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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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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. 21: Scott blows up Roethlisberger

Posted on 14 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 22 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The first decade of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry wasn’t what it is today.

Yes, there had been some bright spots for Baltimore over the years, but Pittsburgh had won 14 of the first 21 overall meetings, swept the season series three times, and won the only playoff meeting in the 2001 postseason. The intensity was there, but the results largely hadn’t been for the Ravens, who had missed the playoffs in back-to-back years while the Steelers had just won their fifth Super Bowl title.

The 2006 season was different, however, as the Ravens exploded to a franchise-best 8-2 start behind the top defense in the NFL while Pittsburgh was 4-6 and struggling to hang in the playoff race at Thanksgiving. A Week 12 meeting at M&T Bank Stadium would either cement Baltimore’s AFC North lead and all but bury the Steelers’ postseason chances or give Pittsburgh new life for the final month of the regular season.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, the Ravens jumped to a 7-0 lead as quarterback Steve McNair found a wide-open Todd Heap for a 20-yard touchdown. With the Steelers unable to move the ball past their own 45-yard line on their first four drives, Baltimore pushed its lead to 14-0 on a Jamal Lewis 1-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

To that point in the game, Rex Ryan’s blitz-happy defense had smothered Pittsburgh, but it was about to get worse for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had already been sacked twice. On a second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 14 with under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass as Ravens linebacker Bart Scott blitzed off the right edge completely untouched.

Despite the deafening noise generated by nearly 71,000 fans, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he could hear the crushing blow while in pass coverage downfield. To his credit, Roethlisberger would return to the game on the next series after being helped from the field, but it wouldn’t matter as the Ravens added another field goal to take a commanding 17-0 lead before halftime.

“That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life,” Roethlisberger said after the game. “I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground. I couldn’t really breathe very well.”

The defensive party continued in the second half as Baltimore sacked Roethlisberger six more times and linebacker Adalius Thomas returned a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown in a 27-0 blowout win that was the Ravens’ most dominant performance against the Steelers to date. It was also their second shutout of the season as Pittsburgh crossed midfield only three times, managed a measly 172 yards, committed three turnovers, rushed 11 times for 21 yards, went 1-for-12 on third down, and averaged only 2.8 yards per play.

After a game Pittsburgh had desperately wanted to save its season, head coach Bill Cowher lamented “a pitiful performance” as Baltimore basked in a convincing victory. The Steelers would manage to hang around in the wild-card race by winning their next three games before the Ravens came to Heinz Field on Christmas Eve and flattened their postseason hopes once and for all with a 31-7 win nearly as dominant as the first encounter.

No season series in the history of Ravens-Steelers has been as one-sided with Scott’s monstrous hit becoming one of the great moments in the rivalry from Baltimore’s perspective. Starting with their first sweep of the Steelers that season, the Ravens have gone 17-14 against Pittsburgh as the rivalry has remained one of the NFL’s best for the better part of two decades.

Many other Ravens-Steelers games have been more competitive and meaningful — and there would be other big hits and convincing victories to come — but the sight of Scott knocking the 240-pound Roethlisberger right off his feet was unforgettable.

“It’s a dream shot,” Scott said. “You dream as a child of hitting the quarterback like that.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 24: New hope

Posted on 06 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 25 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Quarterback had mostly been a wasteland in the 12-year history of the Ravens.

Vinny Testaverde (1996) and Steve McNair (2006) were single-season bright spots and Trent Dilfer admirably managed a run-heavy offense as a historic defense carried the 2000 Ravens to a Super Bowl championship, but the quarterback position had been littered with accomplished veterans well past their prime, failed draft picks, and overwhelmed journeymen. Fifteen different quarterbacks had started games for Baltimore from 1996-2007 and just three had started all 16 games in a season while some top-shelf defenses led by future Hall of Fame players were largely wasted.

The inability to develop 2003 first-round pick Kyle Boller eventually cost Super Bowl XXXV winner Brian Billick his job after the 2007 campaign as John Harbaugh, brother of ex-Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh, became the third head coach in franchise history. Three months later, the Ravens unsuccessfully attempted to trade up for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and settled for Joe Flacco of FCS-level Delaware — who had carved up Navy for 434 yards and four touchdowns the previous October to land on the local radar — with the 18th overall pick of the 2008 draft.

The organization was excited about the strong-armed, 6-foot-6 quarterback’s potential, but there were few serious thoughts of Flacco being the Week 1 starter as Boller and 2017 fifth-round pick Troy Smith entered training camp as the more likely candidates to win the starting job. Flacco’s preseason debut was a disaster as he went 0-for-3 and lost a fumble in fourth-quarter action in New England, strengthening the perception that he wasn’t yet ready to be the starter.

