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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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.

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:

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.

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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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Matt Wieters and the rainbow over the Warehouse

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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:

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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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Beating the Redskins in Baltimore…is anything better?

Posted on 08 December 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Let’s start by stating the obvious: any win over the Washington Redskins is a great win, especially when you only get that opportunity every four years. With so much at stake after the Steelers wild comeback over Dallas (the tailgate was essentially a giant, frigid outdoor viewing party), it became more of a playoff game for the Ravens and they answered the bell on Sunday night with a resounding 24-10 win over their weaker rivals from the D.C. beltway.

Of course, the real playoff game comes this Sunday when the Steelers come to town for another huge game that will dictate whether the Ravens are “just” a playoff team or whether they’re built to win in January. A loss, and the playoffs are in peril and they’ll need to claw and scratch just to get in and go on the road for the month. A win over Pittsburgh here, and the Ravens can legitimately start talking about a first-round bye.

What a long, crazy, unexpected season this has been. Last night was an “instant classic,” a legendary memory, both good and bad. Beating the Redskins like dogs might be the most fun you can have as a Ravens fan but the sheer volume of burgundy and gold that made its way into our stadium was disgusting. And the weather was absolutely bone-chilling.

For those of you who didn’t attend, it was by far the coldest game in Ravens history, our own personal Ice Bowl. With the wind, it was brutal — so cold that the crowds started heading for the exits at halftime and some of us couldn’t blame them. It’s been almost three decades of waiting for the Redskins to return to Baltimore and I honestly didn’t enjoy the whipping as much as I thought I would just because I was a giant block of ice by the second quarter.

As I peered around at everyone in my section and the missing seats around the stadium, I think most people were thinking what I was: “Just get this game over with so I can go someplace warm!”

Lots of observations:

It’s pretty apparent what kind of amazing season Ed Reed is having. He’s a ballhawk, setting up quarterbacks, following their eyes and when the ball is thrown down the middle he is always in the right place. He is a tip-ball master. It’s uncanny, really. Let’s not forget that three months ago in Westminster there were organization-wide concerns that he’d never set foot on the field in 2008. The first six weeks of the season, he played with one arm and avoided contact on most plays. And after last night’s stellar game, many in the local media were talking MVP (or at least defensive MVP) accolades for No. 20.

Needless to say, virtually everyone in the locker room had something to say about Ed Reed here on wnsTV.

Ray Lewis played another “throwback” game last night. He was all over the field, sideline to sideline and was robbed of a fumble recovery on the sack of Jason Campbell that was whistled too soon. Had that call gone the Ravens’ way, the game might’ve been over much earlier given the momentum at that point.

Joe Flacco continues to impress anyone who watches this team. We keep waiting for the rookie mistakes, the confusion, the errors. Since the Indianapolis meltdown, the team is 7-1 and that must be credited to Flacco, who has truly been “Joe Cool.”

And the patchwork Ravens offensive line keeps changing parts but not outcomes. Flacco has managed to avoid major hits, even scrambling when needed and the line has been tenacious.

You gotta love the Ravens’ two midgets in the secondary, Corey Ivy and Jim Leonhard are truly unsung heroes on this 2008 team. They both made some big plays and vicious tackles against the Redskins, but if you ever meet them you’ll be shocked at how small they are. They’re truly “normal” sized guys and in my 13 years of going through the Ravens locker room there haven’t many like them. Maybe Jermaine Lewis and B.J. Sams would be in the club but not many more. Just amazing the heart these guys show being on the field with the giants. It’s inspirational, really, because you know they’ve been told all of their lives that they were too small to play in the NFL.

When the game got tight late in the 3rd quarter, the running back situation and atrophy became a factor and Le’Ron McClain once again emerged as a force late in the game. No one wants to tackle him in the 4th quarter when he’s running downhill. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice were both dinged up and their status will be a daily story in Owings Mills this week as the preparation for Pittsburgh week begins.

Overall, it’s been a dreamy kinda season. There’s no “tell all” explanation for why this team is 9-4 in a year when most “experts” in their own building would’ve been delighted with 8-8. And the notion that when the schedule came out in April we’d be sitting here with a chance for a first-round bye in January  as we put up holiday lights – well, it’s impressive and exciting for the whole city and anyone who is Ravens onlooker.

