Tag Archive | "willis"

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Monday Bloody Monday: Ravens set to part ways with Heap, Mason, Gregg and McGahee

Posted on 25 July 2011 by WNST Staff

The action came fast and furious and with shocking force on Monday afternoon as the Ravens — via many sources, agents, players and media — are set to part ways with a bevy of big-name stars as the 2011 free agent period comes like a tsunami. Veterans Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee were all informed of the termination of their contracts almost immediately following the NFLPA ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Several sources inside Owings Mills said that Heap and Mason will be offered a chance to return to the team at a lower salary. Gregg could also be offered a reduced role and a lower salary. Many other teams around the NFL are expected to release veterans in an attempt to lower their 2011 salaries and free up cap space.

It promises to be an unprecedented week of news, information and free agent signings.

For full, unfolding coverage you can always follow us in real time on Twitter @WNST.

WNST will have full coverage of all of the information and pending changes in Owings Mills all day Tuesday at WNST.net and AM 1570.

Ravens players are expected to start appearing the Owings Mills headquarters as early as 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

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Ravens punch Indy ticket with easy beatdown of Patriots, 33-14

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Drew Forrester

Let me get this straight.

New England hadn’t lost a home playoff game in 31 years — and in that time they were 11-0 in Foxborough.

Tom Brady was 8-0 at home in his post-season career.

Baltimore’s pedestrian 9-7 regular season mark this year included a dismal 3-5 away record.

So with all of that statistical data overloaded against Baltimore, it made perfect sense that the Ravens would race out to a 24-0 first quarter lead and cruise to a 33-14 win in New England today.

Right?

If you say so.

What a crazy league the NFL has become.

And what a crazy season it’s been for the Ravens, who literally entered the 4th quarter of their final regular season game in Oakland with their playoff berth still very much in jeopardy.

7 days later, they’ve polished off the mystique of the New England Patriots and they’re on their way to Indianapolis for a Saturday evening showdown with Peyton Manning and the Colts.

The New England fans hung around until there were about 9 minutes to go in the game.

They put in more of an effort than Randy Moss, that’s for sure.

So how did it happen today?

In a way only the dreamer could possibly imagine, the Ravens scored on their first play from scrimmage and then parlayed two first quarter turnovers into a 24-0 lead before half the crowd could say, “Want another cup of chow-dahh?”

And with their star quarterback obviously in need of a spark-plug change and Moss mailing it in like a member of the Postal Service, the Patriots were left with nothing to do except entertain an afternoon of boos from their faithful and wonder to themselves how on earth they picked today to have their worst game of the season.

As for the Ravens, they picked a great time to produce their best 30 minutes of defensive football all season, that’s for sure.

With Ray Lewis providing yet another epic post-season performance and Domonique Foxworth leading an opportunistic secondary, Baltimore clamped down early and often on both Brady and the running game en-route to a comfortable 24-7 halftime lead.

And when Willis McGahee scampered in with 10:32 to play to make it 33-14, the stands started to empty.

So it’s now on to Indianapolis, where the Ravens will undoubtedly have January 13, 2007 on their minds.  Fresh off of a 13-3 regular season and a first-week playoff bye, Steve McNair had a game only Tom Brady could duplicate (today) and the Baltimore offense stalled in a 15-6 loss to Indy.

Next Saturday night in Indy, it’s payback time for Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed and the rest of the guys who were part of that disappointing home defeat.

It had to be this way, right?

Baltimore vs. Indianapolis.

Winner goes to the AFC Championship game.

Loser goes home.

One thing for sure:  Tom Brady won’t be making a trip to South Florida in early February to gun for his 4th ring.

The Ravens made sure of that today in New England.

Now if they can send next week’s opposing quarterback home early, we might really be on to something.

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Hey John: You can’t be 4-4 and seriously talk playoffs

Posted on 09 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Just judging from the sheer volume of social media I consumed all day yesterday, the fan base here is in “quit on the 2009 season” mode. The lofty expectations following a rookie campaign for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco that ended in the AFC Championship Game led all of us in the Charm City to feel as though this year would somehow be better.

Well, we’re halfway through the race and things haven’t gone according to the best laid plan.

The Ravens have lost four of their last five, including yesterday’s turd in Cincinnati. The team, overall, just hasn’t been as good as advertised in many ways. The Bengals have now embarrassed the Ravens twice in four weeks en route to sole possession of the AFC North lead and have earned the right to crow.

While yesterday’s loss certainly felt like more of a beatdown than the final score — and we’ll get to Steve Hauschka’s missed kick in a minute — the NFL only counts one thing en route to a playoff berth in the tournament: wins. And right now, at 4-4, this isn’t going to get it done.

I could make excuses for all of the other three losses — and losing in the waning seconds on the road to New England and Minnesota doesn’t make you a bad team. But the pair of losses to the Bengals has been illuminating, especially when you consider Marvin Lewis’ recipe for building a team with a 6-2 start.

