Tag Archive | "new england"

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 11.44.59 AM

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 15: “I didn’t want to hurt my team”

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 16 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Sometimes football and the tragedy of real life intersect.

The Ravens were preparing for Sunday Night Football and a 2011 AFC Championship rematch with New England when devastating news reached one of their young standout players very early on Sept. 23, 2012.

Tevin Jones, the 19-year-old brother of second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, had been killed in a motorcycle crash in northeast Virginia. Those who followed Smith’s career dating back to his University of Maryland days were familiar with his challenging upbringing in which he helped raise his younger siblings, compounding what was already such a sad loss of life.

Smith left the team hotel and returned to his home state to be with his family as anyone could have understood football being the last thing on his mind at such a devastating time. But the 23-year-old still wanted to play that night and arrived back at M&T Bank Stadium around 4 p.m. on very little sleep.

His emotions were raw as the team held a moment of silence and and a national TV audience watched Smith wipe tears from his face as he sat on the bench moments before kickoff. The game held meaning for the Ravens after their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots the previous January — a contest in which the 2011 second-round pick scored a key second-half touchdown — but that story line took a backseat to Smith’s individual efforts less than 24 hours after his brother’s death.

The night started poorly for the Ravens, who trailed 13-0 and managed just 21 net yards in the first quarter. They finally awoke for the first drive of the second period, steadily moving the ball to the New England 25. On the 13th play of the drive, quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball up to Smith, who hovered in the air to high-point a terrific touchdown catch over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

It was Smith’s first catch of the game as he rested on one knee, pointed to the sky, and bowed his head before teammates congratulated him and a crowd of more than 71,000 began chanting, “Torrey, Torrey!” as he jogged to the sideline. Baltimore had cut the deficit to 13-7, and that touchdown alone would have been special enough even if Smith hadn’t caught another pass for the rest of the night.

But he was far from done.

Having already eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in his young career, Smith went back to work as the Ravens trailed 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter. His 16-yard reception put the offense in New England territory as the Ravens continued driving to the 5-yard line. With just over four minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled to his right and made a tight-window sideline throw to Smith, who grabbed the touchdown against Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty.

Once again, the “Torrey, Torrey!” chants echoed.

Now trailing 30-28, the Baltimore defense got a stop on the next series and Flacco moved the offense back into field goal range before a pass interference penalty set up a chip shot for rookie kicker Justin Tucker. His 27-yard attempt barely squeaked inside the right upright — or did it? — as time expired to give the Ravens a controversial 31-30 victory and a sliver of revenge for the previous postseason disappointment.

The teams would meet again in the AFC Championship four months later with the Ravens prevailing on the way to their second Super Bowl championship, but that Week 3 win is remembered for the courage and dedication Smith showed in catching six passes for 127 yards and those two touchdowns. It was an inspiration for anyone who watched.

“This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother,” said Smith after receiving a game ball in the emotional post-game locker room. “I didn’t want to hurt my team. I came here, [and] the more I was running, the more comfortable I started to feel.

“I’m glad I came back up here. I think it helped me out a lot.”

Comments (1)

decostaharbaugh

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts on first wave of free-agent activity

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta making a number of moves at the start of the new league year, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Spending $21 million guaranteed for Michael Brockers is steep — I wasn’t endorsing big money for Michael Pierce either — but another strong run-stopping lineman quells concerns against the run. He’s just not going to offer a ton as a rusher after posting the same PFF pass-rush grade as Brandon Williams last season.

2. Calais Campbell has played at least 70 percent of his team’s defensive snaps every season and at least 77 percent in each of the last five campaigns, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Scaling back his workload a bit — he’ll be 34 in September — could make him even more disruptive for Baltimore.

3. The Ravens held joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and Jacksonville last summer, giving them a closer look at their future acquisitions on the defensive line. Campbell and Brockers were far from unknowns, of course, but extra information in the evaluation process never hurts.