So out come the Festivus lights and the possibility of January fun!

We are still looking for entries to our “Miller Lite Purple Palace” promotion where you can win tickets to the Green Bay roadtrip next fall and a visit from the WNST crew if you have the coolest Ravens set up in your home.

A purple basement?

A dedicated room for all things Festivus, with autographs, pictures, memories?

A purple holiday set up under the tree? Or maybe the whole TREE is purple?

Maybe your friends or relatives need to know about the contest as well?

Send your pictures and/or your videos. We’re entering the final week of the contest. Click here for more details.

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Just how good are the Ravens?

Posted on 10 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s not time to start printing playoff tickets just yet but if there’s any message that the Ravens sent to not only the Houston Texans but the NFL in general yesterday, it’s that this team is suddenly “for real.”

Any team that can go on the road and paste a team 41-13 in November to go to 6-3 must be taken seriously as a January threat.

Sure, it’s easy to say this: “Who have the Ravens beaten this year that matters?”

The answer: Cleveland twice, Oakland, Cincinnati, Miami and now Houston – combined record of 13-29.

Fair enough.

But the next seven weeks will work all of that out.

Are the Ravens a mediocre team that has bested a homely lot or an emerging playoff team waiting to break out and start beating some quality opponents?

There is one thing we know for sure.

With a date at the Meadowlands pending – and yes, we still have a handful of seats left on our “Miller Lite Purple Bus” to the swamps of Jersey this Sunday – the Ravens now control their own destiny in this chase for playoff football and a potential AFC North division crown.

It’s down to the Ravens and the Steelers in the AFC North and as tough as the purple schedule looks during the upcoming holiday season, it’s not any easier for yins’ donton either.

The Ravens have played nine games and have laid just one egg. They could easily be 8-1 with a little luck and some fourth quarter defense in the losses against Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

But I’m delighted with 6-3 and an emerging offense, stingy defense and the veteran play of Ray Lewis, Trevor Pryce and company leading the way for John Harbaugh’s troops. Yes, it’s been a VERY good year thus far, especially given the team’s modest expectations to be a .500 outfit.

There’s no crystal ball and no telling how the team will fare when the likes of the NFC East comes calling. But all of a sudden the upcoming matchups against Jacksonville and Pittsburgh at home don’t look so lopsided and quarterback Joe Flacco has looked less like a rookie than a veteran game manager and occasional long ball tosser who, combined with an effective three-headed backfield of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain, looks to be a factor in this run for January football.

It’s officially “Festivus” season in Baltimore.

Break out the purple lights.

Break out the expectations of fun on Sundays.

And by all means, enjoy this rarest of seasons – a November and holiday full of cheer, potential and hope for a playoff berth.

The good news came in waves yesterday.

The most significant developments happened on the offensive side of the ball, where Derrick Mason went down with a separated shoulder and Todd Heap got off the milk carton of the purple offense.

No doubt that No. 86 has heard the whispers of his pending demise and answered yesterday with his best game of the season.

Meanwhile, Ray Lewis turned in an effort with the impact he formerly had as a much younger man. Two interceptions, running sideline to sideline to once again hold an opposing offense’s star running back to less than 100 yards of rushing.

That makes 29 in a row, if my count is right.

Haloti Ngata’s interception at the goal line sparked a defensive effort that was classic Ravens defense but his contributions on every play should be earning him a grass skirt en route to Honolulu in early February. You’d be hard-pressed to find me a defensive tackle who is playing the game at a higher level right now as the defense continues to break the will of opposing running backs and frustrate and chase quarterbacks each Sunday.

Next up: the World Champion New York Giants.

They had their hands full with Philadelphia last night.

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The afterglow of Cleveland

Posted on 03 November 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

With just over a quarter remaining in yesterday’s key divisional AFC North matchup, the Ravens were 14 points down on the road, the Browns fans were coming to life with a chorus of “Hang on Sloopy” (don’t ask…just watch the video!) and the vultures were circling our black birds at Cleveland Stadium.