The Bengals have just about everything you’d want — a world-class quarterback with a world-class wide receiver and a running back who runs like Jamal Lewis with a line that’s got a nasty streak. On defense, they’ve built through a young linebacking corps (sound familiar?) and a pair of first-round cornerbacks who allow the safeties and linebackers to play hardball with the pass rush. Oh, yeah — they also arguably have the best kicker in the sport.

The Ravens, as was in full display yesterday, are sorely lacking in various departments but especially the ability to get off the field consistently on 3rd down on defense. It’s been a defensive franchise for the better part of 11 seasons. All good things must end and the 2009 defense is not up to “Play Like a Raven” standards.

Is that Greg Mattsion’s fault? Is that because of the clear falloff at the cornerback position? Is it not having Rex Ryan? Is Bart Scott missed that much? Is Ed Reed OK? Will Haloti Ngata be injured all year?

The entire secondary was beaten in coverage during the first half and the penalties were dreadful. All over the field. Ray Lewis is still the Ravens best player when Ngata is not dressed and that speaks volumes.

The first three losses were “excused” in my opinion. Yesterday, however, did a lot to expose the Ravens as a team that’s pretty good but not a serious playoff contender, especially not with that secondary and lack of pass rush.

Sure, Haloti Ngata’s absence needs to be factored into the equation in the Bengals debacle, but the Ravens have sufficient depth at that position and I’m not sure Ngata would’ve been a difference maker in the outcome yesterday in Cincinnati.

As for the offense, Joe Flacco just was not good enough yesterday, nor was the offensive line, which played its worst game of the season. Penalties? All over the place and ill-timed. Productivity? How about making their first third-down conversion in the fourth quarter? That’s just putrid, unacceptable and not worthy of the NFL playoffs.

They didn’t run well. They didn’t pass well. They were out of sync all day and Flacco looked bewildered during his short stints in the first half. Flacco has now dropped five straight to teams led by Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

Derrick Mason and Ray Lewis declined to comment after the game yesterday but I’m sure they’ll have something to say on Wednesday at The Castle.

Harbaugh did his usual tap dance around any tough questions from the media — (memo to John: denying that the team doesn’t tackle well is laughable at this point) — but it’s easy to do what you want when you’re in the AFC Championship Game and things are going better than advertised.

But when the team is a disappointing 4-4 at the turn and the one decision that’s truly pinned to Harbaugh’s special teams badge of expertise — the banishment of kicker Matt Stover in the offseason — costing the team team parts of two of the losses, the questions are only going to get tougher around the head coach and around Steve Hauschka.

This team was supposed to go to the playoffs. This team was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. The “upgrades” of the offseason were well-calculated and the draft went well. The Ravens and the fanbase were not prepared to be swept by the Bengals and be 4-4 at the turn.

All eyes will now turn to Cleveland, where the Ravens most certainly will awaken eight days from now at 5-4. Right? We can only hope…

The Ravens have amassed four losses and haven’t yet seen the Steelers, the Colts or a frigid December night at Lambeau Field and a West Coast trip to the zoo in Oakland in early 2010. There’s a lot of football left to be played.

The Ravens will sort this out on the field. They need to go 6-2 to have a chance. They need to go 7-1 to be assured of a spot.

If they do it, they’ll be good enough. If they lose two more times to the Steelers, they’ll be playing golf on Jan. 4th and deservedly so.

And if that happens, John Harbaugh’s gonna have a lotta ‘esplainin’ to do at that postseason press conference while he sits next to Steve Bisciotti and the Steelers and Bengals are still playing football…

Things like:

What really happened in the decision to replace Matt Stover with Steve Hauschka?

What really happened with Chris McAlister and how did we get sold that Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr are upgrades?

Why all the penalties?

Where is the pass rush?

Where is Willis McGahee?

Where is the urgency on offense when the team is down two scores with three minutes left?

Of course, Harbaugh doesn’t really like the tough questions but they’re coming. It’s a tough job. It’s been a lot of fun, this honeymoon of riches and a great start to his era in Baltimore. Getting to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie head coach indeed buys you a hall pass for a while.

I have a feeling a lot of that ended yesterday, with a sweep to the Bengals and a 4-4 record at the turn.

But, as Brian Billick would no doubt tell him, these Monday mornings aren’t a whole lot of fun when the town gets disappointed and the team plays poorly.

And someone has to answer the questions…

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Morning After: Undefeated Ravens now will play role of favorite in AFC

Posted on 21 September 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s hard to write these old-man “analysis” columns for the “morning newspaper” after I’ve been talking and Twittering and Facebooking and basically “analyzing” the game from every perspective imaginable literally every moment of the game.

(If you’re not following us on your mobile device during the game on Sunday, you’re missing the best “team” analysis of the games as the situations happen. God, I love the internet in 2009!)

