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Ravens regular-season moment No. 1: Beating Jacksonville

Posted on 29 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 2 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE and the entire top 25 list HERE.

Novelty and nostalgia had defined the Baltimore Ravens.

A new generation of Baltimoreans finally had a team after 12 years in the NFL doldrums, but the Ravens were much closer to being the Bengals than the Steelers in those early years, going 16-31-1 in their first three seasons and finishing no higher than fourth in the old AFC Central. General manager Ozzie Newsome was building a promising foundation anchored by left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis — two Pro Bowl talents and the first two draft picks in team history — but no one knew exactly when or if that work would pay off.

From playing their first two seasons at Memorial Stadium and hiring Ted Marchibroda as their first head coach to the Baltimore Colts marching band playing and Johnny Unitas and other legends attending games, the Ravens were draped in Baltimore football history. It was a smart and heartwarming nod to the past, but the organization ultimately needed its own legacy after relocating from Cleveland in 1996.

Those Ravens were somewhere between the old Browns and the new Colts, but they were nowhere near NFL relevancy.

The 1999 campaign brought flashes in December with the Ravens winning for the first time in Pittsburgh and blowing out eventual AFC champion Tennessee on their way to an 8-8 finish, but a couple good performances playing out the string after a 3-7 start couldn’t be viewed as a definitive breakthrough. Brian Billick’s second year as head coach would tell the truth.

Baltimore opened the 2000 season with an impressive 16-0 win at Pittsburgh, building on the significant defensive improvement shown during the previous season. But the bigger test would come in Week 2 when the Ravens hosted Jacksonville for the home opener at PSINet Stadium.

The Ravens had never beaten the Jaguars, who had become the class of the AFC Central shortly after their expansion start in 1995. An 0-8 mark consisting of squandered leads, the occasional blowout, and plenty of last-minute heartbreak best illustrated how far Baltimore still needed to come while Jacksonville was coming off its fourth straight postseason appearance, a 14-2 record, and a trip to the AFC Championship game.

No breakthrough appeared imminent in the first quarter as Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell and Pro Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith shredded the Baltimore defense for 45- and 43-yard touchdown passes and Billick’s team trailed 17-0 at the end of the period. These looked like the same old Ravens.

Still trying to cement the starting job after a solid finish to 1999, quarterback Tony Banks threw a touchdown to rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor to put the Ravens on the board, but the rest of the second quarter wasn’t much better than the first with the Jaguars adding two more field goals to take a 23-7 lead into halftime. This wasn’t what anyone in Baltimore had wanted, but old habits die hard, especially against Jacksonville.

“At halftime, I told them one thing,” Billick said. “What I told them was, win or lose, it will make no difference. The second half will define who we are. How we conduct ourselves will define the kind of team we are.”

The Ravens took those words to heart coming out of the locker room as the offense needed only four plays to find the end zone with Banks throwing another touchdown to Taylor. A two-point conversion cut the deficit to 23-15 and brought a previously frustrated sold-out crowd to life.

A Banks interception on the next drive led to the fourth Mike Hollis field goal of the day, but the 27-year-old quarterback bounced back with a touchdown pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, making the score 26-22 late in the third quarter. The stage was set for a thrilling final period.

After punting on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Ravens collected their second takeaway of the day when outside linebacker Jamie Sharper forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the Jacksonville 12. Banks threw a touchdown to the speedy Jermaine Lewis on the next play as Baltimore took a 29-26 lead with 10 minutes to go.

Maybe it would be different this time.

That optimism only grew after safety Kim Herring intercepted Brunell on the next drive, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover to increase the lead. The Jaguars answered with a 48-yard field goal as Baltimore still held a 32-29 advantage with time dwindling.

Having forced two turnovers leading to 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens defense had regrouped from that ugly first half and now had its opportunity to cement that elusive first win against Jacksonville. However, Brunell and Smith still had 2:42 left to torment Baltimore one last time.

After picking up a first down to move into Ravens territory and now facing a third-and-6 from the 40 with 1:55 to go, Brunell faced a heavy blitz and heaved one deep toward wide receiver Keenan McCardell. What happened next seemed to be the cruelest trick yet in the Ravens-Jaguars history as the ball deflected off McCardell’s hands and right to Smith, who broke a Duane Starks tackle and jogged into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Smith’s third touchdown catch of the day as he finished with a whopping 15 catches and 291 yards, the most by an opponent in Ravens history.

Here we go again.

