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Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Queen, third-rounder Duvernay

Posted on 22 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With rookies beginning to report to team facilities around the NFL for the start of training camp this week, the Ravens have agreed to contract terms with first-round pick Patrick Queen and third-round selection Devin Duvernay.

Queen, an inside linebacker from LSU, was the 28th overall selection in the 2020 draft and projected to receive a four-year, $12.16 million contract in the league’s slotted system. Queen will turn 21 next month and is expected to start for a top-shelf defense that lost veteran inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor in free agency this offseason.

The 6-foot, 232-pound Queen started only 15 games in his college career and is undersized by traditional standards, but his skill set is ideal for Wink Martindale’s defensive system valuing versatility. He finished his junior year with 85 tackles (12 for a loss), three sacks, one interception, and three pass breakups and was named defensive MVP in LSU’s national championship win over Clemson.

“When you watched the film, you saw the instincts and the speed and athleticism,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said in May. “You were like, ‘Wow, he’s a 20-year old kid who’s showing this right now. What would he have been next year if he would have been another year starter with 12 more, 14 more starts under his belt? How much more instinctive would he be?’ I think you project that out forward.

“He’s a smart kid, he works his butt off, he loves the game, and he’s a great character kid. You say to yourself, ‘Man, as this guy gets experience in the NFL, he’s just going to get better and better.’ We really think he’s got a high ceiling and also a high floor.”

Queen was the first LSU player ever drafted by Baltimore and the third inside linebacker selected in the first round by the Ravens in their 25-year history, joining Hall of Famer Ray Lewis (1996) and C.J. Mosley (2014). Those two combined for 17 Pro Bowl selections in their time with Baltimore, leaving high expectations for the talented rookie.

The 92nd overall pick out of Texas, Duvernay was a standout performer for the Longhorns in 2019, catching 106 passes for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound slot receiver earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2019 and finished his collegiate career with 176 receptions, 2,468 yards, and 16 touchdowns.

With his entire draft class now under contract, general manager Eric DeCosta could now be faced with some unfortunate roster decisions entering camp with the league expected to reduce the preseason roster limit from 90 players to 80 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic requiring social distancing and new health protocols. The Ravens entered Wednesday with 89 players on their roster.

The roster reduction and the elimination of preseason games are expected to have a particularly harsh impact on undrafted rookies vying to make the regular-season roster, but expanded practice squads will allow teams to keep more developmental talent, which will be especially helpful with the uncertainty created by the pandemic.

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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. 7: “Something that you dream of”

Posted on 16 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 8 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2003 season was turning into a nightmare for the Ravens, who had fallen to 5-5 after two straight road losses to St. Louis and Miami.

Despite a top-shelf defense and a historic campaign from running back Jamal Lewis, Brian Billick’s team was struggling mightily on offense and down to third-string quarterback Anthony Wright. In his first start for Baltimore the previous week, the 27-year-old had committed three turnovers in a 9-6 overtime loss to the Dolphins, looking the part of a former undrafted quarterback making only his sixth career start.

Returning home to play Seattle in Week 12, the Ravens needed a win to stop the bleeding and to keep pace with surprising Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North. What was to come would be one of the most exciting games in the history of M&T Bank Stadium.

No one knew it early, however, as the teams combined for just six points in the first 29 minutes of play before a pair of touchdown passes by Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the final 30 seconds of the half — a disastrous fumble had given the ball back to Seattle after the first one — gave Seattle a 17-3 lead at intermission. Wright’s second start was looking much like the previous week as he went just 3-for-9 for 37 yards.

Something had to give.

The difference would be Wright’s former college teammate at South Carolina, Marcus Robinson, who had been a non-factor in his first season with the Ravens. Once a 1,400-yard receiver with Chicago, Robinson had caught only nine passes for 76 yards in his first nine games of 2003, showing little chemistry with rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

Wright and Robinson connected for a 13-yard score to open the second half, the first touchdown scored by the Ravens in two weeks. The pair hooked up for two more touchdowns — 50-yard and 25-yard strikes — in the third quarter, but the problem was the vaunted Ravens defense that suddenly couldn’t stop the Seahawks. Hasselbeck threw three more touchdowns in the second half to give Seattle a 41-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Wright’s mojo temporarily stalled as the Ravens punted on back-to-back possessions, but the second resulted in a muff recovered by Baltimore at the Seattle 35. With the Ravens having a chance to shrink the deficit to two scores with a little over nine minutes to play, Lewis instead coughed up the ball on first down, giving possession right back to the Seahawks.