But before I spend all day Monday flying back from San Diego and inevitably talking to more Ravens fans about the game on the airplane, I suppose I must sum it all by saying this: Sunday’s win has solidified Baltimore’s role as a leader of the AFC pack for a Super Bowl championship this year.

I haven’t looked, but I guarantee you that the Ravens will be No. 1 on many “power ranking” or “Fine Fifteens” all across the internet today and all week.

Sure, the Ravens 31-26 win at Qualcomm Stadium exposed some of the deficiencies of the team in the secondary, but it also showed the resiliency of the unit and their ability to make a play 3,000 miles from home with the game on the line and the home crowd on their edge of their seats anticipating a hocus-pocus victory.

Ray Lewis, with a play he even called the greatest of his career, made sure that the Ravens were not making the long flight home as losers.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldY2pInMyR4[/youtube]

It wasn’t a pretty effort on Sunday in San Diego, but beating division leaders on the road never is scored on beauty. It’s scored on guts, and the Ravens have that in abundance as their play the past two weeks has illustrated. The Ravens of 2009 have a lot of fourth quarter fight in them and they’ll need in throughout the long season.

It’s still quite early in the season but the Ravens have fended off two attacks and you’d like to think that with Cleveland en route to M&T Bank Stadium this weekend, the team should be 3-0 heading to New England for another showdown with an AFC favorite on the road where Lewis, Flacco and company will be tested under the glare of the national spotlight.

It’s impossible to discuss Sunday’s game in San Diego without pointing how bad the secondary looked in the victory. Prior to his concussion, Fabian Washington struggled mightily and Dominique Foxworth might’ve looked even worse. The big play was the bane of John Harbaugh’s existence yesterday as Philip Rivers threw for 436 yards with a handful of big plays and breakdowns that I don’t need to itemize here. The first touchdown when Darren Sproles was running toward Arizona was such a colossal meltdown that I couldn’t even figure out who to blame!

“We need to get better,” was Harbaugh’s postgame message and it will certainly be heard in the meeting room of Greg Mattison all week in preparation for the Browns.

You can’t give up that kind of yardage in big chunks and continue to win in the NFL.

But for now, we’ll consider yesterday’s many faux paus and defensive breakdowns a blip on the radar and hope that the pass rush will also be more effective vs. some of the lesser lights of the league. Brady Quinn should not be throwing the ball around like a sandlot game this week. At least we hope…

And despite Flacco’s late interception across the middle of the field deep into enemy territory yesterday, it hasn’t taken me long to become almost spoiled by his confidence, leadership and ability to be very consistent in the passing attack.

I’m confident that Flacco will continue to emerge as the reason the Ravens win games, not the guy who throws interceptions late on the road to open the door for the home team.

The running game will continue to be a weapon as Willis McGahee emerged yesterday as a factor and sometimes it seems like we just forget he’s even on the team. His 79 hard-earned yards yesterday were a huge factor in the win but Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain will be heard from plenty over the next 14 weeks.

It wasn’t a pretty victory – the stat sheet here will bear that out – but it was a major morale booster in a lot of ways and has certainly awakened the fans, the organization and the players to just where Ray Lewis stands in 2009 – 15 years into a Hall of Fame career.

With the game on the line, with enemy fans foaming at the mouth for a victory and with people always questioning how much tread is left on No. 52’s tires, he manages a way to shut us all up – again!

I walked from one end of the tiny, cramped locker room at Jack Murphy Stadium yesterday to the other and I couldn’t find a veteran player who said he’d ever seen a bigger play at more crucial moment of a football game than Lewis’ gap-shooting assault on Darren Sproles on fourth down with the game on the line.

Here’s what Trevor Pryce thought:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW5RTKCOzSQ&feature=channel_page[/youtube]

Sure, the secondary needs work. Sure, it’s only Week 2 and talk of being undefeated is premature.

But the Ravens are in first place and they’ve claimed a road victory over a team that is almost certainly headed for a division title in the AFC West.

The Ravens are Super Bowl contenders. The national media will throw the spotlight on the local boys this week.

Get ready for a wild ride this season.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q76uAYhdpA&feature=channel_page[/youtube]

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‘Twas The Night before the Ravens opener…

Posted on 12 September 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It kinda reminds me of Christmas Eve with anticipation. We’ve been waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and finally, football season is really here in Baltimore.

Wash away those ghosts of Troy Polamalu – the ones from the AFC Championship Game in January not the one from Thursday night – and let us begin a season anew.

First up, it’s the woeful Kansas City Chiefs. The general vibe around town all week has been one of supreme confidence. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed began their Wednesday press conference with dancing. John Harbaugh has sounded confident. Joe Flacco seems like a veteran all of a sudden.