Some of the Cleveland “faithful” had already begun to pile out onto the street to watch Bruce Springsteen perform before the Barack Obama rally, which was literally adjacent to the stadium (think as close as Oriole Park is to M&T Bank Stadium).

The Browns had our rookie quarterback on the run. Our beaten defense had been pushed around for 30 minutes – or as Terrell Suggs said: “We were getting our asses handed to us.” And staring at a two-touchdown deficit on the road in a hostile environment, it didn’t feel as though a comeback was in the offering.

Todd Heap hadn’t caught a pass. Willis McGahee was on the pine. The backend of the secondary, while not looking like Ike Booth and Donny Brady circa 1996 was still not Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle in their prime for sure.

But, as we learned in the locker room after the game, it was about that time that Ray Lewis came to the forefront on the sidelines and talked about playing a full 60 minutes of football. He talked about believing and not quitting. All of the stuff many may view as “rhetoric” when it doesn’t work was viewed as gospel once the Ravens came storming back to score 24 unanswered points during the final 16 minutes of the game.

And, lo and behold, the Ravens created their first miracle of the John Harbaugh administration and gave us our best memory of Cleveland yet, a stunning 37-27 victory on The Lake. (Well, it’s at least the the best memory in Cleveland since the Roberto Alomar homer back in 1996.)

While the real world is in a seemingly constant state of financial crisis and life isn’t a whole lot of fun for most of us from the gas pump to the checkbook, it’s stupid stuff like sports that can create a little bit of fun and a diversion from daily life. At least here in Baltimore with the fantasyland that sports provides us, it’s turning into a very good year for our football team, which makes for nice Monday mornings.

Hell, it makes for great WEEKS in my world, where everywhere I go and everything I do leads me into a conversation about football and the Ravens.

So, on a personal note, there’s nothing more gratifying than when the Ravens win.

It helps WNST morale. It helps the morale of the community. And it makes food taste a little better and the beer is, to quote Chuck Thompson, a little colder.

The Ravens are 5-3, headed off to play Houston in six days and apparently will draw the Sage Rosenfels quarterback card instead of Matt Schaub, who left the Texans’ game early yesterday.

Ray Lewis is playing like a man possessed, showing himself to be the veteran leader in his “walk” year that we’ve been wanting to see as fans.

It’s officially time to start talking about “Festivus.”

(Does John Harbaugh even know about this sacred football holiday?)

And then there are the three “rookies” who stepped to the podium after yesterday’s gritty, improbable win.

Ray Rice had as big of a day on the road when it mattered against a division rival as you can imagine a rookie having. (Although he’ll be hearing about getting knocked out of bounds short of the end zone a few times this week from teammates.)

Joe Flacco was almost flawless in his effort yesterday and continues to show poise, confidence and ability that are beyond his years.

And rookie coach John Harbaugh is starting to show results in the only place it really matters: the team is 5-3 and could be in first place by the end of the night.

Only time will tell if yesterday’s offense-defense bonding on the Lake will take root and this will be a playoff team (or maybe even a true contender for a Super Bowl title in this oddest of seasons).

The conversations here and around town will talk about the obvious problems: the lack of a bye week, the powerful NFC North teams looming during the holidays and tough games and the secondary will probably be a question mark until proven otherwise. There will be plenty of time to debate all of this, week to week, as the team continues to mature.

But yesterday was one for the books — a classic, an unexpected gem to begin the Festivus season. Not even being stuck in the Cleveland airport for three extra hours last night could wipe the smile off of my face.

As I walked to the subway after hearing about 25 minutes of Springsteen (as many of you know, one of my favorites), we strolled to Tower City Mall as Bruce broke out an acoustic version of “The Rising” and dedicated it to Barack Obama, who was about to take the stage.

Bruce could have just as easily sent that one out to the purple birds, who were trying to navigate the insane scene of 100,000 people on the square downtown en route to the airport for a “rising” of their own.

The rising to the top of the AFC North, creating even more separation from the whole state of Ohio.

The rain began to fall on the Cleveland night as the sun set before 5 p.m. for the beginning of a long, cold winter on Lake Erie.

The Ravens are 5-3. The Browns are 3-5.

Going in opposite directions once again.

The bad news?

We’re all stuck rooting for the Redskins tonight.

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