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Flacco seeks redemption in rematch with Broncos

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Flacco seeks redemption in rematch with Broncos

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The most telling image of Baltimore's game against the Denver Broncos last month was Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lying flat on his stomach near the goal line after his futile pursuit of cornerback Chris Harris.

Baltimore was poised to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half to pull within 10-7. Instead, Harris intercepted an ill-advised, hurried pass from Flacco and took it 96 yards into the end zone.

Denver won 34-17.

``Stuff like that happens sometimes, and believe me, I'm the last guy that wants it to happen,'' Flacco said of the interception. ``But you've got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game. I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That's why we are where we are right now.''

In spite of that lopsided defeat, the Ravens won the AFC North title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 last weekend. That set up Flacco and Baltimore (11-6) for another shot at the Broncos (13-3) on Saturday.

``They beat us up pretty good a couple weeks ago,'' Flacco said. ``But I think you always have that little chip that you want to go out there and prove to people that you're a good football team.''

Flacco is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to lead his team into the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. He's never missed a game since taking the reins at the outset of his rookie year, and this season he set career highs in completions (317), yards passing (3,817) and 300-yard games (five).

There have been more highs than lows for the former University of Delaware star, which is why Flacco found it easy to quickly dismiss that awful sideline pass against the Broncos on Dec. 16.

``It stuck with me a couple minutes, and then I moved on and went out there and played some more snaps,'' he recalled. ``And then when we lost, it stuck with me for a couple minutes again. Then we started getting ready for the next game and we went out and won it.''

Flacco rebounded to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 rout of the New York Giants. Flacco made a brief appearance in the meaningless finale at Cincinnati, then threw for 282 yards and two scores against the Colts last weekend.

It's been nearly a month since that awful interception against the Broncos, enough time Flacco and the Ravens to put it behind them.

``That's not in my mind at all going up to Denver,'' Flacco said. ``We feel confident, and I think we should.''

Taking advantage of a moving pocket, Flacco was sacked only once against Indianapolis. That should work to Baltimore's advantage against Denver, which registered three sacks for 32 yards in the first game between the teams.

``Whenever you have great edge pass rushers, you need to move the pocket,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Joe can run. He's faster than people think, so he can get out of there and run for some yards, too. Yes, it's something they have been working on.''

Much of the talk leading up to Saturday's game has been about Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who will be making his first playoff start for the Broncos after a splendid run with Indianapolis. Flacco knows that his team's success will depend heavily on whether he can generate enough offense to outdo Manning - while at the same time keeping the ball out of his counterpart's hands.

``Our goal is to go in and score touchdowns,'' Flacco said. ``Obviously, they have a high-powered offense and can score at a pretty high rate.''

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Flacco and Baltimore is playing on the road. The Ravens went 7-2 at home (including last week) and are a very mediocre 4-4 on the road. In addition, Flacco has thrown 17 of his 24 touchdown passes this season in Baltimore.

``You just have to be ready to go into a hostile environment and play your best football,'' he said. ``It's not going to be up and down with the crowd; they're going to be in it 100 percent for the whole game. The bottom line is we have to go in there and just make sure that we have a good, sound week of practice and we work on all the things that could possible go wrong - just because of all the noise and things like that - and make sure we have an answer for it.''

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NFL Mock Draft 4.0: Combine Primer And Sleepers

NFL Mock Draft 4.0: Combine Primer And Sleepers

The annual NFL Combine kicks of Wednesday in Indianapolis. Whatever happens there -- receivers run fast, quarterbacks flash arm strength, defenders lack pop -- projections will change and in some cases significantly. Therefore here's my last look at the situation before all the sprints and lifts via mock draft 4.0 plus some other thoughts below.