Despite erasing a 16-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were trailing 36-32 with 1:45 to play and back in a familiar position with the Jaguars on the verge of improving to 9-0 against them. Only a few fans moved toward the exits while the remainder sat quietly, lamenting how this had happened again.

But the Ravens finally changed the script as Banks completed a pair of throws to little-used receiver and special-teams veteran Billy Davis — who made only one other catch all season — to move the Ravens into Jacksonville territory. A 12-yard completion to Ayanbadejo moved Baltimore to the 29-yard line before Banks spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds left.

To this point, the start of former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe’s tenure with the Ravens had been quiet as he didn’t register a catch in the season opener and had only two receptions for 21 yards in the ongoing shootout. Newsome had not only been looking for more production at tight end with the high-profile signing that February, but he valued Sharpe’s pedigree as a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time Super Bowl champion for a franchise that was still learning how to win.

The time was perfect for a lesson.

Sharpe took off right down the seam at the snap and caught a 29-yard rope for the touchdown. The 32-year-old tight end danced and smiled in the end zone while Banks lifted his arms in celebration upon throwing his fifth touchdown of the game, a new team record.

The catch brought a roar louder than anything experienced in the brief history of the 69,000-seat stadium opposite Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Thousands of voices were lost, ears rang, and the upper deck swayed as Stover kicked the extra point to give the Ravens a 39-36 lead with 41 seconds left.

Goosebumps.

There would be no miracle answer from Jacksonville this time as safety Corey Harris intercepted Brunell on the last play of the game. Chants of “Let’s go, Ravens!” bounced down the ramps as departing fans celebrated.

Novelty and nostalgia had been replaced by an arrival.

It didn’t matter that it was only a Week 2 victory. Banks would lose his starting job to Trent Dilfer six weeks later and the Ravens would go five straight games without scoring a touchdown in the middle of that 2000 championship season, but that wasn’t the point. From that exhilarating moment, they were no longer the old Browns or even the new Colts. The Ravens were a viable NFL franchise and here to stay.

The last-minute win over Jacksonville had changed everything.

“It says we’re headed in the right direction,” said defensive end Michael McCrary, who had joined the Ravens in 1997. “It said that the offense had the confidence and composure to go down the field and score. It was a huge turnaround from our teams of the past.

“We’ve never beaten them, and we needed to know as a team where we stood.”

Now two decades later, the Ravens own two Super Bowl championships, have multiple Hall of Famers, and are among the NFL’s model franchises.

But that was the moment that started it all.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 18: 2,000 and then some

Posted on 21 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 19 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The game meant nothing and everything.

Thanks to second-place Cincinnati’s loss to Cleveland 4 1/2 hours earlier, the Ravens entered the 2003 regular-season finale having already clinched the first division championship in team history. Conventional wisdom called for head coach Brian Billick to rest his key players in preparation for a wild-card playoff showdown with Tennessee six days later, but there was nothing ordinary about the Week 17 opponent.

“This is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Billick about his decision to play his starters. “It’s a rivalry. You can’t cheat the game. You can’t cheat the fans.”

Perhaps more important than Baltimore’s desire to break a five-game losing streak against its AFC North adversary and build momentum going into the playoffs was the matter of All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis putting an exclamation point on his historic season. Voted the AP 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the 24-year-old entered the night needing 48 yards to become the fifth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Having already broken the NFL’s single-game rushing record with 295 yards in Week 2, Lewis would touch the ball a whopping 413 times that season while accounting for 46 percent of Baltimore’s total yards and 40 percent of its offensive touchdowns.

The Ravens offense was indeed a one-man show.

The 245-pound Lewis was not only aiming for his 12th 100-yard rushing performance of the year, but 153 rushing yards stood between him and Eric Dickerson’s single-season league record of 2,105 set in 1984. Accomplishing that wouldn’t be easy against a Pittsburgh defense that didn’t want a rival to set a record on its watch.

The bruising back carried five times for 39 yards on Baltimore’s first drive before Anthony Wright threw an interception inside the red zone. However, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed picked off Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox two plays later to set the stage for history.

Lewis gained nine yards on first down to reach exactly 2,000 yards, but the next play would send 70,000 fans into a frenzy at M&T Bank Stadium. Running between left guard Edwin Mulitalo and future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Lewis broke free untouched for a 25-yard touchdown. His league-best 16th run of 20 or more yards that season left no doubt that the 2000 first-round pick from Tennessee would be remembered in NFL rushing lore.