A comeback just wasn’t in the cards as a sizable portion of the home crowd began heading for the exits, resigned to a third straight loss going into Thanksgiving.

Or so we thought.

A bloodied Baltimore defense forced a three-and-out to set up a punt. Already showing a Hall-of-Fame ability to block punts in only his second season, safety Ed Reed used a beautiful inside swim move to block Tom Rouen’s kick, picked up the ball, and scored to make it a 41-31 game with 6:41 remaining. It was a remarkable play by Reed, but the touchdown felt too little, too late for those still watching.

On the next possession, Seattle picked up three first downs to move into field-goal range and continue draining clock before Pro Bowl inside linebacker and 2003 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis stripped Seahawks fullback Mack Strong of the football. Lewis recovered at his own 29 to give possession back to the Ravens with 4:16 to go, leaving a glimmer of hope for remaining fans.

Needing a miracle conversion of a fourth-and-28 coming out of the two-minute warning, Wright chucked a deep ball to Robinson that deflected off his hands and into the arms of fellow wide receiver Frank Sanders, giving Baltimore a first down at the 21.

Four plays later, Wright and Robinson found the end zone for a fourth time in the second half, trimming the deficit to 41-38 with 1:12 to go.

It again appeared over after an unsuccessful onside kick, but the Ravens still weren’t done. An unthinkable clock snafu by the officiating crew essentially granted Baltimore an extra timeout before the defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 Hasselbeck sneak to get the ball back with 39 seconds left. Two plays later, Wright threw another deep ball to Robinson incomplete, but a 44-yard pass interference call set up a Matt Stover 40-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good.

After the Ravens defense forced a Seattle punt on the opening series of overtime, Wright went to the magical connection a final time, completing a 19-yard pass to Robinson on third-and-15 to put his team in field-goal range. After three more Jamal Lewis rushes, Stover booted the 42-yard field goal to complete the largest comeback victory in franchise history.

The amazing 44-41 win sparked a 5-1 finish to the regular season that resulted in the first AFC North championship in team history. And though the Ravens would erase larger deficits — all with more time remaining — in the years that followed, none were as dramatic or meaningful as that season-altering win.

Going 20-for-37 for 319 yards and a 119.1 passer rating, Wright wouldn’t come close to matching his career day for the remainder of that season and his tenure with the Ravens, but his four touchdown passes to Robinson rate among the most improbable single-game efforts in the history of the franchise. It was a day the journeyman quarterback would never forget.

“This is something that you dream of,” said an emotional Wright, whose wife gave birth to their second daughter later that evening. “This is something that you write in books. This is something you think would never happen to you.

“For us to come back and win this game was unimaginable.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 11: Saluting Heinz Field

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 12 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Before there was “January Joe,” real questions persisted about Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.

His rookie season brought encouraging signs and easily cleared the low bar of the Kyle Boller era, but Flacco was mostly along for the ride as a terrific defense and a bruising rushing attack led the 2008 Ravens to an AFC Championship game appearance. His play took a substantial step forward in the 2009 regular season, but a Week 17 hip injury severely hampered him in January as he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in two playoff games.

Even the start of the 2010 season was rough as Flacco threw five interceptions over the first two games, making a Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh feel like a pivotal test in the third-year quarterback’s development. Winless at Heinz Field since 2006, the Ravens were taking on a Steelers team that was 3-0 despite backup quarterback Charlie Batch filling in for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. If Baltimore couldn’t come away with a win in Pittsburgh this time around, you wondered when it would ever happen for Flacco and third-year head coach John Harbaugh.

But anything can go in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a defensive struggle ensued.

With the Ravens trailing 14-10 after a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run midway through the final quarter, Flacco had the opportunity to make his mark and quiet his doubters. Thanks in large part to completions of 21, 11, 10, and 11 yards, the Ravens had two shots from the Pittsburgh 2 to take the lead with less than three minutes to play.

On third-and-goal, Flacco’s pass to a blanketed Derrick Mason was broken up at the goal line. After a timeout, the Baltimore quarterback then threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin, turning the ball over on downs with 2:40 left and only one timeout remaining. Flacco and the Ravens looked like they would come up short in Pittsburgh yet again.