But circumstances would change very quickly.

Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the next week while a serious tonsil infection hospitalized Smith and kept him sidelined for weeks. Flacco became the emergency starter in the third preseason game at St. Louis, finishing an underwhelming 18-for-37 for 152 yards and a touchdown. The 23-year-old had shown some improvement over the final three preseason games, but he still didn’t look ready for the starting gig as expectations for a team coming off a 5-11 season sank even lower.

Exactly a month after that ugly preseason opener, Flacco made his first NFL start as the Ravens began the 2008 season against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium. His arm wasn’t much of a factor as he went 15-for-29 for just 129 yards, but his legs provided the highlight play of the game in the midst of a 229-yard running output by Baltimore that included a 42-yard score from Mark Clayton and a surprising 86-yard performance by fullback Le’Ron McClain.

With the Bengals showing a blitz up the middle late in the third quarter and the Ravens leading 10-3, Flacco called an audible to a bootleg and galloped 38 yards for the touchdown as the crowd roared and chanted, “Let’s go, Flacco!” It was a refreshing expression of hope after years of disappointment and frustration at the quarterback position that occasionally turned nasty and embarrassing.

“I kind of thought I heard [the chant], but I wasn’t really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?,'” said Flacco as he laughed after the 17-10 win. “Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time.”

That optimism would be rewarded as the surprising Ravens went 11-5 and the rookie signal-caller was unspectacular but steady enough, a standard so many of his predecessors had failed to meet. Baltimore would win two road playoff games and advance to the AFC Championship to begin a franchise-record run of five straight trips to the playoff, three conference championship appearances, and a win in Super Bowl XLVII that capped one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NFL history by Flacco.

No one really knew what Flacco would become after that improbable touchdown run in the 2008 opener, but that day was the first of 137 consecutive regular-season and postseason starts by a single Ravens quarterback, an idea that previously felt all but impossible.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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Where are you getting your Baltimore sports news & information? Sharing is caring…

Posted on 29 January 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

This blog was originally published two years ago. We’ll be revisiting this with a three-part series and updating these thoughts with a new 2012 WNST “State of Baltimore Sports Media” survey next week while we broadcast live from Indianapolis all week. This is Part 3 of 5: The State of Baltimore Sports Media (circa 2010).

The saddest day of 2009 for any Ravens fan was also the day that I saw the state of the world had changed for WNST.net via the instant power of our text service. On the 4th of July at 4:17 p.m. I was sitting at home watching midday holiday baseball when I got a tip from a friend that Steve McNair had been murdered.

After receiving that quick text, I jumped onto the computer and saw that every Tennessee TV station was reporting his murder within the previous five minutes. At 4:21 p.m. more than 3,900 people received a WNST Text reporting the only facts we knew: “Tennessee media is reporting that Steve McNair has been murdered. More to come…”

At 4:50 p.m., ESPN finally reported it. And at 5:37 p.m. – a full 76 minutes later, The Sun finally had it on their website.

While I was blogging feverishly, looking for any information I could get from Nashville in the first 30 minutes on a sweltering holiday summer day – monitoring all of their TV stations and newspapers and fielding a wide variety of emails, Tweets and texts – apparently the 3,900 people on our WNST Text Service had taken matters into their own hands in forwarding our message to tens of thousands of other people like a game of virtual phone booth. More than 23,000 people had visited my blog by 8 p.m. on a premier national holiday on a day when virtually no one was in front of a computer. They were all coming from the palms of theirs hands via their mobile devices.

THAT – in the previous 25 years of my media existence — would have been impossible in the old, dinosaur world of local news. And it certainly would’ve been exclusively the area of the three local TV stations and, probably, WBAL Radio. But in the new world, they were all coming to the local source of the breaking sports news: WNST.net.

But the one thing about our WNST Text Service that often goes without saying is this: when we report it, you KNOW it’s true. Through our own goodwill, hard work and credibility, we have established a reputation for never, ever being wrong on a news story. And there are now more than 5,200 of you on the WNST Text Service.

Join the WNST Text Service…

And it goes without say that “timeliness” and the element of surprise is, in fact, the essence of what makes it “news.” News is immediate. News is shareable. News is eternal.

And, clearly, not all news is good.