The Steelers would clamp down after that as Lewis would gain only 41 yards on 20 more carries the rest of the way to fall 39 yards short of Dickerson’s record, but the night served as both a celebration and a reminder of the intensity of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry that endures today. Billick never took his foot off the gas as the teams played into overtime with Matt Stover kicking a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens their first win against Pittsburgh in more than two years and first home victory over their bitter rival since the inaugural 1996 campaign.

You never would have known the game was meaningless by watching as chippy behavior persisted and Ravens punter Dave Zastudil suffered a broken nose and a concussion — and returned to action — over the course of the game. Billick’s decision to play his starters the entire way would be second-guessed for a long time after Baltimore was eliminated by the Titans the following week.

But that night belonged to Lewis, who passed the likes of Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, and O.J. Simpson on the single-season rushing list despite failing to match Dickerson.

“I’m not disappointed,” Lewis said after the 13-10 victory. “The opportunity was there, and we went at it. My line, they blocked well. It was in reach, but we didn’t get it. I think second is good.”

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates a 61-yard touchdown play with Marshal Yanda during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)

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Ravens have much work to do to replace the “irreplaceable”

Posted on 07 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Four weeks after eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda announced his retirement, the Ravens have yet to address the right guard position.

That’s hardly surprising with few appealing options hitting the free-agent market last month, but that’s not to suggest the Ravens are nonchalant about filling the void left behind by one of the best players in franchise history. There’s no easy fix.

“It’s going to be really hard. I think he’s irreplaceable, bottom line,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t say that you’re going to plug in another Marshal Yanda. Probably the same thing applied to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. To me, he’s in that category.”

Unlike those Hall of Famers at the end of their brilliant careers, however, Yanda was still playing very close to his peak level as he was a second-team AP All-Pro selection and Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s fourth-best guard last season. After Super Bowl XLVII, it was pretty clearly time for Lewis to walk away and the Ravens were content watching Houston pay big money for the player Reed no longer was by 2013.

The best in-house comparison might be Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was still playing at an elite level and had been named to his 11th straight Pro Bowl in 2007 before retiring because of a chronic toe issue. It also serves as a reminder that the sky isn’t falling as the Ravens rebounded from a 5-11 campaign in Ogden’s final season to advance to the AFC Championship in 2008 with the unheralded Jared Gaither manning left tackle. Led by league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a Baltimore offense that set numerous team and league records last year isn’t going to collapse without Yanda.

Ultimately, it’s a team sport with few non-quarterbacks providing make-or-break individual value, but Yanda’s elite play, institutional knowledge, and understated leadership will be missed on an offense that’s still very young.

“Taking Marshal out of that equation is not just a one-guy deal,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a force multiplier. He exponentially makes the offensive line better because he makes all the players around him so much better, including the quarterback and the rest of the offensive line. We’re going to have to really do a great job there. That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s probably job one or two. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of making sure the interior offensive line is all set.”

With the proper perspective, replacing a Hall of Fame talent doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In the wake of Lewis’ retirement in 2013, the Ravens did strike out with second-round pick Arthur Brown, but the June signing of veteran Daryl Smith brought short-term stability at inside linebacker and first-round pick C.J. Mosley arrived a year later to make four Pro Bowls in five seasons with Baltimore.

Replacing Reed at safety proved more problematic with the Ravens burning through failed draft picks and underwhelming value signings over a three-year period before finally inking Eric Weddle to calm the back end of the secondary in 2016. With Jackson still playing on a rookie contract, the Ravens don’t want to compromise their Super Bowl aspirations by failing to solve the right guard spot to a satisfactory level.

This year’s draft class isn’t littered with first-round-caliber guards, but general manager Eric DeCosta says he sees no shortage of starting-caliber potential, including some offensive tackles who would be good fits to move inside in Baltimore’s system.

“I think we’ve shown in the past that we can find guys in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, offensive linemen who can come in and play,” DeCosta said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got a great [offensive line] coach in Joe [D’Alessandris], who can develop younger players. We’ve seen that over and over and over again. We’re excited about that, and we’ll find some guys for sure.”

There isn’t a perfect answer, of course, as second-year guard Ben Powers, an early 2020 draft pick, or even a potential value signing like former Raven Kelechi Osemele cannot be expected to play anywhere near Yanda’s level. The Ravens would be happy with solid and steady.

