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Ravens regular-season moment No. 3: Dilfer’s redemption

Posted on 25 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 4 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Tennessee Titans were the defending AFC champions and the NFL’s best team while the Ravens were still trying to regroup entering Week 11 of the 2000 season.

The good vibes and playoff aspirations accompanying a 5-1 start had dimmed with a three-game losing streak and an unthinkable five-game stretch in which the Ravens failed to score a single touchdown. Baltimore had finally snapped that futility with a 27-7 win at Cincinnati the previous week, but beating the lowly Bengals wasn’t convincing anyone that Brian Billick’s team was truly back on track.

Just three weeks earlier, the Ravens had suffered a home loss to the 8-1 Titans, a game in which starting quarterback Tony Banks was benched in favor of Trent Dilfer. The sixth overall pick of the 1994 draft and former Tampa Bay quarterback had thrown three touchdowns in the win over the Bengals in his second start, but going to Adelphia Coliseum — a place where Tennessee hadn’t lost since its opening the previous year — was a much different test for someone with a reputation for making the critical mistake at the worst time.

The clash between the AFC Central rivals and best defenses in the league started perfectly for Baltimore as Dilfer’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Qadry Ismail and a Jamal Lewis 2-yard touchdown run made it 14-0, but Titans quarterback Steve McNair threw two touchdowns in the second quarter as the Ravens held a narrow 17-14 lead at halftime. That score held until the fourth quarter when Titans kicker Al Del Greco tied the game with a 23-yard field goal with a little over eight minutes to play.

After punting on the ensuing possession, the Ravens got the ball back deep in Tennessee territory when Peter Boulware stripped a scrambling McNair on third down and Rob Burnett recovered the fumble at the 22-yard line with 4:07 remaining. Considering the way the Baltimore defense had played in the second half, even a field goal would be a perfectly fine outcome if Dilfer and the offense could trim time off the clock.

But on third-and-7, disaster struck as Dilfer’s pass intended for speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson was intercepted by Titans safety Perry Phenix and returned 87 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:30 to go. It was the kind of play that had too often doomed Dilfer in Tampa Bay and seemingly sunk the Ravens in a game they desperately wanted to win.

However, Del Greco’s first missed extra point in seven years offered a sliver of hope if Dilfer could regroup against a defense that had blanked Baltimore since the second quarter. The 28-year-old now had the chance to rewrite his story or to leave Billick further pondering his quarterback problems with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

The two-minute drive was far from pretty as the Ravens committed two penalties and faced a third-and-5 from their own 35 when a scrambling Dilfer found veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe downfield for a critical 36-yard completion. Nothing came easy on the next set of downs either as Dilfer threw deep and incomplete to Ismail on fourth-and-2.

But a penalty flag came as Tennessee cornerback Dainon Sidney collided with Ismail just short of the goal line for pass interference. The Ravens had a first down from the 2 with 49 seconds remaining.

After Lewis was stuffed for no gain on first down and the ball was spiked to stop the clock to set up a third-and-goal from the 2, Dilfer rolled to his right and fired a strike to Johnson, who kept his feet inbounds for the touchdown with 25 seconds to go.

Not only was Johnson the man Dilfer had targeted on his abysmal interception minutes earlier, but the former second-round pick who’d never lived up to expectations dropped a potential touchdown earlier that day. The extra point by Matt Stover gave the Ravens a 24-23 lead as Dilfer had answered the call.

“For me, poise is just trusting the people around me,” Dilfer said after the game. “I’ve lacked poise in my career because I didn’t trust what’s going on around me. I told these guys I’ve worked my whole career to play with a bunch of guys like this.”

The redemption story wasn’t quite complete, however, as McNair completed an 11-yard pass and then furiously broke free for a 20-yard scramble to move the Titans to the Baltimore 25 with only three seconds to go. Regarded as one of the league’s most reliable kickers for years, Del Greco would have his own chance at redemption with a 43-yard try to win it for Tennessee.