But the depth of our content was also apparent on that sad, summer day. Ironically, we had video of Steve McNair joining about 1,200 Ravens fans in Nashville to greet them from January of last year before the big playoff game in our You Tube video vault. It’s a really weird clip — especially given it was the last time he’d do anything with his Baltimore roots. We raised $5,000 that night last January for the Air McNair Foundation and the Baltimore Ronald McDonald House. I had given very little thought that night at Limelight in Nashville that I would never see Steve McNair alive again.

Like most breaking news stories – and all tragedies – it was completely unpredictable that Steve McNair could die

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Mason says it’s up to Ravens to decide if he returns

Posted on 26 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On a day when players were thrilled to return to the Ravens training facility, receiver Derrick Mason faced the sobering possibility of leaving a place he’s called home for the final time.

Though it doesn’t become official until Thursday, the 37-year-old wideout will be released in a cap-saving move, along with veterans Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee. Mason was at the facility for his exit physical and met with general manager Ozzie Newsome.

After spending the last six seasons in Baltimore, becoming the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, Mason remains upbeat and willing to return — if the Ravens want him.

“If they want me back, I’m back,” Mason said. “That’s all I can say. Now, if some other team wants me, then I think that’s one of those things you have to look at. My first thought would be to come back here. This has been my football home for the last six years, so why leave it so abruptly? I’m going to do what I can, and hopefully they’ll do what they need to do in order to try to bring me back. If not, hey, I can play football.”

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Mason caught 471 passes and 29 touchdowns from 2005 to 2010, including a career-high 103 catches in 2007. He is the only Ravens receiver to record a 100-catch season in the 15-year history of the franchise.

Serving as the union representative before and during the 134-day lockout, Mason was asked if he now had an empty feeling after learning of his impending release on the same day that the lengthy labor battle came to a culmination.

“[We were] trying to make football better, and we accomplished that,” Mason said. “Football is better, because we were out of football for 134 days. And because of the hard work that we put in – the executive committee, DeMaurice [Smith] – football is much better than it was.”

Mason understood the business decision made by Newsome, reminding everyone that he faced a similar fate with the Tennessee Titan, but had nothing but kind words to say about the organization and city he’s called home since 2005. He was set to make $4.5 million in the final year of a two-year agreement signed on March 10, 2010.

He arrived in Baltimore when Kyle Boller was still considered the quarterback of the future, welcomed his former Tennessee teammate Steve McNair, and eventually became the safety net for current quarterback Joe Flacco.

“Why am I going to be upset? It is what it is,” said Mason, ironically while his agent was calling him. “I have no reason to be upset. This organization gave me an opportunity six years ago to further my career. Only thing I’m disappointed with is I didn’t get an opportunity to win a championship. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed [about].

“This organization has been more than accommodating, the fans have been more than accommodating. I don’t think you can play for a better organization than this one.”

With an entire offseason condensed into a matter of days, it’s difficult to predict if Mason will be back in purple when the Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 or if he’ll be running sideline routes for another team looking for a steady possession receiver to move the chains.

One thing is certain, however. Mason doesn’t doubt his ability to keep playing — even in the November of his career.

“My gut says I can still play football,” Mason said. “Where? I don’t know. It might be playing football when I’m in the backyard with my son. I don’t know, but I still can play football. That’s what [my gut] says to me.”

Listen to Derrick Mason’s entire conversation with the media at 1 Winning Drive in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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Ravens appear to be ready for the NFL's elite teams .....

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Ravens appear to be ready for the NFL’s elite teams …..

Posted on 11 October 2010 by WNST Interns

For the past few years, we’ve been accustomed to witnessing some dismal, yet predictable outcomes whenever the Ravens play the National Football League’s best competition. Such shortcomings are undoubtedly tied to a few mitigating reasons, but most importantly, the opponents have simply been better teams.

Of course, for the purpose of this conversation, “best competition” = INDIANAPOLIS COLTS and NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS.

Dating back to 2002, the Ravens have amassed a collective record of 1-11 against the Colts and Patriots. You got that? ONE WIN and ELEVEN LOSSES.

If we’re searching for answers, a few likely conclusions come to mind …..

The Colts and Patriots have outcoached the Ravens.

The Colts and Patriots have outperformed the Ravens.

The Colts and Patriots have outgutted the Ravnes.

And, as we all know, the Colts and Patriots have these guys …..
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While Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have merited the significant hand in matchups against a young Joe Flacco, Kyle Boller, Steve McNair, Anthony Wright, Jeff Blake and Chris Redman, an even greater reality exists in justifying such one-sided dominance.

The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots have simply been been better teams. Heck, they’ve been the BEST teams of the last decade.

The Ravens have mounted some very spirited efforts against Indy and New England …..