But instead of sulking over the offense’s inability to put the ball in the end zone, the Baltimore defense stuffed Mendenhall on three consecutive runs to force the Steelers to punt from their own 3. A Pittsburgh holding penalty on Daniel Sepulveda’s 47-yard punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers’ 40 with 1:08 remaining. It was the latest miscue in a mistake-prone game for Pittsburgh that included two missed field goals by Jeff Reed to keep the Ravens within striking distance.

If not now, then when?

Flacco connected on three straight passes to put the ball on the 18 with 37 seconds remaining. On the next play with Ray Rice and Todd Heap picking up a blindside blitz perfectly, Flacco pumped and hit veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh — the former Cincinnati Bengal who had just joined the Ravens a few weeks earlier — saluted a stunned Pittsburgh crowd while the normally stoic Flacco pumped his fist in celebration.

The Ravens defense finished it off with a Ray Lewis interception on the Steelers’ next play from scrimmage to give Flacco and Harbaugh their first win in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the moment didn’t transform the young quarterback into “January Joe” overnight as Flacco would experience some more hiccups and the Ravens would suffer another crushing playoff defeat at Heinz Field a few months later. But the touchdown to Houshmandzadeh showed what the Delaware product could do in a critical moment against the toughest of opponents on the road.

“I think there are going to be a lot of defining moments for Joe, but this is going to be one of them,” Harbaugh said after the dramatic 17-14 win to improve his team’s record to 3-1 on the season. “This is going to be one that all the Ravens fans are going to remember for a long time.”

The best was yet to come.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 12: “Almost as if he knew what was coming”

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 13 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

We forget how close Ray Lewis came to leaving the Ravens.

After bristling at the notion of accepting a hometown discount and much chatter about his interest in joining the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis became a free agent for the first time in his career in late February 2009. However, when outside interest proved not to meet his financial demands, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year eventually re-signed with the Ravens, who were coming off an AFC Championship appearance in the first year of the John Harbaugh era.

Entering his 14th season and already with 10 Pro Bowl selections under his belt, Lewis was eager to prove he still had plenty of good football left at age 34. The San Diego Chargers would learn that the hard way in Week 2 of the 2009 season.

Coming off its third straight AFC West division title, San Diego was expected to be one of the top contenders in the conference, ultimately going 13-3 that year. Meanwhile, the Ravens had bested Kansas City in the season opener and now had a cross-country trip to Qualcomm Stadium to take on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

Despite playing without former league MVP and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers would move the ball throughout the game as backup Darren Sproles had an 81-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and an impressive 278 all-purpose yards. But the Baltimore defense under new coordinator Greg Mattison practiced the art of bending without breaking by making four red-zone stops — including three inside the 10-yard line — to combat the 474 yards allowed.

Thanks largely to two Willis McGahee touchdown runs and two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, the Ravens led 31-26 after Steve Hauschka tacked on a critical 33-yard field goal with 2:54 remaining. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t done as he completed a 38-yard pass to Vincent Jackson to put San Diego in Ravens territory just before the two-minute warning.

The Chargers moved into the red zone over the next several plays to set up a fourth-and-2 from the 15 with just 37 remaining. What happened next would go down as one of the finest plays of Lewis’ Hall of Fame career.

Having already piled up a game-high 11 tackles — two for a loss — as well as a forced fumble, Lewis had been disruptive with several blitzes throughout the game. His reputation for film study was already legendary by this point, but Lewis had missed the tackle on the same inside run play to Sproles earlier, prompting the veteran middle linebacker to gamble and shoot the gap to try to slam the door on the Chargers once and for all.

As the legendary Dick Enberg described it on the CBS telecast, “Almost as if he knew what was coming.”

The 5-yard loss and fifth red-zone stuff of the afternoon turned the ball back to the Ravens as Flacco took the final knee.

Lewis had bigger moments in the postseason over his 17-year career, of course, but no play may have better displayed both his brilliance and ferocity on the football field. And Baltimore was sure glad he had stayed put.

“I played with John Elway and Terrell Davis, and that’s up there with anything I’ve seen them do,” Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said after the 31-26 win. “Just the magnitude of the play. It’s fourth down and game to go. It’s the kind of stuff that you write in ‘Remember the Titans.’