* League sources offered up names of several prospects currently ranked all over the big boards with the chance to make a big splash during the combine. They include:

Alabama TE O.J. Howard -- Everybody already knows the 6-foot-6 Howard is a two-way monster. His Senior Bowl dominance certainly confirmed that. Rocking the Combine could alter his mid-to-late first round projection into 10-13 range where teams like New Orleans, Cleveland and Arizona have TE needs. Call me crazy, but if Howard is there when the Redskins pick at 17, I can imagine Washington thinkng long and hard about two-TE sets wth Jordan Reed. 

Oklahoma DT Charles Walker -- The Redskins have shown interest in Walker, according to a league source, though his draft range is all over the map. The interior force's redshirt junior season ended early due to a concussion followed by a decision to leave the Sooners early with draft preparation in mind. Was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a junior thanks to six sacks. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Walker ninth among defensive tackles while WalterFootball.com projects the 304-pounder as a Day 2 pick.

<<CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL NFL MOCK DRAFT 4.0>>

Pittsburgh OT Adam Bisnowaty -- Considered underrated despite starting four seasons for the Panthers. The left tackle helped key a resurgent season for the Panthers. Lack of wow prospects at the position means the order outside of Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin), Cam Robinson (Alabama) and Garrett Bolles (Utah) is in flux.

Ashland TE Adam Shaheen -- The D2 prospect is early candidate for the "Who is that guy?" award. Expect raves about Shaheen's size and athleticism. CBS Sports already has Day 2 projection on the 6-foot-6, 277-pounder who can run routes like a wide receiever. Could he move all the way into round 1?

Tulsa WR Keevan Lucas -- What the 5-foot-10 receiver lacks in height he makes up for with speed and production. Caught 81 passes for 1,180 yards and 15 touchdowns during his senior season with the Golden Hurricanes. Certain analytics show Lucas' production stood out  and put him in the same statistical company as future NFL receivers Stefon Diggs and Marqise Lee. Day 3 sleeper.

Other to watch: QB Pat Mahomes (Texas Tech), TE David Nkoju (Miami, Fl.), DT Ryan Glasgow (Michigan), CB Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

* Look at Scot McCloughan's draft history and one theme emerges: The man likes seniors, especially in round one. Brandon Scherff and Josh Doctson were both four-year players. The bulk of first round selections during his time at Seattle and San Francisco. That doesn't mean McCloughan will go that way with the 17th overall pick; Of the top 19 ranked prospects according to ESPN analyst Todd McShay, 14 are underclassmen. But keep a close on seniors with early round projections like Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, Temple inside linebacker Haason Reddick, Indiana guard Dan Feeney, LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, Washington wide receiver John Ross and Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.

<<CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL NFL MOCK DRAFT 4.0>>

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Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

A decision on whether to cut or keep Dennis Pitta is one of many issues facing the Ravens this offseason.

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the Ravens “may balk” at the $5.5 million salary Pitta is due next season. That makes sense, considering Pitta was just 28th in the NFL among tight ends in yards per catch (8.5) despite leading all tight ends with 86 catches. Pitta only had two touchdown catches, and there is concern he no longer has the speed to make explosive plays after two major hip surgeries.

Free agency begins March 9, but cutting Pitta with a June 1 designation would create the most cap space for the Ravens - $5.5 million.

However, if the Ravens release Pitta, they would turn the tight end position over to a question-filled group that includes:

Ben Watson – He is 36 years old, and missed all of the 2016 season with an Achilles injury. Cutting Watson and saving $3 million in cap space might make more sense than cutting Pitta. Especially if Pitta agrees to a pay reduction, as he did before last season.

Nick Boyle – He missed 10 games last season due to his second suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Another suspension could lead to the end of Boyle’s career.

Crockett Gillmore – He must prove he can still healthy after missing seven games in 2016, and 15 games over the past two seasons.

Darren Waller – He was suspended four games in 2016 for his first PED violation, and he has caught just 12 passes in his first two seasons.

Maxx Williams – He is coming off major knee surgery.

Pitta remains a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, and even if Pitta struggles to make splash plays, he is still a chain-mover as a possession receiver. You can make a case for cutting or keeping Pitta. The Ravens will soon make their verdict.

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