Rewind the clock to December of 2007. On a blustery, snow flurried night, the Ravens nearly upset the undefeated Patriots, at M&T Bank Stadium. But, in the final seconds, the better team prevailed.

How about the trip to Indianapolis, in October of 2002? The Ravens lost a heartbreaker, thanks in part to an Oscar winning performance by former Raven, Qadry Ismail, on a disputable last minute pass interference call. But, once again, the better team prevailed.

The real reason the Ravens own ONE WIN against ELEVEN LOSSES in most recent matchups with the Colts and Patriots really boils down to the more talented team making things happen when it matters most. Indeed, this is a quality winners possess.

It also appears to be a quality the 2010 edition of the Baltimore Ravens are developing.

Yesterday’s win against the Denver Broncos didn’t really showcase any last minute heroics from Flacco & Company, but it did feature a well balanced offensive attack and this season’s first glimpse of a proposed powerful Ravens running game.

While Joe Flacco did not bring loud applause from his respective fantasy football owners, he did manage the game appropriately. He picked on a vulnerable secondary fill-in, when needed. And, he led an offensive effort that clearly wanted to win more than the Broncos defenders on the other side of the ball.

With exception to the hiccup in Cincinnati, the Ravens have improved their overall effort each and every week. And, the wins are coming with contributions from many facets of the team’s makeup. Yesterday, Ray Rice dominated. Last week, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Flacco stepped up at the biggest moment. Two weeks ago, Anquan Boldin burned the Browns.
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This is exactly how the Colts and Patriots have exploited the last decade. While Manning and Brady figure into every game’s outcome, they’ve reliably spread the ball, opportunities and credit among teammates.

Past games against the Colts or Patriots did not feature such an exercised strategy and performance from the Ravens. Years ago, Jamal Lewis was the lone offensive weapon, and more recently, Ray Rice and Derrick Mason have been the only real threats. Of course, the team’s defense has been heavily depended upon in each and every game.

But, it appears things are changing …..

Next Sunday, the Ravens will march into Foxboro with a more lethal offense than Bill Belichick has ever witnessed. Such a reality provides an optimistic feeling on this side of the fence. The Ravens pounded a “Welker-less” Patriots team, back in January. And, last October’s game …. well, lets just say that’s the game that slipped or “bounced” (off the chest of Mark Clayton) away.

There is legitimate reason to believe the Ravens are every bit as good as the Patriots. For the record, I think the Ravens are a better, balanced team.

That said, the Patriots are coming off their bye-week. And, history suggests Tom Brady is a very hard guy to beat when his team has two weeks to concentrate on an opponent. Regardless of the loss of Randy Moss, the Patriots will not lay down like the Broncos, nor will they be as unimaginative as the Steelers and Browns.

Next Sunday serves as a true test of the Baltimore Ravens legitimacy as an ELITE team in the National Football League.

It’s been nearly 9 years since the Ravens defeated the Colts or Patriots in a regular season contest. In the near-decade of matchups, Ravens losses have occurred in nearly every imaginable way. From last minute disappointments, to lackluster performances, to total blowouts, the Ravens have walked away from losses against the Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in nearly every possible scenario.

But, as I’ve suggested, that can really change next week. We could indeed witness the emergence of a couple of the NFL’s next BIG STARS …..
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And, to be quite honest, that’s the way it has to happen. Ray Rice is already on the brink and with yesterday’s showing, he’s primed to renew his 2009 outburst. With Joe Flacco, he needs the stage of serving notice on one of the guys who has done it many times. Beating Tom Brady, on successive efforts would be huge.

Most of all, the Ravens need to beat the Patriots, because that’s what winners do; they beat the good and bad teams.

Beating one of the two teams that has dominated the NFL for so long would establish a new dominance for the Ravens, and I think it would serve as a psychological step in the belief they can beat any team.

The Ravens are better than the Patriots, and in 6 days they’ll have an opportunity to prove it …..

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History on Ravens’ side after opening win against Jets

Posted on 16 September 2010 by Luke Jones

Mark Sanchez continues to talk like he’s taken too many “hard knocks” to the head, boasting “there’s nothing wrong with going 15-1” to the New York Post after an embarrassing 74-yard performance on Monday night, but the Ravens (1-0) now put the delusional Jets in the rear-view mirror and shift their focus to the Cincinnati Bengals — and the accompanying Twitter sparring with Chad Ochocinco.

As ugly as it may have been, what does the 10-9 victory mean for the Ravens and their fate in the 2010 season? If history is any indication, good things await.