4. We’re still waiting on breakdowns of these deals, but the dollars committed to Campbell and Brockers as well as the franchise tag for Matthew Judon will leave DeCosta needing to create space on the salary cap beyond Brandon Carr’s option decision. Remember franchise-tag situations are fluid.

5. DeCosta received good value for Hayden Hurst, but I still view the trade as a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” for now. Many have called Hurst a dispensable “third-string” tight end without acknowledging he played as many snaps as Mark Andrews last year. We’ll see.

6. Tyus Bowser, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Arthur Brown were the Ravens’ last five second-round selections, reminding how frequently these picks sound better than they actually turn out. Of course, their last two were traded to move up for Lamar Jackson. Draft ammunition is certainly valuable.

7. You’d have to think Matt Skura was likely to receive the second-round restricted tender before his serious knee injury last November. With the logistical challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, however, teams probably won’t be as motivated to explore an offer sheet with a rehabbing restricted free agent.

8. Speaking of that uncertainty, the NFL confirmed the start of the offseason program would be delayed indefinitely, which will impact rookies and veteran newcomers alike. That reality makes the Ravens even more fortunate not to lose Greg Roman or Wink Martindale to a head gig elsewhere.

9. The release of James Hurst became a much stronger possibility when he was suspended for the first four games of 2020, but the Ravens could now use a young offensive tackle to back up Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown and develop. Competition for 33-year-old Andre Smith is in order.

10. A day later, I still can’t comprehend how anyone could look at Houston’s return for DeAndre Hopkins as anything but organizational malpractice. That’s a trade that would be mocked in fantasy football leagues. Poor Deshaun Watson.

11. The Ravens will play in Foxboro in 2020. It will definitely be weird without Tom Brady on the opposing side, but Johnny Unitas was traded to San Diego, Joe Montana went to Kansas City, and Peyton Manning ended up in Denver.

12. I’ve felt conflicted about the NFL conducting free-agent business despite the current state of the world, but it’s good having some distractions and reminders of the normalcy we want, like having football season this fall. Take care of yourself, your loved ones, and the many others around you.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts on first wave of free-agent activity

jacksonharbaugh

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Jackson, Harbaugh earn NFL honors, but lasting word on 2019 still unwritten

Posted on 01 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stole the show in Miami on Saturday night.

After weeks of using the words “expected,” “anticipated,” “favorite,” or “lock,” we could officially call second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson the 2019 AP NFL Most Valuable Player. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner became the second-youngest MVP in league history — only Jim Brown was younger in 1957 — and only the second unanimous choice, joining Tom Brady in 2010. He’s the first Raven and fourth Baltimore player to be named AP NFL MVP, joining old Colts quarterbacks Johnny Unitas (1959, 1964, 1967), Earl Morrall (1968), and Bert Jones (1976).

His electrifying efficiency was unlike anything we’ve ever seen as Jackson shattered the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, led the league in touchdown passes, and set a slew of other records ahead of his 23rd birthday last month. His otherworldly highlights and unparalleled dual-threat ability made the Ravens the toast of the football world in the regular season, rare territory for a team historically viewed as an underdog despite its overall success.

Beginning with a record-setting five-touchdown performance and perfect passer rating 30 miles from his native Pompano Beach, Fla. in the season opener and never looking back, Jackson returned to Miami to accept the MVP award that had been all but a foregone conclusion since the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were being polished off. In a city with no shortage of Hall of Famers and former MVPs, few have captivated Baltimore quite like Jackson after the most remarkable individual season in the Ravens’ 24-year history.

His arrival comes at a time when the city needs as much inspiration as it can get, but his impact extends beyond Charm City, evident by the reaction to Saturday’s announcement.

We’re watching someone special.

Of course, Jackson wasn’t alone as John Harbaugh won AP Coach of the Year for the first time in his career and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was voted AP Assistant Coach of the Year. Though not the same overwhelming favorite as Jackson, Harbaugh leading the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record, a team-record 12 straight wins, and their first No. 1 seed made him an appropriate choice before even considering the coaching staff’s offseason reconstruction of the offense or his ahead-of-the-curve use of analytics.