I’ve quizzed several Kansas City media members and I had a chance to watch parts of two of their preseason games (both without Matt Cassel). No one is brimming with confidence in the land of the red Chiefs and no one really expects them to win tomorrow.

The Vegas line started at 10 ½ and has now moved to 13 points. Even if Matt Cassel plays on Sunday – and that seems to be a sure bet given their backup options with Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle – the Chiefs are a team of nobodys and “who is thats” coming in to serve the purple patrons an Opening Day patsy.

The Ravens should win on Sunday. There should be no excuses.

The team has looked brilliant in virtually every facet of first-team play through four preseason games. They’ve almost made it look too easy, even without Terrell Suggs for long stretches.

Confidence is high. Tailgates are sizzling with Roma Sausage and cold beer. Even the weather looks to be strong – forecast is 78 degrees and zero chance of precipitation.

So, just how will the 2009 season go for the Ravens?

The fans are abuzz with talk of depth at the wide receiver position. The offensive line is trying to find some depth to open up holes for a running back-by-committee arrangement with Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice, who will probably be the leading rusher if they all stay healthy. And the health and productivity of Todd Heap is certainly a question mark.

But, offensively, it feels like Flacco will be asked to do more and looks more than capable of stepping up to that challenge.

Defensively, the eyes will always be on Ray Lewis, who is fighting Father Time with every season. Consider that he’s now survived two years longer than Jon Ogden and the likes of Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Chris McAlister, Duane Starks – who all entered the league after No. 52 – all seems to be done in the NFL. Lewis was considered a surefire Hall of Famer five years ago is now continuing to pile on his own legacy.

What kind of a year will it be for Lewis?

And Ed Reed, who has had neck issues and certainly doesn’t appear set for a long, long career given his style of play and reckless abandon and penchant for physical contact?

Terrell Suggs appeared injured during most of camp but quieted all questions for me in the Atlanta game, when he looked dominant and healthy.

The secondary will have a fresh look with Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington mixing it up with Frank Walker, who has to earn a little more confidence from the purple crowd and probably will vs. Kansas City.

The defensive line appears to be the strength of the defense, led by Haloti Ngata who had a mysterious injury appear earlier this week.

Questions and more questions. We’ll have 16 weeks of this marathon.

The answers begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Bring on the season. Bring on the Chiefs. Bring on the roadtrips!

My prediction: Ravens go 12-4 and win the Super Bowl.

Baltimore 31, Kansas City 13

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Live from Westminster: Ravens put 11 on “active” PUP to start camp

Posted on 28 July 2009 by Luke Jones

7:23 p.m. — The Ravens have waived former Terps receiver Isaiah Williams.

6:44 p.m. — Defensive back Derrick Martin made the defensive play of the afternoon, picking off a pass from John Beck during 7-on-7 drills.

Only two offensive linemen practiced today, Robby Felix and Bryan Mattison (the defensive coordinator’s son).  Offensive line coach John Matsko really worked the two linemen hard.

Newly-signed Jayson Foster jumped right in, snagging a pass after signing with the team today.  Foster’s signing was such a secret that many of the assistant coaches had to ask his name on the field.  He wore No. 18 today—with no name on the back.

Though Marshal Yanda is sporting a bulky brace on his knee, he was moving around fairly well on the sideline today.  He wasn’t as active as Ben Grubbs or Adam Terry in his running, but it was good seeing him moving around after the horrific knee injury he suffered in Indianapolis last season.

6:23 p.m. — The afternoon practice was pretty uneventful and similar to the morning workout.  It lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, though rookies stuck around for a little longer to work with special teams coach Jerry Rosburg.

The most exciting moments came from 7-on-7 drills when Joe Flacco connected on a 15-yard fade route to Demetrius Williams over defensive back Frank Walker.  With Williams now the projected No. 2 receiver, it was nice to see him making a play after spending a large portion of last season on injured reserve.

More to come in just a few moments.  Time to make my last Ravens Report of the day.

3:31 p.m. — The Ravens have just signed diminutive WR (hey, he’s 5-foot-7) Jayson Foster. Foster went to Georgia Southern and here’s his mini bio. He spent time in Denver and Pittsburgh and we’re still researching him. Even the PR folks in Westminster don’t know much about him. More to come…

2:52 p.m. — If you’re following WNST on Twitter, you just saw that free agent wide receiver Robert Ferguson told Glenn Clark he wants to play for the Ravens.  Ferguson will join Drew on the Comcast Morning Show on Wednesday at 9:40 a.m.

We give live “Tweets” from the field at McDaniel College throughout the morning and afternoon practices.  You can follow it here.

2:45 p.m. — We have less than an hour to go until the players are back out on the field for the afternoon workout.

Veterans will be reporting tomorrow and are scheduled to take their physicals at 3:00 p.m.  If you’re planning on attending training camp tomorrow, remember it will only be rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans.  The remaining veterans will not be practicing on Wednesday.

