray to be the last on the podium and speak sometime around 11pm. We will return to Cleveland Doubletree after the induction.

On Sunday, our buses will depart at 10am for Pittsburgh PNC Park where we’ll see the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals. Game is 1:35 p.m. and we’ll bus back to Baltimore after the game or 4:30pm and expect to arrive home by 9pm Sunday night.

What’s included:

Roundtrip Charter Bus transportation courtesy of Gunther Charters

Beer, soda, water and snacks on the bus with Ray Lewis and old Ravens videos for the ride

Two nights at Cleveland Doubletree (chocolate chip cookies included!)

Pro Football Hall of Fame admission on Friday

Athletics-Indians baseball game on Friday

Rock And Roll Hall of Fame admission on Saturday

Ray Lewis induction ceremony upper deck seat Saturday night

Cardinals-Pirates baseball game in Pittsburgh on Sunday

 

Pricing (per person):

SINGLE: $752

DOUBLE (two in a room): $652

TRIPLE (three in a room): $600

QUAD (four in a room): $552

 

How many in your room?

 

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PACKAGE C

(You don’t want to take a day off of work or break the bank but you want to see Ray Lewis in Canton and have some fun with our group)

Itinerary:

We will depart Saturday, August 4 from White Marsh Park N Ride at 7am with a pickup at the I-70 Security West Park N Ride at 7:30am and arrive at our Lisbon, Ohio hotel (Days Inn) just 40 miles east of Canton to freshen up before the Induction ceremony at Canton stadium at 7pm. We expect Ray to be the last on the podium and speak sometime around 11pm. We will return to the Days Inn Lisbon after the induction.

On Sunday, our buses will depart from Days Inn Lisbon at 10am for Pittsburgh PNC Park where we’ll see the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals. Game is 1:35 p.m. and we’ll bus back to Baltimore after the game or 4:30pm and expect to arrive home by 9pm Sunday night.

What’s included:

Roundtrip Charter Bus transportation courtesy of Gunther Charters

Beer, soda, water and snacks on the bus with Ray Lewis and old Ravens videos for the ride

One night at Days Inn Lisbon after the ceremony

Ray Lewis induction ceremony upper deck seat Saturday night

Cardinals-Pirates baseball game on Sunday

 

Pricing (per person):

SINGLE: $425

DOUBLE (two in a room): $375

TRIPLE (three in a room): $350

QUAD (four in a room): $325

 

How many in your room?

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Five years later, the magic of Purple Reign 2 and Ravens Super Bowl title revisited

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Prologue:

Here we go again, Baltimore!

 

 

May 14, 2013

 

When I wrote “Purple Reign: Diary Of A Raven Maniac” in March 2001, it was no less than a small civic miracle that the Baltimore Ravens even existed. Given what our community had been through trying to get back into the NFL after the departure of Bob Irsay and the Mayflower van exodus of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis on that snowy night of March 28, 1984, just having an NFL team was a victory in itself. This is sometimes lost on the younger generation of fans in Baltimore and should never be forgotten.

The ensuing hostage situation involving civic money, stadiums, lawyers, lawsuits, a private-mostly-old-boys-club of NFL owners, and the expansion charade that Paul Tagliabue presided over in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was as big a part of the story for anyone who loves Baltimore, loved the Colts, or was falling in love with the Ravens. As an aside, two decades later the choice of Jacksonville and Charlotte look fairly dubious as NFL hot spots despite the insistence of The Sun King that Baltimore was unworthy and should consider building a museum.

Anyone who is over the age of 40 would tell you that they spent long stretches of their lives from 1984 through 1995 believing that Baltimore would never get an NFL team again. The odds were so slim that I went so far as to say on my radio show in 1993 that I’d run naked down Pratt Street if NFL football ever returned to Charm City. And, yes, you can google my name, “Nasty” and “naked run” to see that I pretty much paid up on the wager in the spring of 1996 after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens. I must warn you – it’s not a pretty sight, me running through rush hour traffic in tighty-whiteys taking $10 bills from cabbies who wanted to donate to the charity run.