The honor only adds to an impressive body of work over 12 seasons as Harbaugh already owns a Super Bowl championship, four AFC North division titles, 10 playoff wins, and eight postseason appearances. The first Ravens head coach to earn the NFL award, Harbaugh joins Weeb Ewbank (1958), Don Shula (1964, 1967, 1968), and Ted Marchibroda (1975) as Baltimore head men to win NFL Coach of the Year. Having now coached the Ravens for half of their existence, Harbaugh is building a resume that will leave him in very exclusive company if he remains on a similar track.

But Saturday wasn’t the culmination Jackson, Harbaugh, and the Ravens envisioned a month ago if we’re being reflective on the eve of the Super Bowl. After one of the best regular seasons of the 21st century, Baltimore fell short of expectations in January, the kind of pain those accolades only do so much to dull right now. Both referred to their individual honors as team awards, but the Ravens wanted to be preparing to play for the ultimate team prize the following night instead of being dressed to the nines on the red carpet.

Jackson and Harbaugh became just the 12th MVP-Coach of the Year combination for the same team, but all but two of the first 11 at least made it to the Super Bowl or NFL championship game, a reminder of a great opportunity missed. That doesn’t dismiss a regular season that was as special as it gets, but the final word on the Ravens’ 2019 legacy has yet to be written and will be shaped by the context of next season and beyond.

If Baltimore wins the Super Bowl a year from now, we’ll remember the end of this season more as the precursor to better things to come, regardless of whether Jackson repeats as MVP, Harbaugh is again voted top coach, or the Ravens are able to match a 14-2 mark. The agonizing memory of Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff, and the 2011 AFC Championship loss didn’t feel so bad after Joe Flacco and the Ravens raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy a year later. But we also know next season will be a clean slate with new challenges and no guarantees along the way.

Perhaps the most comforting perspective is knowing one of the teams sporting both the MVP and Coach of the Year that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl was the 2010 New England Patriots, who also went 14-2 before being bounced at home in the divisional round. If it could happen to Brady and Bill Belichick, it can happen to anyone, right? The Patriots would claim three more Super Bowl championships over the next decade, leaving 2010 as little more than a blip over two decades of dominance.

Last month’s playoff loss to Tennessee was an abrupt reminder of the late-season dynasty chatter being way too premature, but the Ravens will have their shot at redemption and Jackson and Harbaugh their opportunity to fortify their legacies as soon as 12 months from now. Beyond the question of longevity that any young player faces, Jackson now needs only a Super Bowl championship to stake his claim as a generational quarterback with strong Hall of Fame aspirations. If that sounds overly bold, count the number of quarterbacks who failed to be enshrined despite winning a league MVP and Super Bowl title over the course of their careers.

Another Super Bowl championship for Harbaugh — with a different starting quarterback this time — would make him all but a lock for Canton one day.

Make no mistake, the Ravens owning the spotlight the night before the Super Bowl is deserving of some celebration after the hangover of these last few weeks.

But Jackson and Harbaugh winning the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa next February will make the lasting memory of 2019 — even its bitterly disappointing ending — that much better.

Comments Off on Jackson, Harbaugh earn NFL honors, but lasting word on 2019 still unwritten

humphrey

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee

Posted on 06 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now knowing they’ll face Tennessee in their first home divisional playoff game in eight years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A talking point for John Harbaugh to his players this week will be how rare January road wins in Foxborough have been the last two decades. The Titans are the lesser team on paper, but beating New England in the playoffs garners a level of respect Baltimore shouldn’t dismiss.

2. Starting fast is a cliched key one can mention every week, but the Ravens can silence all discussion of rust or losing their edge by jumping on the Titans early. It would also remind Mike Vrabel’s team that any confidence gained from beating the Patriots will only go so far.

3. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing as Tennessee finished third in rushing and fifth in Football Outsiders’ run efficiency. Henry’s propensity to cut back on edge runs is a style that’s given Baltimore some issues, so I expect Wink Martindale to use more base defense and big nickel packages.