In reality, a victory in Week 1 counts no more or less than the remaining 15 games on the schedule. But from the time the schedule is released in April, the opening game and opponent is dissected — even obsessed over — for nearly five months, longer than any other game the Ravens could potentially play this season, including the Super Bowl. It means more only because we — fans and media — look forward to it for so long.

However, the team’s first 14 seasons in Baltimore suggests the first game is a strong indicator of how the team will fare for the entire season. The Ravens had previously won six openers, subsequently advancing to the postseason five times. Of the eight times the Ravens fell in Week 1, they made the playoffs just once.

Of course, many variables factor into the Week 1 outcome and its correlation with season-long success, such as the quality of the opponent, the team’s overall health, and whether they start at home or away. In most cases — as is the case around the league — the Ravens won the opener when they were expected to be good and lost when they weren’t.

For perspective, of the 12 teams to advance to the playoffs in 2009, only the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals lost in Week 1. Logically and quite obviously, playoff teams win more often than they lose, so it’s unsurprising to look back at Week 1 success as a fairly accurate predictor in most cases.

Considering most playoff teams will lose somewhere in the range of four to six games and most bad squads will win four to six, the Ravens’ strong Week 1 correlation with the season’s postseason fate is interesting to examine. Of their 14 previous seasons in Baltimore, an opening Ravens win meant playoffs and a loss meant no postseason 86 percent of the time (accurate 12 of 14 years).

As was the case with the Bengals and Cardinals a season ago, losing the opener does not sentence a team for failure, so perhaps the Jets won’t need to muzzle the trash talk just yet (as if they need anyone’s blessing anyway?). The 2003 Super Bowl champion Patriots are the perfect example, finishing with a 14-2 record after losing 31-0 to the Bills in Week 1. Buffalo finished 6-10 despite the shocking victory over the eventual champs.

A look back at the Ravens’ history in Week 1 reveals several teams with high expectations who disappointed after a season-opening loss and a couple that laid the groundwork for great seasons with a surprising victory to begin the year.

The Ravens’ opening opponent and result is listed below with their final record and postseason fate listed in parentheses:

1996 Oakland W (4-12, missed playoffs)
1997 Jacksonville L (6-9-1, missed playoffs)
1998 Pittsburgh L (6-10, missed playoffs)
1999 @St. Louis L (8-8, missed playoffs)
2000 @Pittsburgh W (12-4, won Super Bowl)
2001 Chicago W (10-6, earned wild-card berth)
2002 @Carolina L (7-9, missed playoffs)
2003 @Pittsburgh L (10-6, won AFC North)
2004 @Cleveland L (9-7, missed playoffs)
2005 Indianapolis L (6-10, missed playoffs)
2006 @Tampa Bay W (13-3, won AFC North)
2007 @Cincinnati L (5-11, missed playoffs)
2008 Cincinnati W (11-5, earned wild-card berth and advanced to AFC Championship)
2009 Kansas City W (9-7, earned wild-card berth)
2010 @New York Jets W (???)

The inaugural 1996 team was the only one not to qualify for the postseason after opening with a victory. In contrast, the 2003 Ravens won the franchise’s first AFC North title despite a humbling 34-15 defeat to the Steelers at Heinz Field in rookie Kyle Boller’s first start.

Expectations were high in 2004, 2005, and 2007, but the Ravens laid a Week 1 egg in each case, setting the table for disappointing seasons in which they missed the playoffs. However, nobody thought the 2008 Ravens — with rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco — would go on to an 11-5 season and an appearance in the conference championship game, but their bruising 17-10 victory over the Bengals showed what was to come.

Taking a deeper look at the Ravens’ Week 1 history might cause fans to book their hotels and airfare for the Dallas area in the first week of February after the win at New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday night. The only other times the Ravens have begun the season with a road victory were 2000 and 2006.

In 2006, the Ravens had moderate expectations after the trade for veteran quarterback Steve McNair, but a dominating 27-0 victory at Tampa Bay was the first step to a 13-3 record, the best regular season record in franchise history.

And what followed in the weeks and months after the Ravens’ 16-0 victory at Three Rivers Stadium to begin the 2000 campaign? I think you remember that story.

In reality, the 2010 version of the Ravens is a different team with no connection to previous seasons, other than the ageless Ray Lewis leading the defense for the 15th straight year. Nearly 23 percent of the players on the current 53-man roster played elsewhere in 2009.

But if the team’s history in Week 1 provides an accurate window to what lies ahead for Baltimore, Monday night was a far more beautiful sight than what the ugly 10-9 win might have indicated to a national TV audience.

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