1:48 p.m. — A name to keep an eye on during training camp is Jameel McClain.  The Syracuse linebacker came to Baltimore as a rookie free agent last season and really impressed coaches, earning a roster spot and playing time in the second-rated defense in the NFL.  His two safeties—a blocked punt and a sack of JaMarcus Russell—was a franchise record.

McClain has been moved to the inside linebacker position and will compete with Tavares Gooden.  While Gooden is the favorite to start next to Ray Lewis, McClain’s endless motor will make it nearly impossible to keep him off the field.

“The guys that work hard at this program are the guys that do the best and are [guys] who can have a chance to play,” Mattison said.  “That’s a real endorsement to our personnel people.  They saw some great things in him, and he just proved it throughout the year.  And I think he’s going to take off from here.”

1:42 p.m. — We heard from new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison after this morning’s practice.  He is pleased with the mix of experience and youth in his defense.  His top priority is to get the defense to play at the same high level the fans have come to expect every season.

He mentioned the “Raven” mentality and bar that has been set over the past decade.

Mattison also touched on the health of a secondary that had several players recovering from injuries dating back to last season.  He thought several of the players looked bigger and healthy.

12:18 p.m. — McGahee looks trimmer and feels healthy entering the preseason.  He emphasized to reporters that his placement on the PUP list is strictly precautionary.  The running back simply doesn’t want a repeat of last season.

When asked whether he lost weight, McGahee jokingly said “no comment.”  You can check out this interview in the WNST audio vault.

12:02 p.m. — John Harbaugh spoke to the media after the morning practice, describing the first workout as “good” and “crisp.”

Harbaugh talked about the improved strength and size of receiver Demetrius Williams.  It was Williams’ goal to become stronger and build muscle mass around the joints.  Harbaugh was pleased with how Williams looked in the morning.  With Derrick Mason currently retired, Williams is the project No. 2 receiver behind Mark Clayton.

The Ravens coach said the placement of McGahee on the PUP list is strickly a precautionary move after the running back underwent knee surgery in the offseason.

11:54 a.m. — The morning practice was very brief, lasting only 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Players were dressed in shorts, and there was no full-speed contact.

The player who drew the loudest applause from the crowd was wide receiver Mark Clayton who caught a long touchdown pass during offensive drills.  Rookie running back Cedric Peerman also grabbed a nifty one-handed catch.

Quarterback Joe Flacco looked pretty sharp in his first training camp workout, but the keystone moment for the former Delaware Blue Hen was actually an incomplete pass to running back Matt Lawrence who ran the incorrect pattern.  The second-year quarterback corrected his teammate, ran the play again, and completed the pass to Lawrence.  It was a simple example of the leadership Flacco has with this offense.

Veteran Kelly Gregg was back on the field and looks to be in great shape.  The nose tackle’s surgically-repaired knee was only wrapped in an ace bandage, a good sign for Greg Mattison’s defense.

11:43 a.m. — To clarify the PUP list a bit more, this list is referred to as the active PUP list.  These players are eligible to practice any time, and John Harbaugh even said some of them could be ready to go as early as tomorrow.  The purpose of this list is to keep these players eligible for the reserve PUP list—the one where players do not count against the 53-man roster but must miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

PUP list players still count against the 80-man training camp roster, so there is no added roster flexibility in regards to the preseason.

11:21 a.m. — The Ravens initial PUP’ers are Willis McGahee, Lamar Divens, Davon Drew, Yamon Figurs, Ben Grubbs, Adam Terry, Jason Phillips, Samari Rolle, Lou Saucedo, Marshal Yanda and Joe Reitz.

Definition of “physically unable to perform”: This List designates players with serious injuries that will keep them from being able to start a season on the 53-man protected list but may be able to return to the roster during the regular season. The players must be placed on this roster at or before the league-wide 65-man summer roster cutdown to be eligible for this designation, and they must stay on this list for at least the first six weeks of the regular season. After this time teams have 3 weeks to evaluate such players after which each such player must be placed on the 53-man roster, season-ending Injured Reserve (IR) or waivers.

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Somewhere over the Warehouse…and the rainbow!

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Somewhere over the Warehouse…and the rainbow!

Posted on 29 May 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Matt Wieters gets tested on the first play of the game. He goes 0-fer at the plate. Brad Bergesen goes eight strong innings. Luke Scott jacks two home runs onto the flag court and drives in five runs. The stadium is packed with orange hopefuls, young and old, and the weather even held off as the Orioles beat the Tigers 7-2 in one of the more “Magical” nights in the history of Camden Yards.

Dave Trembley said it perfectly: “Good for our team. Good for our fans. Good for our city.”

That about sums it up.

And truly is a blog where a picture is worth a thousand words:

Matt Wieters and the rainbow over the Warehouse

The Orioles beat up on Dontrelle Willis and have now won five in a row. Brad Bergesen and Luke Scott both got the Adam Jones’ “shaving cream pie in the face” treatment with a frightened Amber Theoharis.