4. With Lamar Jackson turning 23 on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but ponder a connection with another 23-year-old who won MVP, led Baltimore to a world championship, and wore No. 8. The young quarterback sure followed through on a vow made at Camden Yards this past summer.

5. A three-week layoff from live-game action is one thing, but Jackson battling a stomach bug for several days last week is another variable to consider in the whole rust debate. That’s nothing a couple early designed runs or high-percentage throws can’t remedy, however.

6. Ryan Tannehill has been superb under pressure and against the blitz this season, but he’ll face a Ravens defense that blitzes more frequently than anyone in the NFL. His overall numbers are impressive, but I can’t blame you for waiting for the eighth-year quarterback to turn back into a pumpkin.

7. Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards just once over the final eight games of the regular season despite winning all but two of those by at least 16 points. Considering how much yardage and scoring you often see in “garbage” time, that’s remarkable — and bad news for Tannehill.

8. You’d expect Dean Pees to be a topic of conversation this week, but just six members of the Ravens’ current offensive roster were with the organization when Pees was defensive coordinator. He’s as unfamiliar with Jackson and this unique system as any coordinator out there.

9. With wide receivers coach David Culley reiterating Marquise Brown isn’t fully healed from last January’s foot surgery, you hope a week off really helped the speedy rookie receiver. Brown made just one catch of 10 or more yards in five combined December games.

10. Meanwhile, fellow rookie A.J. Brown cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark and registered 100-yard performances for the Titans in four of the last six games of the regular season. Any receiver averaging more than 20 yards per catch is someone to watch.

11. Tennessee ranked 29th in special-teams efficiency and went 8-for-18 on field goals in the process of using four different kickers this season. Justin Tucker has missed nine field goals over the last four seasons combined. Paging Al Del Greco.


(Photo by Getty Images)

12. The early forecast for Saturday night suggests rain showers and winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. Two run-first teams probably wouldn’t mind those conditions one bit, and I can’t imagine a little rain dampening the spirits of a raucous crowd either.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee

jacksontitans

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens to host Tennessee in divisional round next Saturday night

Posted on 05 January 2020 by Luke Jones

An old AFC Central rivalry will be renewed as the Ravens host Tennessee in the divisional round next Saturday night.

The No. 6 seed Titans upset Tom Brady and New England in a 20-13 win in Saturday’s wild-card round and will now travel to Baltimore for the fourth ever postseason meeting between the teams. Ravens coaches focused more on the Titans in their preliminary preparations during the bye week since Baltimore was already familiar with Houston and Buffalo after playing them in the second half of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh and his staff will resume preparations for Tennessee on Sunday with players returning to the training facility in Owings Mills on Monday.

The teams last met in Nashville in Week 6 of the 2018 season, but much has changed since that 21-0 win for the Ravens that included a franchise-record 11 sacks and just two snaps played by Lamar Jackson. That day marked the final victory of Joe Flacco’s 11-year run as Baltimore’s starting quarterback with Jackson taking the reins a month later and never looking back as he’s become the NFL MVP favorite in his second season.

The Titans have also replaced their starting quarterback since then as former second overall pick Marcus Mariota was benched earlier this year in favor of veteran Ryan Tannehill, who surprisingly led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating in the regular season. Titans running back Derrick Henry led the league with 1,540 rushing yards this season and thrives on cutbacks off edge runs, a style that gave the Baltimore defense some problems this season.

Tennessee has emerged as the Cinderella team in the AFC after winning five of its last seven to qualify for the postseason and handing the Patriots their first loss in the wild-card round since the Ravens beat them in Foxborough in the 2009 postseason. However, former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have the unenviable task of preparing his Tennessee unit for its first look at a Jackson-led offense that broke the NFL’s single-season rushing record and became the first team to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same year.