The kick faded wide right as Dilfer fell facedown in relief and Billick raised his arms in victory on the sideline. A game the Ravens had seemingly won, lost, won, and lost again ended in a critical 24-23 victory.

Dilfer wouldn’t be asked to be much more than a game manager for the rest of the season as a historic defense and strong running game led the way, but that touchdown drive spawned confidence that Baltimore could win with him under center. The win showed the Ravens could beat anybody anywhere and were legitimate Super Bowl contenders despite their troubling midseason swoon.

No one knew exactly what would unfold in the coming weeks and months, but anything seemed possible after that last-second win over the mighty Titans.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to come back here for the playoffs,” right tackle Harry Swayne said after the game. “If that’s the case, it’d be like, ‘We’ve been here. Let’s do it again.'”

The words proved prophetic two months later as another hard-fought win at Adelphia Coliseum in the divisional round — complete with more Del Greco woes — proved to be the defining stop on the Ravens’ path to their first Super Bowl.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens selecting LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A 20-year-old undersized inside linebacker from a college football powerhouse selected late in the first round sparks memories of a certain Hall of Famer. Even Lamar Jackson was calling Queen “Ray Lewis Jr.” on Instagram Live after the pick was made. No pressure.

2. Queen is “so tired of hearing” his 6-foot, 231-pound frame is undersized and believes he’s “more mobile” than Lewis was while making clear the Baltimore legend was “probably the best to play.” I like that confidence in someone who had to wait his turn behind former Tigers teammate Devin White.

3. Wink Martindale did an admirable job rotating inside linebackers last year, but having a three-down starter with a high ceiling and cover ability will make life much easier. Queen’s speed also makes him an enticing blitz option in the same way the Ravens used Patrick Onwuasor.

4. Fair concerns about Queen’s size should be eased by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front. Lewis was at his absolute best playing behind the likes of Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Haloti Ngata, and Trevor Pryce, so a big defensive line should help Queen roam more freely.

5. Remarkably, it took 25 years for the Ravens to finally draft a player from LSU, an elite SEC program that’s won three national championships since 2003. In contrast, Baltimore has selected multiple players from Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, and Weber State. Go figure.

6. Asked how Ozzie Newsome reacted to an LSU draft pick, Eric DeCosta said, “He kept saying something, but we muted him. He kept waving his hands, and the video went out. That’s the thing with technology sometimes — it can be manipulated. I think it was the Russians.” Funny stuff.

7. You wonder about a college player who only started one year, but Queen really stood out against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and was named defensive MVP of the national championship game. Excelling against top competition seems to be a good trade-off for the lack of starting experience.

8. Queen is the fifth linebacker to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round, joining Lewis, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley. The first four each made at least four Pro Bowls and combined for 28 in Baltimore. Again, no pressure.

9. Credit DeCosta’s patience as options such as edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and center Cesar Ruiz started coming off the board in the early 20s. Standing pat in the first round for the first time since 2017, the Ravens protected their remaining six picks in the top 150.

10. General managers always say the player they picked topped their board, but that appeared to be the truth with Queen, who fit one of Baltimore’s biggest needs. DeCosta said he received a congratulatory text from Dallas defensive coordinator and former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan for his pick.

11. DeCosta is dedicating this draft to former Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who died at 85 last month and was the creator of the famous “red star” meeting in which each scout picks a draft prospect who stands above the rest on and off the field. It was a classy gesture.

12. Credit the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network for pulling off a quality broadcast despite such challenging circumstances, but there was so much going on in this scene at Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s house that I haven’t a clue what to even say.

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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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Ravens gather to commemorate Super Bowl XLVII a final time

Posted on 08 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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The Super Bowl ring ceremony was quite the extravagant party in Owings Mills that served as a reunion for the 2012 Ravens as well as the final big celebration of the second championship in franchise history.

Yes, Baltimore’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 15 will include the unveiling of a second Super Bowl championship banner, but that ceremony will be overshadowed by an actual game and won’t include those who’ve moved on to other organizations but were able to return to the team’s facility to receive their lavish Super Bowl rings.