I declared it a civic miracle that Baltimore got a team – and it really was. To think that all of the political machinations that ended with John Moag, building on the efforts of Herb Belgrad and the fading dream of outgoing governor William Donald Schaefer, succeeded in bringing the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore by offering Arthur B. Modell and his family a bigger, better deal is still the greatest “tipping point” event of my life. I’ll never forget that day and the promise that it brought to my life as a Baltimore sports radio personality and wannabe-entrepreneur.

I had faith. I was purple when purple wasn’t cool.

The Modell family brought football to Baltimore and allowed me to shed every piece of Houston Oilers’ gear I’d ever owned and loved.

The marriage between the Ravens and Baltimore gave my career life, my family the ability to hope, launch, grow and build WNST AM-1570 & WNST.net in 1998. It also landed me a nationally syndicated radio program for three years on Sporting News Radio that included the Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl win. And it’s allowed me to follow my childhood dream to be a sports writer in my hometown in the modern era of social media. I love Baltimore sports as much as you do, and I’ve devoted my life to chronicling it.

You are holding a book that took 100 days to write, but 17 years to research and about 29 years to live. The championship was a gift to me, and I felt a calling to write about it and you’re holding the result.

And this miracle gift of NFL football in Baltimore that was willed to exist by a toxic stew of money, lawyers, lies, covert meetings, politicians, local business, fans, television, and a roomful of really wealthy white men over the past 40 years has given our sports community the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s kinda like sausage: you really don’t want to know how it’s made.

Since 1958, Baltimore has won five NFL titles via the Colts and Ravens and three World Series via the Orioles.

I’m about to enter my 30th year on the Baltimore sports media scene that began in 1984 at The News American, and I’ve never seen a bigger – or better – local sports story than this unlikely Super Bowl run of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis marching the Lombardi Trophy through the streets of downtown amidst 250,000 people near the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards.

Here’s the truth: this book you’re about to read was an absolute labor of love because these stories jumped off the lips of those who gave me access and honesty from inside and outside the Baltimore Ravens organization. There aren’t enough pages in this book to express how grateful I am to have been involved in chronicling all of these Ravens games over the years. For better or worse, it’s defined my life and my career. And this book is the most important project of my career.

And my first question to virtually every person in February and March 2013 in researching this book was: “What were the most important decisions that led to a Super Bowl 47 win?”

I got a myriad of different answers:

 

  • The Ray Lewis last ride inspired the team
  • Joe Flacco emerged and was flawless in the playoffs & Super Bowl
  • Cam Cameron was fired
  • Jim Caldwell took over the play calling
  • Terrell Suggs coming back allowed Paul Kruger to rush the passer
  • Corey Graham could actually play cornerback in the NFL
  • Justin Tucker was a better kicker than Billy Cundiff
  • Anquan Boldin caught big passes down the stretch
  • Having Bryant McKinnie play well at left tackle and moving Michael Oher to right tackle gave Joe Flacco time and confidence to throw
  • Jacoby Jones made big plays all year

 

These are the obvious strategic and emotional issues that led to the team winning in December and January on the field, but there were thousands of decisions made off the field dating all the way back to the day that Ozzie

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Proposed rule change aimed at Ravens’ end-game holding strategy

Posted on 23 March 2017 by Luke Jones

A tactic used by the Ravens to preserve a narrow victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last season may no longer be legal in the future.

The NFL’s competition committed has proposed a rule to prohibit the act of committing multiple fouls on the same down to manipulate the game clock. If approved, such an act would draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and prompt the game clock to be reset to where it was at the snap. The official reason given for the suggested change was “competitive fairness,” according to the committee.

This proposal comes after multiple members of the Baltimore punt team intentionally committed holding to allow punter Sam Koch to stall and run out the final 11 seconds of the fourth quarter and take a safety to conclude a 19-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 27. The same strategy was used by the Ravens at the end of Super Bowl XLVII four years ago, but Koch took a safety before time completely expired against San Francisco.