The teams are tied 10-10 in the all-time regular-season series, but Baltimore holds a 2-1 edge in playoff meetings taking place in 2000, 2003, and 2008. Those were all postseason classics with the road team prevailing each time, but this will be the first in which the Ravens will be the overwhelming favorite after a 14-2 regular season that included 12 consecutive wins to give them the top seed in the AFC for the first time in their 24-year history.

The Ravens-Titans rivalry was fleeting due to divisional realignment in 2002, but it was every bit as bitter as what Ravens-Steelers would become, which should add more flavor to what already figured to be a very exciting week in Baltimore.

Comments Off on Ravens to host Tennessee in divisional round next Saturday night

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts during playoff bye week

Posted on 01 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying the bye week after a franchise-best 14-2 record and securing the AFC’s top seed for the first time in their 24-year history, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eliminating Pittsburgh and extending the franchise-record winning streak to 12 games were fun accomplishments, but escaping Week 17 without any major injuries was the real win. The Ravens haven’t stayed as healthy as last year when they had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL, but they’re close.

2. If you’ve wondered how much credit Greg Roman deserves for this offense, look to Sunday when the Ravens rushed for 223 yards against one of the league’s best run defenses without arguably the best rushing quarterback ever, a Pro Bowl running back, and two Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Case closed.

3. Finding the appropriate words to describe a historic season for Lamar Jackson isn’t easy, but I keep coming back to him leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite 25 quarterbacks attempting more passes and ranking sixth in rushing despite 22 players having more carries. Electrifying efficiency.

4. The Ravens failed to have a single 700-yard rusher in 2013 and 2015 and just barely had one last year, but they became just the second team in NFL history to produce three 700-yard rushers in one season, joining Carolina in 2011. Seven teams didn’t have one this season.

5. Despite making a career-low 28 field goals because of the record-setting offense, Justin Tucker scored exactly 141 points for the fourth consecutive season. His 57 extra points were 15 more than he’d ever made in a campaign. Surprising math to get to the same endpoint for the Pro Bowl kicker.

6. Brandon Carr is entering the final option year of his contract, but his move to safety could extend his career for another season or two. The 33-year-old remains solid in coverage and came close to three sacks as a blitzer last Sunday. His versatility and durability continue to be valuable.

7. The Ravens and Robert Griffin III weren’t thrilled with Pittsburgh repeatedly hitting the quarterback on read-option hand-offs, but you’d have to anticipate more of that against Jackson in the postseason. I can’t blame opponents for doing it as long as the hits don’t blatantly cross the line.

8. A day after signing a contract extension, Marcus Peters was the one who nixed John Harbaugh receiving a Gatorade shower, citing how the Ravens had more to accomplish. It’s still remarkable how little Eric DeCosta traded for Peters compared to what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey.

9. Mark Ingram’s status will continue to be monitored, but Gus Edwards besting him in yards per carry for the season (5.3 to 5.0) is a reminder that he’s a starting-caliber back. If Ingram isn’t quite ready for the divisional round, the Ravens should be fine with Edwards and Justice Hill.

10. Anthony Levine saw his season average fall from 60.0 yards per rush to 31.0 after a successful fake punt that netted two yards Sunday. The Ravens ran fakes to Levine with a 35-3 lead in Week 1 and in the fourth quarter of Week 17 with no playoff implications.

11. The Ravens finished the regular season with a plus-249 point differential, the NFL’s highest since undefeated New England in 2007 at plus-315. They’re also the seventh team in the 16-game season era to score 500 points and allow fewer than 300. Five of those first six made the Super Bowl.

12. I wasn’t surprised by Ravens fans’ cheers upon learning New England had fallen to Miami, but Kansas City becomes a bigger threat to Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations with a week off and playing at home in the divisional round. Jackson facing the Chiefs is the way it should be anyway.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts during playoff bye week

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 11.14.36 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Road dominance allows Ravens to take home path to potential Super Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2019 by Luke Jones

There was the “Mile High Miracle” and gratifying redemption against Brady and Belichick in Foxboro seven years ago.

Long before that, the Ravens won a bloodbath in Nashville and silenced the “Black Hole” on the way to their first Super Bowl championship.