Media access was limited at Friday night’s event as it was a party for members of the organization, but the Ravens provided an interesting foursome of players to speak to the media minutes after the rings were unveiled.

Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, and Torrey Smith all stood at different stages of their career as they received their championship rings with the 38-year-old Lewis speaking to reporters first. Having retired after winning his second championship, Lewis spoke as a fatherly figure throughout the postseason and once again expressed his satisfaction over not only having the opportunity to go out on top but to see his teammates experience what it meant to be a champion.

“I always told them I wanted them to really feel what the confetti felt like. Now to be here, to have something that symbolizes it, it’s the ultimate because now it connects us forever,” said Lewis, who also wore his Super Bowl XXXV ring after receiving the Super Bowl XLVII one to wear on his opposite hand. “It took me 12 years to get back and get another ring. I want them to cherish what this moment feels like right now while we’re world champions.”

Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP, responded only how he could with the honest assessment of a gaudy ring that includes white gold and 243 round-cut diamonds. As Lewis pointed out, Flacco won a championship in his fifth season — like the linebacker did with the 2000 Ravens — and the championship surely provided validation in the minds of those who wondered whether he could lead Baltimore to a championship.

The quarterback admitted he probably won’t wear the ring, but it won’t be sitting locked up in his closet either.

“It’s kind of unwearable,” said Flacco, drawing laughter from reporters. “When I see people for the first time, I’m sure they’re going to have some interest in seeing it or at least I’m going to have some interest in showing it off to them. I’m definitely going to bring it a couple of places. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m going to wear it, but it’s pretty special.”

Entering his third season, Smith represented the younger players on the roster fortunate enough not to wait long to taste Super Bowl glory in their NFL careers.

And the former University of Maryland product struggled to keep his eyes off the hardware as he spoke to media.

“I told you all what I was going to be like. I didn’t cry or anything, but I can see how women feel when they get a ring,” said Smith as he laughed. “It has a lot of different meanings. There will never be another season like this. We can win the Super Bowl every year while I’m in the league and there will be nothing like this one.”

The most intriguing of the four to speak was 11th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs, who finally earned the Super Bowl ring he’s dreamed about after starring on the vaunted Baltimore defense for a decade. While Lewis, Flacco, and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed received most of the attention for different reasons, Suggs won his first championship after the most difficult season of his career in which he recovered from a torn Achilles tendon in late April and then played with a torn biceps for the final two months of the 2012 season.

Always one to provide a colorful quote and having the reputation of being the class clown of the Ravens locker room, Suggs’ sincerity in describing how he felt upon finally seeing his first piece of championship jewelry was the highlight of the brief session.

“To have it so close, it finally hit me what exactly we accomplished together,” said Suggs, who figured out his ring was hidden in front of him when he was discouraged from moving his seat at the beginning of the ceremony. “It didn’t take a year. It took me 11 years to get it. It took coach [John] Harbaugh from when he got here in 2008 — we’ve been chasing this. It finally paid off, all that blood given. There’s not a word that describes what I’m feeling right now and all the emotions.

“The journey was long, but it was worth it. But I will tell you this, I damn sure want to feel like this again.”

Owner Steve Bisciotti took care of former members of the organization by not only awarding Super Bowl rings to David and John Modell, the sons of the late owner Art Modell, but to the five members of the team’s Ring of Honor who played on the Super Bowl XXXV championship team. It appears Bisciotti is setting a precedent by giving rings to Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary, Matt Stover, and Jamal Lewis, but fellow Ring of Honor member Earnest Byner wasn’t included in that group.

Byner was the only member of the Ring of Honor to have played for the Ravens — the Hall of Fame members of the Baltimore Colts are also honored — who did not receive a ring, so it appears this is a subtle way of ignoring the former Browns, Redskins, and Ravens running back’s inclusion, which was never accepted by fans from the time Byner was inducted in 2001.

He was a favorite of the late Modell, but seeing Byner’s name listed among Ravens greats as well as the Hall of Fame Colts has always looked out of place.

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