Oh, and as Matt Wieters came to bat in the third inning, I snapped this photo above from my seats in Sect. 86 in left field. I also threw together this video:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj7N-xn14R4&feature=channel_page[/youtube]

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2008 Ravens tribute: “Harmony Reigns”

Posted on 23 December 2008 by Drew Forrester

With only one week remaining in the regular season, the Ravens are on target to return to post-season play for the second time in three seasons.  The only thing standing in their way: a visit from downtrodden Jacksonville this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Get ready to celebrate.  There’s no way the Jags come here and beat the Ravens with everything on the line for Baltimore and nothing at stake for J’ville.  If, somehow, Jacksonville does win on Sunday, it goes down as the most disappointing defeat in Ravens history.  Period.  That Indy home playoff loss was a downer, but it WAS a playoff game and the team that beat the Ravens on January 13, 2007 went on to win the Super Bowl.  It wasn’t like a 5-10 team came limping in here ready to mail it in and suddenly found a win to pull the upset of all upsets to keep us out of the playoffs.  That’s the scenario the Jags face on Sunday.  I don’t see it happening.

So, when the Ravens win this Sunday and scoot in as the surprising 6th seed in the AFC, the reflective question of the day will be this: “How’d we do it?”

How did the Ravens go from 5-11 a year ago, with a locker room in complete disarray and a group of mouthy, disgruntled players, to an 11-5 team just 12 months later?

There are some easy answers and some complicated ones, but they all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

First off, last year’s team might have finished 5-11, but they weren’t really a 5-11 club.  They lost three games in memorable, completely unexpected (some would say “fluky”) fashion.  One of the losses came at home when Cleveland’s kicker booted a game-tying field goal that hit the goal-post and bounded onto the back stantion, where it promptly bounced forward and was ruled no good.  A review (of sorts) of the play resulted in a change of the call (rightfully) to “good” and the Browns went on to win in overtime.  A few weeks later, Baltimore beat then-undefeated New England except Rex Ryan called a time-out in the game’s final minute…just as the Ravens were stopping the Patriots and their winning streak on 4th down.  Moments later, after New England capitalized on 4th down opportunity #2, Tom Brady threw the game-winning TD and the Pats won a game they had already lost.  And in week #14, ultra-reliable Matt Stover missed a 43-yard field goal in overtime that would have given Baltimore a win at Miami.  

So, a 5-11 team really played more like an 8-8 team.  But 5-11 it was.

Also last year, injuries played havoc with Baltimore’s starting 22 and the depth of the team was fully exposed in the latter stages of the season.  At one point in 2007, 8 of their best players missed at least 20% of the campaign, some even more.  McAlister (knee), Ogden (toe), McNair (everything), Lewis (hand), Rolle (health), Heap (ankle), Pryce (hand) and Wilcox (toe) were all sidelined and their replacements were not only inadequate, but in some cases, liabilities.  Who can ever forget that Indianapolis home game?  Peyton Manning torched the Ravens’ depth-less secondary so much the Baltimore City fire marshal showed up at halftime and issued #18 a citation for outdoor burning.

This year’s team battled injuries early on, but their BEST players, with the exception of Rolle, McAlister and Kelly Gregg, have all played the entire schedule to date: Ray, Flacco, Ngata, Suggs, Reed, Mason (banged up but playing every game somehow…what a warrior), Gaither, Brown, Grubbs, Scott, Pryce…none of those guys have missed extensive time.  It helps when your best players are playing. This year, for the most part, the Ravens best players have been available.

And it also helps when the organization learns from its mistakes.  Depth (lack thereof) was a major reason for last year’s failure, but depth is a big reason why the ’08 version is winning.  When Dawan Landry went down in week #2 with a season ending spinal injury, safety Jim Leonhard stepped in and did the job and then some, earning the respect of everyone with his week-in, week-out hard-nosed style of play.  And when Rolle and McAlister both missed time, newcomer Fabian Washington stepped in admirably at cornerback and even the oft-criticized Frank Walker has been decent enough to warrant a respectful tip of the cap.  Kelly Gregg’s absence hasn’t been felt at all, thanks to a monster year from Ngata and a breakthrough campaign for erstwhile back-up Justin Bannan.  And the triple-threat at running back has given the team different looks and different strengths all season long.  

“Players play, coaches coach” – that’s the old adage.  And it’s true.  But, when dissecting this year’s success, you’d be unfair if you didn’t mention the off-season front office work of George Kokinis, Eric DeCosta and, of course, Ozzie Newsome.  Via the draft and free agency, those three added depth in the secondary and on the offensive and defensive lines.  