“It doesn’t happen in real life. But today it did. It couldn’t have happened to anybody else but him.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 16: “That’s one that loosens your teeth”

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 17 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens looked like they might be the worst team in football.

After an offseason salary-cap purge in which general manager Ozzie Newsome bid farewell to multiple starters and a couple future Hall of Famers from the Super Bowl XXXV championship team, the 2002 season couldn’t have started much worse on and off the field.

The young Ravens suffered a season-opening 10-7 road loss to a Carolina Panthers team that had gone 1-15 the previous year. The offensive output certainly wasn’t encouraging in third-year quarterback and former third-round pick Chris Redman’s first NFL start.

A few days later, sadness overcame the city as Baltimore Colts legend and football icon Johnny Unitas died of a heart attack on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. With Redman wearing black high-tops to pay tribute to the fellow Louisville product who had taken an interest in his football career, the Ravens were thoroughly embarrassed in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2, the only time in team history they’ve been shut out at home.

Coming out of an early Week 3 bye, the Ravens were set to host the undefeated Denver Broncos — who had already knocked off defending NFC champion St. Louis and won at San Francisco — on Monday Night Football. Despite clamoring for more media attention the previous two seasons, even most Ravens fans dreaded their 0-2 team being on a prime-time stage for the football world to mock and ridicule.

The second quarter indeed proved to be embarrassing — for the Broncos.

Redman threw a touchdown pass to Todd Heap to give Baltimore a 7-3 lead on the second play of the period. Rookie Ed Reed blocked a punt that led to a short Jamal Lewis touchdown run to make it 14-3. And after a Matt Stover field goal, Ray Lewis intercepted a Brian Griese pass to set up another Redman touchdown throw to Heap with 18 seconds left in the first half, making it 24-3 in favor of the Ravens.

But none of that compared to what happened moments later as longtime Denver kicker Jason Elam lined up to try a 57-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. The attempt was well short and wide to the left as cornerback Chris McAlister fielded the kick in the end zone and initially played possum before taking off at his own goal line. With many not even realizing what was happening, McAlister sprinted down the sideline for a then-NFL-record 107 yards for a touchdown as over 69,000 shocked fans went bonkers.

Perhaps even more thrilling and memorable than the return itself, however, was the block delivered by Ray Lewis, who absolutely throttled Broncos linebacker Keith Burns at the 5-yard line. As the legendary John Madden so perfectly described it on the ABC broadcast, “That’s one that loosens your teeth!”

The monstrous hit symbolized the night for the shell-shocked Broncos as the Ravens earned their first win of the season in a 34-23 final, a game that also included Reed’s first career interception. The victory may not have been the harbinger of a magical 2002 turnaround, but it made clear the rebuilding Ravens were far from the NFL’s worst team as they’d go on to finish 7-9 in what was one of Brian Billick’s finest coaching jobs.

The incredible touchdown to close the half signaled better days were coming soon for a team with a very talented young core still intact, including the two men responsible for one of the most exhilarating plays in franchise history.

“That’s the way we practice it,” said McAlister about his record return after the game. “I watched and hung in the end zone and let my guys set up the wall. I got a hell of a block from Ray, and we went with the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Posted on 20 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL’s virtual offseason program rolling on, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Team president Dick Cass confirmed again this week that the organization aims to be able to conduct training camp and has no expectation of the 90-man roster being at the Owings Mills facility before then. Time remains on teams’ side with the usual start to camp still two months away.

2. Two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen said he wouldn’t have made it in the NFL had the pandemic taken place when he went undrafted in 2013. With Baltimore already having a deep roster and 10 draft picks, rookie free agents are missing out on valuable opportunities to impress.

3. Opinions vary on playing football this fall, but Dr. David Chao, former team physician of the San Diego Chargers, discussed key considerations in this video ranging from what to do about team meetings and locker rooms to considering face shields on helmets and alternatives for huddling. Really interesting stuff.

4. With Rooney Rule changes making headlines, the lack of diversity in NFL hiring remains disappointing with Ozzie Newsome going from a Hall of Fame playing career to becoming one of the best general managers of all time serving as the best example one needs. The league must do better.

5. Some have mentioned the peculiarity of having two preseason games against regular-season opponents (Dallas and Washington), but teams just don’t show enough in these exhibition contests for this to really matter anymore. Conducting joint practices with a regular-season opponent would be a different story.