The cupboard is far from bare along the rest of the offensive line with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley playing at an elite level last year and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Center Matt Skura was playing the best football of his career prior to sustaining a serious knee injury in late November while left guard Bradley Bozeman and backup center Patrick Mekari both looked the part of starting-caliber NFL linemen in 2018.

They’ll all need to play a part in filling Yanda’s massive shoes.

“We’ll see what we can do to try to get as close as we can, and the other part of it is that the rest of the guys have to step up,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, every player on offense has to be better without Marshal, especially every player on the offensive line coming back has to be that much better just [for the group] to be the same.

“It’s really going to be on all our shoulders to make that happen. Not just be the same, we’ve got to try to improve. We’ve got a lot of work to do with that.”

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Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Yanda retires as one of best, toughest Ravens ever

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After famously encouraging teammates to “embrace the grind” early in what would be the 2012 Super Bowl season, Marshal Yanda is retiring as one of the best and toughest Ravens ever.

The news wasn’t shocking as the 35-year-old had pondered retirement these last couple years and was noticeably more reflective during the 2019 season, but his departure leaves a massive hole Baltimore won’t easily replace in terms of both his elite play and leadership by example.

Some stories about the eight-time Pro Bowl right guard and Iowa farm boy are the stuff of folk heroes — like willingly being tasered three times in the locker room for $600 as a rookie — but the day-to-day consistency of his 13-year career is what made Yanda special. Any offensive lineman would tell you anonymity is a desired trait as it means you’re getting the job done for the guys who touch the ball and star in the highlight shows, but the unassuming Yanda was too great for too long for even the most casual fan not to take some notice after a while.

“For most of your career, most people — including the media, believe it or not — don’t pay attention to those guys up front,” said head coach John Harbaugh last November. “They pay attention to all the other stuff. And the linemen, when they start getting talked about as Hall of Fame players, then all of a sudden, people start watching them. To me, I believe Marshal is doing that at the highest level. He’s playing some of his best football, if not his best football, right now.”

It didn’t come easy, however, for one of only 13 guards in NFL history to be named to eight Pro Bowls.

Unlike other Baltimore greats such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs who were drafted in the first round with some hope of greatness from Day 1, Yanda wasn’t selected until the third round in 2007 after beginning his collegiate career at North Iowa Area Community College and working to eventually become a second-team All-Big Ten selection at the University of Iowa. He wasn’t even the first guard drafted by the Ravens that year as then-general manager Ozzie Newsome took Auburn’s Ben Grubbs in the first round, but the organization knew it had added a gamer based on endorsements from longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, who had previously spent three years as a Ravens assistant.

An early-season injury to Ogden and the subsequent offensive line shuffling threw Yanda into the lineup for 12 starts at right tackle as a rookie. He tore multiple knee ligaments just five games into 2008, a season-ending injury that would also impact his playing time early the following season as veteran Chris Chester fared well at right guard and Yanda was working his way back to full strength. In 2010, offensive line uncertainty again moved him out to right tackle where he’d start all 16 games for the first time in his career.

That stellar play and versatility prompted the Ravens to re-sign Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract prior to the 2011 season when he could finally call right guard his full-time home and people began taking notice. From there, he’d become the NFL’s best at his position for the better part of a decade, making the Pro Bowl every year other than 2017 when a broken ankle ended his season in Week 2.

The examples of toughness go beyond the “easy money” he made for that locker-room stunt as a rookie and working his way back from the serious knee injury sustained in his second year. Despite undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome in his lower leg in Week 16 of the 2011 campaign, Yanda — also dealing with a painful rib injury — was back on the field the following Sunday to help the Ravens win their first AFC North title in five years and clinch a first-round bye. Instead of succumbing to a season-ending left shoulder injury in 2016, he came up with the idea of moving to left guard, which eased the stress on that arm and allowed him to finish another Pro Bowl campaign. Even upon breaking his ankle in 2017, Yanda walked off the field under his own power.

Aside from overcoming those physical challenges, trying to identify Yanda’s signature play or moment isn’t as easy as with those regularly touching the football or pursuing it every play. An offensive line coach would cite hundreds of examples over the years in which Yanda displayed his masterful technique, but his grit and determination to play through the whistle showed up at a key moment in one of the greatest games in team history.