John Harbaugh came in a with no-nonsense style that ruffled a feathers at the outset, but as he settled down, so did the discontent.  Coodinators Cameron and Ryan are well respected by the players and they quietly mirror Harbaugh’s confidence that this roster of players is capable of winning big games right away – even with a first-year quarterback at the helm.

But the two main components that contribute to the ’08 Ravens success are the complicated pieces that complete the puzzle.  I’ll call them “Peace and Quiet” for lack of a better term. 

First, and most obviously, it’s at quarterback, where Joe Flacco (“Peace”) has done the unthinkable. He’s gone from leading a Division 1AA school to its post-season to leading an NFL team to the brink of its post-season — all within 12 months.  And he’s done it with a quiet, reserved, hardly-a-pulse manner that has made his teammates believe in him almost from day one in Westminster last summer. Kyle Boller NEVER had the faith of his entire team in five seasons.  Joe Flacco gained it all in about five weeks. 

And without that distraction at quarterback and with the team in harmony both on and off the field, this year’s Ravens have been able to focus on playing football.  And good football, at that.

It’s been awfully “Quiet” this season.  Have you noticed how much bickering has gone on this year? Even when the team stumbled in October and dropped three straight, do you remember any public whining and moaning?  McAlister was involved in a fortnight of controversy with the coach over some misbehaving in Miami, but he suddenly suffered a season ending knee injury (*ahem*) that saved Harbaugh a tough mid-season talk.  And, other than Ed Reed dropping a “we don’t like the way Harbaugh talks down to us…” hint at mid-season, you heard no other negative whispers from the locker room.

No more complaints about the quarterback.  No crying about playing time.  No public campaigning for new contracts, extensions, etc.  No controversies, even on the occasion when results and fortune could have allowed for it.  

When the Ravens got pounded by the Giants in New York, they simply said, “we got beat by a better team today…” – Early in the year they lost a heartbreaker at home to the Titans when Tennessee orchestrated a late drive that was aided in large part by a phantom “blow to the head” call against Terrell Suggs…”we shouldn’t have been in that position…can’t let a good team like that stay in the game” was what the players said afterwards. – And last Sunday after losing to Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion with a goal-line TD call leaving everyone in America wondering about the effectiveness of instant-replay, the Ravens refused to bite: “we just have to go to Dallas and win a football game…we didn’t do the job on that last drive…can’t win many games if you don’t score touchdowns.”  No complaining this year.  No bellyaching about the referees, bad luck, bad coaching, etc.  

This team stayed positive all season long.

Looking for the BEST example of all?  Willis McGahee.  Essentially benched in the late stages of the season for lack of production, #23 took the chance to support his coach by saying, “If I were the coach, I’d bench me too…I’ve played like dog doo-doo.”  Gone are the days of hearing a guy chastising the coaching staff for not getting enough touches on the ball — McGahee took his demotion like a pro and put the team first. It’s been a while since I felt better about a player scoring a touchdown than I did on Saturday night when Willis broke off that 77-yard TD run.  He deserved that more than anyone else on the team.

The topper, though, has to be the unwavering championship play of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott. All three are seeking a new deal and all three are – for the most part – competing with one another for that big cash cow at season’s end.  If Ray gets all the money, Suggs and Scott might not. If Suggs cashes in, Ray and Scott might be looking at giving a purple discount or moving on to another team. Yet, there hasn’t been one – not one – moment where any of those three took the opportunity to bellow about a new deal either here or elsewhere.

It’s a happy house in Owings Mills these days.

The team has won.

The players have played hard.  Injured players have been replaced by guys performing at unexpected levels. And certain players have battled ailments to the extent that it almost looks unhealthy for them to be out there in the first place.

The Ravens have come together as men and played for one goal.

And their focus has been on winning football games.  Nothing else.

Playing time, personal friendships, money, feelings about the coach and his staff…it’s all been put on the side in exchange for trying to win.

It’s been their ’08 success formula.

Let’s hope it carries over for just one more Sunday.

Then everyone starts at 0-0 again and it’s suddenly a 4-game season.

And, based on what I’ve seen over the last four months, I like the Ravens chances in January.

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Ravens beat Dallas 33-24, throw a purple party in Dallas

Posted on 21 December 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s become a joke amongst the local media, calling the Ravens “mighty men.” It’s John Harbaugh’s favorite “term of endearment” and corny catch phrase for his team. Tonight in Dallas, they were indeed mighty men, dropping the vaunted Cowboys like a bad habit at home on their special night and the hyper-emotional closing of Texas Stadium. The Ravens were impressive in dispatching the local stars, 33-24 to urinate on the biggest party in the biggest state in the swan song of the state’s greatest icon on a brutally cold evening.

Tonight, the real “stars” were wearing the purple helmets with the B’s. Strangely enough, it was punter Sam Koch who not only did his thing booting the ball effectively all night (including a 61-yarder) but it was the trick draw play on a field goal fake that stole the show and changed the momentum of the game. Really, who in the world was expecting that? A brass balls move if there ever was one by Harbaugh and the crew.