6. A superb secondary and Wink Martindale’s propensity to blitz should ease short-term concerns at edge rusher, but Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser are only under contract through 2020. Even if Jaylon Ferguson takes a step forward, something will have to give.

7. Calais Campbell has wasted no time making an impact locally as his foundation announced an initiative to provide 100 laptops to disadvantaged students. His superb play is a given, but adding a veteran like him during such unusual times will pay off even more on and off the field.

8. The recently retired Eric Weddle taking time to speak to Ravens players virtually was hardly surprising. He’ll relish more time with his family, but it’s difficult imagining him staying away from the game for very long.

9. Many have already dunked on the following tweet, but the 2012 defense did come up big in some critical spots despite its mediocre overall profile. Still, I would put at least 15 Ravens defenses ahead of that one without even needing to look up any stats. What an odd pairing.

10. Terrell Suggs had a forgettable Arizona homecoming, but he recently drew praise as a mentor from Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, who led the NFL in sacks in 2017 and had 19 last year. It’s unclear whether he’ll return for an 18th season, but the ex-Raven became an underrated leader.

11. If you felt old hearing Ray Lewis turned 45 years old late last week, perhaps you’ll take consolation learning Cal Ripken will be 60 in August. You’re welcome.

12. I really could have gone without reading the latest example of what’s made Tom Brady so insane great over the years. At least Ryan Mallett learned something from the six-time Super Bowl champion?

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 19: “You want to be the last team standing”

Posted on 19 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 20 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2006 campaign was shaping up to be a pivotal one.

With the Ravens coming off their worst season since 1998, head coach Brian Billick was firmly on the hot seat and former first-round pick Kyle Boller wasn’t the franchise quarterback the organization hoped he would be after drafting him three years earlier. That prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade a fourth-round pick to Tennessee for former MVP quarterback and longtime rival Steve McNair to boost a mediocre offense needing to better complement a championship-caliber defense led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who were both healthy after injuries the previous year.

Baltimore began the season with a bang, shutting out Tampa Bay on the road and flattening Oakland in the home opener. A fourth-quarter comeback win at Cleveland gave the Ravens the first 3-0 start in franchise history to set up a Week 4 showdown with undefeated San Diego at an energized M&T Bank Stadium. Led by MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers and their No. 1 scoring offense going up against the league’s best defense felt like a potential preview of the AFC Championship game.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but it was an ugly affair for the Ravens for much of the day with McNair throwing two interceptions, backup tight end Dan Wilcox fumbling at the San Diego 1 in the third quarter, and top wide receiver Derrick Mason dropping a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter. But the Chargers had made their own mistakes with conservative play calling and a fumbled snap that squandered a 52-yard field goal attempt that could have put them ahead by two scores midway through the final period.

Backed up on its next possession and not wanting to give the Ravens a short field with time winding down, San Diego intentionally took a safety to make it a 13-9 game with 3:12 remaining. It was just enough time for McNair, who had led the go-ahead drive against the Browns a week earlier and was trying to redeem himself after a poor showing in front of his new fans.

After punting or committing a turnover on their first five drives of the second half, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to two completions to Mark Clayton and a vintage 12-yard scramble by McNair. Out of timeouts after burning all three in the third quarter, Baltimore faced a second down from the 10 with 41 seconds to go.

Motioning across the formation, Todd Heap wasn’t a primary read on the play, but the Chargers rushed only three after applying heavy pressure much of the day, allowing McNair to look back to his left. Heap, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end despite having played with a motley crew of quarterbacks over his first five seasons, reined in a high pass and absorbed a shot from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman at the 3 before stretching across the goal line with 34 seconds remaining.

“I felt the hit,” Heap said after the 16-13 win. “Luckily, I was able to bounce, fight, and do whatever I could to get in the end zone. You want to be able to take the hit. You want to be the last team standing.”

The upper deck seemingly shook during one of the loudest eruptions in the stadium’s history. All that was left was for the Ravens defense to put a bow on its impressive performance against an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game that season.

A fourth-down completion from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates gave the Chargers a last-gasp chance from the Baltimore 49, but outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacked the San Diego quarterback on the next play as time expired. The Ravens had prevailed to improve to 4-0 and would go 13-3, the best regular-season record in franchise history until 2019.