Tied 35-35 in the 2012 divisional round (see below), the underdog Ravens were trying to move into field goal range and faced a second-and-10 from the Denver 45 on the final play of the first overtime. Ray Rice took a hand-off and ran nine yards before being stood up by two defenders, seemingly leaving Baltimore with an uncertain third-and-1 against a Broncos defense that had mostly bottled up Rice late in the game. However, it never came to that as Yanda, nearing the end of a night in which he played 86 total snaps in single-digit wind chills, ran forward from the second level and plowed Rice and the would-be tacklers an additional two yards for the first down. It was the last meaningful offensive play of the game as Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning field goal moments later and the Ravens would go on to win their second Super Bowl a few weeks later.

Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones owned the night with the “Mile High Miracle,” of course, but Yanda’s late push helped ensure that would be a winning memory and was just one example of his unrelenting will to win.

His Pro Football Hall of Fame fate remains to be seen after playing a position many view as underrepresented in Canton. Former Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca is still waiting for the call after a 13-year career that included nine straight Pro Bowls from 2001-09, but game-film enthusiasts and football analytics sites have sung Yanda’s praises for years, making him more of a household name than the top interior linemen of previous eras and increasing the likelihood of him receiving a much deserved gold jacket one day. When news broke of his retirement, Pro Football Focus was quick to note how he allowed just one sack in the last 2,331 pass-blocking snaps of his career and just 20 career sacks, a total many guards allow in just two or three seasons.

Yanda could have made his Hall of Fame case more elementary with another Pro Bowl season or two and maybe a second Super Bowl ring as the Ravens come off a 14-2 season led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a thrilling young player the grizzled veteran enthusiastically embraced after having a close relationship with Flacco. Yes, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman easily could have held on for a few more years, but he never played for individual accolades, making the decision admirable as he still ranks as one of the game’s best at his position in his mid-30s. That’s a claim some of the absolute best players in Ravens history can’t make.

“It’s never been about me. I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization, to be drafted here, and the type of success we’ve had in all the games that I’ve been able to be a part of,” Yanda said in early January. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. The most important thing is our next opponent.”

In Yanda’s mind, it was time to walk away if he weren’t fully committed to “embrace the grind” for a 14th season. That journey will now go on without him, but the lessons instilled won’t be forgotten in the same way a 23-year-old Yanda learned what it meant to be a professional from Ogden in the last season of his Hall of Fame career.

For a player many barely noticed in the best possible way week after week and season after season, Yanda sure will be missed.

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Extending Stanley should be one of Ravens’ top offseason priorities

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens tried to get the left tackle position right for a long time after Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden’s retirement more than a decade ago.

University of Maryland product Jared Gaither flashed some early promise before fizzling out due to injuries and work ethic concerns. Michael Oher was a versatile gamer, but he was better at right tackle, which wasn’t what the Ravens envisioned for their 2009 first-round pick. Veteran Bryant McKinnie played well in 2011 and had a terrific 2012 postseason run, but the 30-something was never a long-term solution. The lucrative contract awarded to former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe after a half-season of good play in Baltimore was a disaster.

But the Ravens finally nailed it with the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, selecting Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. It wasn’t a flashy choice as future Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey had just come off the board with the previous three picks and Baltimore had given Monroe a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed only two years earlier, but the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stanley was rock solid from Day 1 and has only gotten better.

That was obvious in 2019 as Stanley took his above-average game to another level, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl — he was a second alternate in 2018 — and being a first-team All-Pro selection in his fourth professional season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best left tackle in the NFL, first among all offensive tackles in pass blocking, and 10th among all offensive tackles in run blocking. Stanley’s overall PFF grade steadily improved over his first three seasons before rising to an elite level, the kind of bump many had wanted to see as he moved a year closer to free agency.

“He has improved in everything he does,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Stanley was named to the Pro Bowl in December. “I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he’s accrued over the last couple of years, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor.

“He’s a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he’s just really pushing the envelope every day on. It’s really showing on the field, and he’s a very important, key contributor to what we do.”

The focus of any offseason is understandably on new additions and a team’s own free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but that doesn’t mean extending Stanley, who remains under contract through 2020, isn’t a top priority by the time the Ravens kick off their 25th campaign in Baltimore this fall. Even if eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda returns for a 14th season, Stanley’s superb play and leadership shouldn’t be taken for granted with the rest of the starting offensive line all 26 year old or younger. And despite dealing with some nagging injuries at different points, Stanley has missed just three games due to injury — two because of concussions — over the last three seasons combined.

But he won’t come cheap. It’s difficult to quantify just how much MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson helps his offensive line by putting dual-threat stress on defensive fronts, but Stanley surrendered only six pressures all year and had a pass-blocking win rate of 98.7 percent, according to PFF. Those numbers trumped his peers by such a margin that dismissing his elite play solely because of Jackson’s presence would be patently unfair.