If this team makes noise in January, they’ll look back on this bounce back from that Pittsburgh fiasco and see the huge emotional breakthroughs. They finally beat a quality opponent on the road. The sheer willpower to persevere amidst an avalanche of injuries speak volumes about their “mighty men” status. The training room looked like an infirmary after the game, with Derrick Mason not being able to lift his arms, with Samari Rolle banged up, with Willie Andeson and Todd Heap hobbling. And while Fabian Washington gritted out a start, the team played the whole game without Ray Rice, who was an injury scratch. So, in came Willis McGahee, whose 77-yard scamper for an apparent “icing” touchdown was only topped minutes later — after Tony Romo led the Cowboys back down the field for an answer on a Ravens’ defense that has been leaky lately – by Le’Ron McClain’s 82-yard bolt to truly put the game out of reach. The final numbers were downright gaudy: McClain was 22 for 139 yards and McGahee finished with just eight carries but 108 yards and team rushing total was a whopping 266 yards and the Cowboys defense will look at the two fourth-quarter runs as busted plays that cost them their season.

For the local fans, it was morgue like, an evening of horrors from the home team on a night when it was all set up for the Ravens to be a “homecoming” pansy for the legends of Cowboys’ past and a night of civic remembrance and celebration. No doubt the Ravens players were inspired when informed that Jerry Jones PERSONALLY, HAND-PICKED the Ravens as his final opponent in Texas Stadium. (That’s a FACT by the way. Jones insisted on having the Ravens because when he looked at the schedule the Ravens were the weakest team on the slate. Perhaps he should’ve chosen Cincinnati?)

After the game Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs screamed all sorts of stuff about it into the NFL Films cameras and the postgame was filled with notions that the Ravens are the new Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL. But at 10-5 with a chance to ice a playoff berth against Jacksonville at home next weekend, it has been the most unlikely of seasons for the purple. Next Sunday will be OUR civic celebration for the 2008 Ravens, our final home game and a chance to send the Ravens on the road in style for an unexpected Festivus.

What a ride…Enoy the videos. I enjoyed making them.

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Ray & Co. nearly playoff bound…

Posted on 21 December 2008 by Drew Forrester

Ray Lewis made another million bucks on Saturday night.

Joe Flacco made up for a first quarter blunder with a near perfect second half.

The Ravens made good on a shocking fake field goal attempt that changed the game.

And, Willis McGahee made his doubters become temporary believers with a 77-yard dash to the end zone.

It was all part of a wacky final game at Texas Stadium, as Baltimore produced the marquee win they’ve been looking for all year, knocking off the Cowboys, 33-24, and moving within one win of the AFC playoffs.

How’s Ray Lewis going to get home tonight?  Will he fly the team plane or just ride the Brinks truck back from “Big D”?  Lewis turned in another virtuoso performance on Saturday and just keeps making 2009 bank deposits with every hit, every tackle and every big game in which he steps up and proves why he’s the best defensive player of his generation.  

Joe Flacco rebounded from a disappointing effort in Baltimore last Sunday with a solid performance, easily outplaying embattled Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo, who was so ineffective throwing the ball in the first half the Orioles offered him the #4 spot in their starting rotation at halftime.  

Flacco also bounced back from a first quarter fumble when Adam Terry and Ben Grubbs got beat near the goal-line and DeMarcus Ware swatted the ball out of #5′s hands to set up the first Dallas TD not even four minutes into the game.  From that point forward, Flacco was unrattled and ended the night 17-of-25 with 1 TD and a 96% QB rating.  Dallas wishes Flacco played for them – and Romo didn’t.

Matt Stover returned home and booted four field goals, but it was the one he DIDN’T attempt that shook Texas Stadium.  Ahead 9-7 late in the third quarter, Stover trotted on for a 38-yard attempt but Baltimore pulled a fake and holder Sam Koch bolted ahead for 9 yards and a first down.  And when Flacco found Derrick Mason for a 12-yard TD in the corner of the end zone just moments later, you could sense Texas Stadium was going dark with a loss as its last memory.

In the 4th quarter, ahead 19-17, Willis McGahee broke off a 77-yard run through the heart of the Cowboys’ defensive line and Baltimore moved ahead by nine with 3:32 to play.  After a Dallas TD pass cut the lead to two points once again, it was Le’Ron McClain’s turn to do the long-distance damage, with a deja-vu scamper of 82 yards to close out the scoring at 33-24.  

What a night it was at Texas Stadium.

Baltimore now needs only to beat Jacksonville next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium to secure the 6th seed in the AFC playoffs, where they will likely battle the AFC East champion on the road in the first round of the playoffs (Jan. 3-4)

It was a great night for a lot of people in Dallas.

Most of them were wearing purple.

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