The 49ers used a similar defensive holding tactic late in the first half of a game last year that forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal try instead of having more time to try to score a touchdown.

This would hardly be the first time that the league has eliminated a loophole in the rule book that’s perceived by some as a violation of the game’s competitive spirit. It was a little over two years ago that the New England Patriots’ use of eligible and ineligible receivers bewildered the Ravens in a playoff contest and led to the NFL tightening up the rule a few months later.

No matter the aftermath, it’s wise to be aware of the intricacies of the rule book in hopes of finding a competitive edge to help win a game. The Ravens used that same tactic to help secure their second NFL championship four years ago and to win a crucial game to remain in the playoff hunt last season.

Owners will debate and vote on proposed rule changes at next week’s league meetings in Phoenix.

Check out the full list of proposed changes HERE.

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Ravens narrowly avoided Atlanta’s fate four years ago

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Atlanta Falcons are predictably the butt of many jokes after surrendering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history on Sunday night.

Coughing up a 25-point lead in the second half will do that to you, but Ravens fans should pause a moment or two before piling on Matt Ryan and company with too much enthusiasm. After all, Baltimore nearly suffered a similar fate in Super Bowl XLVII four years ago.

No one will forget the image of Joe Flacco raising the first Vince Lombardi Trophy or Ray Lewis celebrating the euphoric conclusion of his “last ride” in New Orleans, but the Ravens came dangerously close to squandering a 22-point lead in the second half. Such a notion felt impossible after Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the third quarter, but San Francisco finally found its offense while the Ravens offense couldn’t run and managed only two field goals in the second half.

It didn’t take long for a comfortable 28-6 lead to become a heart-stopping affair.

You can blame the Superdome blackout if you’d like, but a defense led by Lewis and Ed Reed at the end of their careers gave up three second-half touchdowns and a field goal, which is exactly what the Falcons did before the Patriots marched down the field for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Just imagine how differently we’d view Super Bowl XLVII had Jimmy Smith been flagged on fourth-and-goal from the 5 or the 49ers hadn’t forgotten over their final four plays inside the 10 that Frank Gore was gashing a Baltimore front playing without the injured Haloti Ngata. Of course, unlike the Falcons, the Ravens were able to make a few plays to protect their narrow lead in the end, and that’s all that matters.

Super Bowl LI reminded us that you should never count out the New England Patriots and that the margin between winning and losing can be so razor thin. It also might help to run the ball when you’re protecting a 28-20 lead and are comfortably in field-goal range with under five minutes remaining.

But before mocking Atlanta too much, remember that the Ravens nearly became the Falcons four years ago and breathe a quick sigh of relief that a storybook ending didn’t turn into a nightmare.

** Many Ravens fans predictably went to social media to use Sunday’s result as validation for Flacco being better than Ryan — a tired debate that needs to end — but I’d hardly pin that loss on the quarterback as much as I would on the offensive play-calling of Kyle Shanahan and a defense that couldn’t stop a nosebleed in the second half.

Regardless, Flacco and the Ravens have a lot of work to do to give fans something more current to brag about. Even with the fallout of a devastating Super Bowl defeat, Ryan and the Falcons have a lot more going for them right now.

** After watching his limitations as a pass rusher with just five total sacks in his four seasons in Baltimore, Courtney Upshaw collecting the first quarterback takedown of Super Bowl LI wasn’t what I expected to see.

The former Ravens linebacker added weight to play on the Falcons defensive line this year, and that sack was his only tackle of the postseason.

** Every organization and fan base would love to be the Patriots, but Ravens director of public relations Patrick Gleason offered some perspective hours before Sunday’s kickoff in Houston.

It’s understandable to be discouraged by the Ravens missing the playoffs in three of the last four years and improvements certainly need to be made from top to bottom, but this organization has built up a ton of equity over the last two decades and is still just four years removed from winning the ultimate prize. Relative to most teams around the NFL, the Ravens have spoiled their fans for a long time, which isn’t easy to do.

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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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