In other words, Stanley’s representation has every right to ask that he become the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, especially since he won’t even turn 26 until next month. If you’re looking for a negotiating starting point, Tennessee and Taylor Lewan agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract that included $34 million fully guaranteed in the summer of 2018 when the left tackle was also entering his fifth-year option season, had two Pro Bowls under his belt, and was a year older than Stanley is now.

With the salary cap having risen more than $20 million since 2018 and the NFL entering the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens allowing Stanley to hit the open market next offseason could yield a similar result to last March when the New York Jets turned the market on its head by giving ex-Raven C.J. Mosley an $85 million contract with a $17 million average annual value, numbers that demolished the previous bests at the inside linebacker position. Stanley is set to make $12.866 million this season after general manager Eric DeCosta exercised his fifth-year option last spring.

Of course, it takes two sides to make a deal, but the Ravens doing everything they can to lock up a franchise left tackle to continue protecting their MVP quarterback in the midst of his rookie contract sounds like a no-brainer. It will be expensive, but Baltimore can’t afford to risk losing such a key piece to its record-setting offense, especially with Yanda walking away sooner than later.

Stanley isn’t Ogden — no one playing today is — but he’s the closest the Ravens have come at left tackle since the Hall of Famer hung up his cleats more than a decade ago. That’s just not the kind of player you let go after searching for him for so long.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 03 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl LIV now in the books after Kansas City topped San Francisco, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After faltering as the top seed last year, the Chiefs lost their star quarterback for nearly three full games, held a 6-4 mark in November, and needed Week 17 help just to get a bye. That’s good inspiration for Baltimore, who will be hard-pressed to match its record-setting 14-2 campaign.

2. In case it weren’t obvious after the playoff loss to Tennessee, the Ravens offense’s need to be able to play off schedule more effectively was reinforced by Kansas City erasing double-digit deficits in each of its three postseason games. That’s not how you draw it up, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

3. A year after winning NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes became the youngest Super Bowl MVP quarterback and youngest to claim both honors. Lamar Jackson would be the youngest if he can repeat a Mahomes feat for a second straight season. These two facing off for years is going to be fun.

4. Terrell Suggs had two tackles and a quarterback hit as he won a second Super Bowl in his decorated 17-year career. In a SportsCenter interview, Suggs said he’ll take some time to ponder his future, but he’ll turn 38 in October. He’s unlikely to have a better ending than that.

5. Andy Reid could have hired a new special teams coordinator upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1999, but he chose to retain John Harbaugh, who had just completed his first year as an NFL assistant. The Ravens head coach had to feel good for his mentor finally winning that elusive ring.

6. The Baltimore defense will continue to lean on its superb secondary and plenty of blitzing, but watching the 49ers front four make Mahomes look so mortal for 3 1/2 quarters reiterated the work Eric DeCosta has to do in that department this offseason. Nick Bosa was a game-wrecker.

7. Former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored San Francisco’s first touchdown and was one yard shy of a second in the third quarter. The 49ers paid a steep price for him in free agency three years ago, but he just finished his fourth straight Pro Bowl campaign. Not bad.

8. Steve Hutchinson being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was good for Marshal Yanda. The 12-year guard had seven Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pro selections, and two second-team selections. Yanda has eight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, five second-team nods, and a Super Bowl ring.

9. I was surprised the vote for NFL Coach of the Year wasn’t a little closer between Harbaugh and Kyle Shanahan. Harbaugh was my choice, but the 49ers going from 4-12 a year ago to 13-3 is the kind of turnaround that often sways voters.

10. Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Colts legends Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry being part of the on-field ceremony honoring the NFL 100 all-time team reminded how tremendous Baltimore’s football history is. Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Jim Parker, and Gino Marchetti were also selected.

11. After watching those introductions for both the 49ers and Chiefs, I vote for The Rock to be the hype man for every major sporting event. He’s the most electrifying man in all of entertainment after all.

12. According to Caesars Sportsbook, Kansas City opens as the Super Bowl favorite (6-1) for 2020 with Baltimore right behind at 7-1. Super Bowl LV will take place in Tampa, the same city the Ravens won their first NFL championship 20 years earlier. Sounds like a good story to me.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 23 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With a number of Ravens players and coaches at the Pro Bowl this week and the organization shifting into offseason mode, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The disappointment of an early playoff exit remains, but seeing Lamar Jackson interact with young fans and other players in Orlando is a reminder of how special this season was for the MVP quarterback. Even if it is just the Pro Bowl, the 23-year-old having that stage is pretty great.