There’s no shortage of playoff memories for a franchise with two NFL titles, 12 playoff appearances, and 15 postseason victories over the last two decades, but the overwhelming majority — all but six of 24 playoff games — have taken place somewhere other than Baltimore. The Ravens embraced that role of the underdog road warrior the top contenders didn’t want to play in January despite owner Steve Bisciotti lamenting the lack of home playoff games over the years.

Times have certainly changed as MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the Ravens clinched the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage for the first time in team history with a 31-15 win over Cleveland on Sunday. If we’re being honest, you’d probably like the Ravens’ chances against anyone at home, on the road, or even on Mars with the sensational Jackson at the helm right now, but the thought of needing to win only two home games to get to the Super Bowl is uncharted territory for this franchise.

Owning the league’s second-best home record since 2000, the Ravens always understood they needed to win more on the road in the regular season to play at home in January, but that’s easier said than done most years. In 2019, they didn’t just beat a franchise-record seven of eight away opponents in the bite-your-nails, too-close-for-comfort fashion you usually see in the NFL this season; John Harbaugh’s team flattened them.

Consider Baltimore’s five road victories of 14 or more points, three away wins by 36 or more, and astonishing point differential of plus-159 on the road. Only New England and San Francisco have better point differentials over their entire schedule this season. Kansas City, a Super Bowl contender and the only other team in the AFC with a 7-1 road record, scored 87 more points than its opponents away from Arrowhead Stadium this season, a gaudy number that pales in comparison to that of the Ravens.

It’s just another example of the Ravens making something difficult look incredibly easy this season. Demolishing doormats like Cincinnati and Miami on the road is one thing, but to embarrass the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams by 39 points on a Monday night and to topple a playoff team like Seattle by two touchdowns cements your standing as the class of the NFL.

That’s why there was no reason for panic Sunday despite the Ravens surprisingly going scoreless on their first four drives for the first time all season and falling behind in a game for only the second time since October. Despite the Ravens seemingly playing one of their worst halves of the season, it was only a matter of time before they came alive with two Jackson touchdown passes to Mark Andrews in the final 78 seconds of the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 14-6 lead at intermission. One of their patented half-quarter touchdown drives to open the second half gave Baltimore control of the game for good.

A 16-point road win feeling like a flawed performance reflects how special this team has been since that upset home loss to the Browns to conclude September. After eleven straight wins — six of those on the road — the standard has climbed to a level we haven’t seen in this team’s impressive 24-year history.

The Ravens are no longer that underdog road warrior and can’t claim any disrespect as they top power rankings across the country and enjoy 12 Pro Bowl selections. They also won’t have to hop on a plane to play a game again until the potential trip to Miami for Super Bowl LIV. Other contenders still don’t want to play them, but the difference now is any of those opponents — the Patriots, the Chiefs, or any other team in the AFC field — will have to come to M&T Bank Stadium as the underdog.

Baltimore hasn’t hosted the AFC Championship game since Johnny Unitas and the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3, 1971, but this city now has its best chance to finally host another one.

You can thank the Ravens’ dominance on the road for that home opportunity.

Comments Off on Road dominance allows Ravens to take home path to potential Super Bowl

earlthomas

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

lamarjackson

Tags: , , , , , , ,

MVP truth about Lamar Jackson clear after Ravens’ latest signature win

Posted on 04 November 2019 by Luke Jones

Three letters reverberated around M&T Bank Stadium following Lamar Jackson’s final touchdown run in the Ravens’ convincing 37-20 win over New England on Sunday night.

M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!

It’s a chant that’s rarely been uttered for a Ravens player — not counting two Super Bowl celebrations, of course — in the history of the franchise. Jamal Lewis garnered light consideration on his way to a 2,000-yard season in 2003 before finishing fourth in the voting and settling for Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed may have heard a stray chant from time to time in their respective primes, but only two defensive players — Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986) — have ever been voted AP NFL MVP, meaning neither Hall of Famer had any legitimate chance.