The Chargers and Ravens would finish as the AFC’s top two seeds respectively in 2006, but there would be no January rematch with both teams being upset in the divisional round. Still, you couldn’t ask for better theater in Week 4 than what Ravens fans witnessed on that early October afternoon.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 25: At the bottom of the list, we start at the top

Posted on 05 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the introduction to the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history HERE.

The Colts were the beloved relative many of us never got to meet.

That was just reality for anyone currently under the age of 40 and growing up in Baltimore in the 1980s and early 90s without the NFL. Yes, we cherished stories from our parents and grandparents, but tales of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, and John Mackey felt more like mythology than reality when we hadn’t experienced it ourselves, seeing them only in their post-playing days.

Every autumn Sunday, we were left to ponder the thought of football returning one day while being subjected to Washington Redskins games on local TV.

To their credit, the Stars and the Stallions served as brief diversions while the Cardinals, Patriots, Buccaneers, Rams, Raiders, and Bengals were among the teams mentioned as relocation candidates at one time or another. A sellout crowd for a 1992 New Orleans-Miami preseason game at Memorial Stadium seemed to bode well for expansion hopes — always the preferred path for football’s return — before the NFL would pick Charlotte and Jacksonville in 1993 and Paul Tagliabue would callously suggest the city build a museum or a plant with its stadium resources.

It still didn’t feel real when Art Modell shockingly announced he was moving his Browns to Baltimore on Nov. 6, 1995. Emotions were quite conflicted about Charm City doing to Cleveland what Indianapolis had done in stealing the Colts more than a decade earlier, but the league and its owners had forced the city’s hand after efforts to secure a new team the right way were ignored.

The method was far from ideal, but we would finally have an NFL team again, complete with a new name, new colors, and a new stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards a couple years later.

Many even outside of Cleveland were unhappy about the idea of these new Ravens with Bob Costas and Bob Trumpy — both part of the NBC broadcast for that 1996 season opener — standing out with their disdain. The uniforms were ugly, a far-past-its-prime Memorial Stadium was short on amenities, and the Ravens weren’t any good, especially on the defensive side of the ball with a rookie Ray Lewis — who would have an end-zone interception in that first game — being the only long-term bright spot.

But they were ours.

Having led the Baltimore Colts to three division titles from 1975-79, Ted Marchibroda served as a bridge between old and new as head coach. The Baltimore Colts Marching Band was there, just as it had been throughout the struggle to bring back football. And the legendary Unitas presented the first game ball with many other old Colts on hand as the Ravens kicked off their inaugural season against Oakland on Sept. 1, 1996.

After the teams traded punts to open the game, Vinny Testaverde connected on a 48-yard bomb to Derrick Alexander to put the Ravens deep in Raiders territory late in the first quarter. Five plays later and facing a third-and-6, the lead-footed Testaverde broke the pocket and scrambled up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown as more than 64,000 fans erupted.

“The city supported us, and we felt it,” said Testaverde about that first season earlier this year. “It was like, ‘Man, we are ready to go.’”

It was the first Baltimore touchdown in the NFL since Mike Pagel’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Pat Beach on Dec. 18, 1983, three months before the Colts would leave town in the middle of the night for Indianapolis. The journey to bring the NFL back to Baltimore was anything but organic, but the reaction spawned by that Testaverde score was as real as it gets.

And no one — not Robert Irsay, Tagliabue and the league, or any other critics — could take that away.

The 19-14 win was a bright spot in a 4-12 season, but that 1996 team’s record didn’t matter.

Baltimore was back, and many memories were ahead for younger generations to finally call their own.

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Introducing the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Luke Jones

1. Beating Jacksonville
2. “We know what kind of quarterback we have”
3. Dilfer’s redemption
4. Ruining homecoming
5. “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”
6. “Would it be us if we didn’t end it that way?”
7. “Something that you dream of”
8. “I guess the dude is Nostradamus”
9. “He seems to always be around it”
10. “Not bad for a running back”
11. Saluting Heinz Field
12. “Almost as if he knew what was coming”
13. The Kick-6
14. Five touchdowns in 125 seconds
15. “I didn’t want to hurt my team”
16. “That’s one that loosens your teeth”
17. “Our backs were against the wall”
18. 2,000 and then some
19. “You want to be the last team standing”
20. “Hell yeah, coach, let’s go for it!”
21. Scott blows up Roethlisberger
22. Win or “get run out of town”
23. “I got this”
24. New hope
25. The first touchdown

There has been no shortage of great moments over the Ravens’ quarter-century in Baltimore.