2. Six weeks ago, Terrell Suggs was playing out the string for a last-place team and his former team was the clear Super Bowl favorite. The 37-year-old being the one to play for an NFL championship next week is your latest reminder that sports are weird sometimes.

3. After rushing for 297 yards and one touchdown from 2015-18, Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game. There’s no need for an indictment of the Ravens or the five other teams with which the 27-year-old played before San Francisco to appreciate this story.

4. Eric DeCosta must prepare for life without Marshal Yanda, but the Ravens shouldn’t pressure the eight-time Pro Bowl guard into a decision anytime soon. Jonathan Ogden didn’t make his final call on retirement until June. You can always make room for an elite player’s return.

5. Job situations are fluid this time of year, but the coaching staff remaining intact is surprising. That really speaks to the working environment created by John Harbaugh and how the organization has taken care of its assistants.

6. I see no reason why Matthew Judon wouldn’t hit the market, but I’m curious how Baltimore’s need at outside linebacker and Za’Darius Smith’s performance in Green Bay might impact Judon’s valuation. Yes, we’ll hear “right player, right price,” but that’s always a moving target involving many variables.

7. Skepticism remains when it comes to wide receiver, but the goal should be an impact addition to help this offense play off schedule like it was forced to do in the playoff loss. Whether that’s a veteran or someone from a deep wide receiver draft class remains to be seen.

8. After finishing sixth or better for seven straight seasons in Rick Gosselin’s renowned special teams rankings, Baltimore fell to 27th. Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens 10th in special-teams efficiency and 24th in weighted efficiency, reflecting late-season struggles. There’s some work to do in that phase this offseason.

9. Harbaugh said the Ravens had their “best year” in terms of injuries, which is debatable after a really healthy 2018. Credit goes to their efforts revamping their strength, conditioning, and nutrition programs, but luck is also a factor, which picks at the wound of a 14-2 team not advancing further.

10. Nearly $30 million in salary cap space prompts much discussion about free agents, but extending Ronnie Stanley should be a top priority with Marlon Humphrey on deck. A new Jackson contract could come as soon as next year. Outside additions are great, but keeping this core together is paramount.

11. Harbaugh said he’d probably go the other way handling Week 17 if Baltimore is back in that spot. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Rust was a possible factor, but Jackson taking the shots Pittsburgh gave Robert Griffin III and getting hurt in a meaningless game would have definitely been a factor.

12. Asked about any perception that Tennessee had solved his offense, Harbaugh said, “If you think anybody has the answer in football, just wait until the next week and you’ll find out.” The Ravens may not go 14-2 again or break records in 2020, but the future remains very promising.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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Ravens tight end Andrews listed as questionable, expects to play Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens tight end Mark Andrews expects to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns despite a foot injury that limited him to only one practice this week.

Listed as questionable on the final injury report, Andrews was able to participate on a limited basis Friday after missing the first two workouts of the week. The 2018 third-round pick missed only one practice in each of the previous two weeks and was limited to three catches for 15 yards in last Sunday’s loss in Kansas City, which led to increased concerns about his foot.

The 2018 third-round pick says it’s all part of the plan to keep him healthy for game days as he’s caught 19 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the first three contests of the season.

“It’s kind of been tough for me to miss these last couple practices, but it’s all a common goal,” Andrews said. “These trainers have an idea for me to come out Sunday and be 100 percent. I’m well on my way there, so I’m healthy right now.

“They’re doing a great job with that. I’m feeling good, and I’m excited to play the Browns.”

Head coach John Harbaugh shared Andrews’ sentiments without disclosing specifics of the foot ailment that first landed him on the injury report on Sept. 13.

“We’re managing the issue that he has, which is not any kind of structural thing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s part of the football season. I wouldn’t overthink it. He plans on being out there.”

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was also designated as questionable on the final injury report after being limited in practices throughout the week with a hip issue. The third-year defensive back missed much of the second quarter of the loss to the Chiefs when the Ravens allowed 23 points to fall behind by 17 at intermission.

Baltimore officially ruled out cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee), safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) and inside linebacker Otaro Alaka (hamstring) for Sunday’s game. Smith will miss his third straight game while recovering from a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee.