Yes, the truth is now clear, even if you were still holding back after Jackson’s performance in the road win at Seattle two weeks ago. A three-touchdown night against a Patriots defense off to a historic statistical start through its first eight games put the 22-year-old quarterback firmly in the MVP running — even if he has a greater team goal in mind than the one thousands of Ravens fans were referring to.

“We’ve got a lot of season left to play,” Jackson said. “We’re worried about the next game. I don’t really care about [MVP]. I appreciate it, but like I said before, I want something better than that.”

Look beyond the numbers — which are damn good already — and recognize what you’re watching with your own two eyes every week. As Jackson himself noted, there’s a long way to go, but he’s a legitimate MVP candidate and the Ravens are a strong Super Bowl contender after starting 6-2 for the first time since 2012.

That’s not to say Jackson is the favorite with the likes of Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes still in the MVP mix to varying degrees. In the same way the Triple Crown categories — batting average, home runs, and runs batted in — carried the MVP clout in baseball for years before modern analytics helped us more fully appreciate a generational all-around talent like Mike Trout, MVP quarterbacks have been judged solely on their passing acumen with few exceptions over the years.

Jackson is an exception. He could end up being the ultimate exception if he continues ripping through the quarterback rushing record book. That’s not something to be dismissed as a footnote or little more than a tiebreaker when comparing him to other quarterbacks who have only a fraction of the athleticism and running ability he possesses. Jackson’s 637 rushing yards are still more than four other entire teams through Week 9.

It’s time for dwindling critics to stop viewing that ability as something for which he needs to apologize and to start appreciating how special it truly is. Yes, he could get hurt on any given play just like the many quarterbacks who’ve been injured standing in the pocket this year instead of being on the move and avoiding contact as Jackson is seemingly adept at doing. There’s always that risk for any player.

No, Jackson isn’t the best passer in the league and may never be despite the substantial improvement he’s already shown from his rookie year. But he ranks 13th or better in passer rating, QBR, and yards per attempt and is on pace to throw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter. And he’s done that without the legitimate No. 1 wide receiver that many of the aforementioned quarterbacks enjoy.

Of Baltimore’s six conversions on third and fourth downs against the Patriots on Sunday, all but one came on pass completions against the AFC’s best defense, illustrating the faith both he and the coaching staff have in his right arm in key moments.

Simply put, the gap between Jackson and the best passers in the league is a hell of a lot smaller than the discrepancy between him and all but a few quarterbacks in the rushing department. That dual-threat ability that includes a pace of rushing for over 1,250 yards — which would shatter Michael Vick’s single-season quarterback record — is far more valuable than a less mobile quarterback with moderately better passing numbers.

But it’s more than just the combination of passing and rushing numbers that make his MVP candidacy legitimate. Having won 21 straight games against rookie and second-year quarterbacks, the Patriots and their various defensive looks never fazed Jackson from the moment he was in the grasp on his third-down pass to Marquise Brown on the opening drive until his 1-yard touchdown push with 3:19 remaining in the game. He is as cool as young quarterbacks come and continues to make highlights every week while committing just five turnovers all season after ball security was a major problem in his rookie year.

Few quarterbacks — especially young ones — consistently make dynamic plays while also taking care of the football, but that’s exactly what Jackson is doing with 17 total touchdowns, only five interceptions, and not a single one of his four credited fumbles lost. The four quarterbacks drafted before Jackson in last year’s first round have combined for 29 total touchdowns and 33 interceptions this season, reminding us how challenging this really is and how easy Jackson is making it look.

“He has a very high football IQ. He also understands the moment. He has poise,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It just goes to the way he thinks and the way his mind works. He has an amazing ability to take a lot of factors, a lot of things — play clock, play call, personnel, formation, defense that presents, whatever changes that have to made — and just process all of that in that kind of a moment, which is what makes the position at quarterback so difficult.”

The best MVP argument for Jackson is how much better he makes the rest of his team, an assessment not made with haste after observing the first 15 regular-season starts of his young career. Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and the rest of the coaching staff built an offense around his strengths this past offseason, but it’s a system that wouldn’t work without him.