Two Super Bowl championships.

The Mile High Miracle.

Ray Lewis wrestling the ball away from Eddie George.

Shannon Sharpe’s 96-yard catch and gallop to silence the “Black Hole” in Oakland.

The 83-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice to kick off a wild-card round demolition of New England.

But you need no reminder of the unforgettable postseason moments that are a fan’s dessert after the meat and potatoes of the regular season. Right now, we yearn for those daily and weekly servings of escape that sports provide, which is why I’ve elected to dive deeper with the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history as the organization prepares to kick off its 25th season in Baltimore this fall.

By no means am I the definitive voice on the topic, but as a 13-year-old starved for football when the Ravens arrived in 1996, a young adult who bought season tickets right out of college, and eventually a beat reporter lucky enough to cover his hometown team, I’ve had a pretty good seat from different perspectives. In the end, my list will very likely differ from yours, which is what makes this fun.

My top 25 regular-season moments come solely from game action, so we’re not considering extracurricular activities such as Ravens Ring of Honor inductions, pre-game tributes, or Lewis’ unforgettable dance that whipped M&T Bank Stadium into a frenzy.

Of course, the term “moment” requires some wiggle room as some choices would be better described as a sequence of events or moments combining to produce a memorable outcome, an impressive accomplishment, or raw emotion. Context definitely matters as I attempt to weigh the historical significance against the real-time reaction each moment garnered. That’s why you’re likely to see a greater number of moments from the more accomplished teams in Ravens history.

To offer an idea of how lofty the standard was to make the cut — or to anger you right off the bat — before we begin revealing one moment at a time, I took a look at some honorable mentions below:

Lamar Jackson’s Cincinnati spin (2019)

If we were to make a list of the greatest individual plays in franchise history, this sensational 47-yard touchdown run would be an easy choice, but the Ravens already led by three scores at the time and Jackson was on his way to a perfect 158.3 passer rating that day, his second in what would be an MVP season. I’d also bet that we’ll see an even more spectacular play from Jackson in a more crucial moment in the future. Make no mistake, the 23-year-old will still make a couple appearances on the list.

Jermaine Lewis excels through grief (2000)

Less than two weeks after the stillborn delivery of his son, the two-time Pro Bowl selection had punt returns of 54 and 89 yards for touchdowns as the Ravens bested the playoff-hopeful New York Jets in a 34-20 final to close the 2000 regular season. The sight of Lewis pointing to the heavens after each score was special, but the University of Maryland product would top that a month later with an 84-yard kick return for a touchdown that removed any lingering doubt that the Ravens would win Super Bowl XXXV.

Ending the touchdown drought (2000)

As time goes on, the idea that the Ravens won the Super Bowl in a season in which they went five straight games without scoring a touchdown feels more preposterous, especially considering they managed to win twice over that stretch. Still, the Ravens were in the midst of a three-game losing streak when Trent Dilfer connected with Brandon Stokley for a 14-yard touchdown at Cincinnati, a play that elicited a loud exhale in Baltimore and began an 11-game winning streak ending in championship glory.

Qadry Ismail goes off in Pittsburgh (1999)

The Ravens had never won at Three Rivers Stadium and certainly weren’t an offensive juggernaut in head coach Brian Billick’s first year as Tony Banks, Baltimore’s third starting quarterback of the season, completed just eight of his 26 passes on the day. However, Ismail, a journeyman in the midst of a career year, hauled in five of those for a franchise-record 258 yards and three touchdowns of 54 or more yards in a 31-24 win. No other Raven has even cracked the 200-yard receiving mark in a game.

Priest who? (1998)

Many recall one-hit wonder Jay Graham and his 154-yard rushing day a year earlier, but Priest Holmes was making his first career start and had only seven career carries as the Ravens played their first ever prime-time home game and were without star linebacker Ray Lewis. Holmes, a 1997 undrafted free agent, wowed everyone with a 173-yard, two-touchdown night in a 31-24 win over the Bengals. Holmes would go on to be the 2001 rushing champion and a three-time Pro Bowl back with Kansas City.

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