The Browns will welcome starting safety Damarious Randall back to action after a two-game absence with a concussion, but the status of the other three starting members of their secondary remains in serious doubt. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams were both listed as questionable with hamstring injuries, but neither practiced all week after missing last Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, making one wonder how realistic their chances are of playing. Safety Morgan Burnett was also designated as questionable after failing to practice all week and missing the Rams game.

The Ravens will officially induct former head coach and Super Bowl XXXV champion Brian Billick into their Ring of Honor Sunday with over 60 former Ravens players scheduled to attend. That list includes Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Todd Heap, Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, Michael McCrary, Duane Starks, Matt Stover, and Adalius Thomas.

Baltimore will also hold a special tribute for senior advisor to player engagement and former Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance, who celebrates his 50th birthday on Sunday. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2007, Brigance has continued to fight the odds and be an inspiration for both the organization and the community.

On Thursday, he shared a message with the team during a birthday celebration.

“There is no testimony without a test,” said Harbaugh of Brigance’s words. “If you want to have a story to tell, it can’t be, ‘Everything was great in my life. We won every game. We scored every touchdown. We got every stop.’ It just doesn’t work like that. Who would watch that movie? Nobody. That’s not how life works. What a message.”

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Otaro Alaka (hamstring), CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (hip)

CLEVELAND
OUT: OT Kendall Lamm (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: S Morgan Burnett (quad), WR Rashard Higgins (knee), OT Chris Hubbard (foot), S Sheldrick Redwine (hamstring), CB Denzel Ward (hamstring), CB Greedy Williams (hamstring)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 23 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making final preparations for the start of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’ll finally have a resolution after months of mock drafts, but this is the first time the Ravens own just one pick in the top 80 since 2004, the year after they traded up to select Kyle Boller. Lamar Jackson should be considered as part of this draft class indirectly.

2. Saturday marked 23 years since Ozzie Newsome made Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis the first picks in franchise history while a 25-year-old Eric DeCosta held an entry-level position filling various roles, including getting the oil changed in Ted Marchibroda’s car. This week represents the true changing of the guard.

3. If the Ravens don’t trade back from No. 22 to accumulate more picks, my prediction — really a guess — is they’ll select Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, which means he’ll probably be long gone by the time they choose. As others have noted, he feels like a Baltimore kind of pick.

4. Why Ferrell? If you count draft bust Craig Powell — Art Modell’s final first-round pick in Cleveland — the Ravens have always had a first-round edge defender on the roster as they took Peter Boulware in 1997 and Terrell Suggs in 2003. You can’t do much better than those two.

5. Then again, inside linebacker has been manned by a first-round pick — Lewis from 1996-2012 and C.J. Mosley from 2014-18 — for all but one year of their existence when the Ravens still took Arthur Brown in the 2013 second round. Michigan’s Devin Bush figures to be gone, however.

6. I’m a broken record talking about wide receiver, but this is a reminder that the Ravens have drafted only two in the first three rounds in the entire John Harbaugh era. They can’t repeat the mistakes they made with Joe Flacco if they want to maximize Jackson’s development.

7. Cornerback is the roster’s deepest position group, but Brandon Carr will be 33 next month and Jimmy Smith turns 31 in July and is entering the final year of his contract. In other words, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Ravens take a corner in the middle rounds.

8. With multiple needs on both sides of the ball, is there a position you’re strongly against the Ravens drafting early? Unless you’re convinced Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the next Saquon Barkley, a running back is a tough sell. Defensive tackle is another spot where they’ve found good value much later.

9. The Ravens entered Tuesday with $13.649 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a weekend trade for a veteran or a notable signing after the draft. It’s unrealistic to expect this draft to address all of their needs.

10. Looking at draft capital in the AFC North, Cleveland has two picks in the top 80 (49th and 80th), Pittsburgh three (20th, 52nd, and 66th), and Cincinnati three (11th, 42nd, 72nd). Of course, the Browns traded their first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr. last month. This division should be fun.

11. Picking up the fifth-year option on Ronnie Stanley was a no-brainer, but determining his value and working out a long-term extension could be tricky. He’s been solid to good over his first three seasons, but I’d be uneasy resetting the market at left tackle to keep him.

12. I wish the draft didn’t coincide with the “Avengers: Endgame” opening, but it prompts an important question. Who would be your top pick from the Marvel superhero team? I’d consider Thor — he’s a god! — or Black Panther and the resources of Wakanda, but I just can’t pass on Iron Man.

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