Jackson’s move to the starting lineup last November instantly turned one of the NFL’s worst running games into the best because of the pressure his athleticism puts on a defense used to playing 11-on-10 football on the ground. That dynamic rushing attack has allowed the Ravens to dominate time of possession, protect leads, and keep their defense better rested over 60 minutes. Jackson’s ability to take off from the pocket forces opponents to play more zone coverage, making it easier for Baltimore’s tight ends and wide receivers to find open windows and for Jackson’s accuracy issues to be mitigated.

Even when much of that breaks down like it did against the Seahawks two weeks ago when the between-the-tackles run game wasn’t there and his receivers couldn’t catch a cold, Jackson is capable of putting his team on his back. Whether he’s throwing five touchdowns and posting a perfect passer rating, rushing for 100 yards, or simply playing smart and efficient football without the gaudiest of numbers like he did against the Patriots, you can easily see his teammates — young and old — believe in him.

That may not garner the necessary support with voters used to viewing MVP quarterbacks through a more traditional lens, but those qualities could take the Ravens deep into January.

Or even February.

“I’m right with the crowd. I mean that. This man is the MVP,” six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas said. “I’m right behind him. I’m backing him. He makes my job easier, and when you finish the game like that, it’s just a sigh of relief again for us.”

Comments Off on MVP truth about Lamar Jackson clear after Ravens’ latest signature win

jimmysmith

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 03 November 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For the first time since 2012, Sunday Night Football has returned to Baltimore with the Ravens hosting the undefeated New England Patriots in the headline matchup of Week 9.

After much discussion all week about Lamar Jackson facing Bill Belichick’s top-ranked scoring defense, we’ll find out how the 22-year-old handles what one of the best defensive minds in NFL history throws at him in these teams’ first meeting since 2016. Of course, the Ravens are trying to maintain the momentum of a three-game winning streak that’s propelled them to the No. 2 seed position in the AFC entering Sunday night. The Ravens are seeking their first 6-2 start since the 2012 season and their first four-game winning streak since 2013.

Despite missing Friday’s practice with a thigh issue to go along with the sprained right ankle that cost him the last two games, rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown is active and returns to action for the first time since Week 5. His speed will be needed to help keep a tough Patriots defense honest throughout the evening, but his effectiveness will be closely monitored.

As expected, cornerback Jimmy Smith (right knee) and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (right ankle) are also active and will make their respective returns. Smith hasn’t played since injuring his knee on the second defensive series of the season in Miami on Sept. 8, so it will be interesting to see how much defensive coordinator Wink Martindale leans on him in a deep group of cornerbacks. Onwuasor missed the last two games after hurting his ankle in the overtime win at Pittsburgh.

Backup safety and special-teams contributor Bennett Jackson is active after missing the final two practices of the week with an ankle issue, but the Ravens deactivated reserve cornerback Maurice Canady, who was limited all week with a thigh injury originally sustained against Cincinnati in Week 6.

New England running back James White is active after being added to the injury report as questionable with a toe injury on Friday. He ranks second on the Patriots with 42 catches for 358 yards and a touchdown.

The Patriots activated rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry from injured reserve Saturday, but the first-round pick is inactive for Sunday night’s game.

Sunday’s referee is Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday night forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-40s at kickoff with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their alternate black jerseys with white pants while New England dons white tops with navy blue pants for Week 9.

Ravens legend Ed Reed is in attendance and will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

Sunday marks the 10th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with the Patriots holding an 8-1 advantage and a 3-1 record in Baltimore. Counting the postseason, the Ravens are 3-6 against New England in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 2-2 split in playoff games.

Below are Sunday night’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Maurice Canady
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack
DL Zach Sieler
DE Ufomba Kamalu

NEW ENGLAND
WR N’Keal Harry
OL Korey Cunningham
WR Gunner Olszewski
DB Joejuan Williams
RB Damien Harris
QB Cody Kessler
TE Matt LaCosse

Comments Off on Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes