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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots have cut down on the long completions they allowed early in the season. The Ravens keep making them.

On Sunday night, New England's progress will be tested against Baltimore's strong-armed Joe Flacco and his speedy receivers in the AFC championship game.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib saw just how dangerous the Ravens' deep passing attack can be in their 38-35, double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in last Saturday's divisional playoff game.

``That game summed it up, man,'' he said. ``They started the game taking shots and they ended the game taking shots. So that's what you're going to do against guys like that, play that deep ball.''

On the Ravens' second series against the Broncos, Flacco threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. On their last series of regulation, he heaved a 70-yard score to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.

That was the Ravens' longest completion of a season in which Flacco keeps connecting with targets far downfield. He has completed passes to receivers 13 times on gains of 40 yards or more. The Patriots, meanwhile, had just five completions to receivers that picked up that distance - and two were caught by players now on injured reserve.

``We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ``The biggest thing is understanding how strong Flacco's arm is because I think we already know how fast some of the receivers are over there. So it's just being aware and making plays down the field.''

They Patriots (13-4) didn't do that very well in the first half of the season. They allowed 21 completions that gained at least 25 yards in their first eight games. A season-high five came in a 31-30 loss to the Ravens in Week 3.

They lowered that to 15 in their last eight regular-season games. Talib, who played in the last seven after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped.

``He's a good football player, good teammate,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``He's very well respected because of his professionalism. He studies hard and prepares well. He's tough. He competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. Smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around.''

His addition allowed the Patriots to move McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled at times, to safety, where he's solidified the secondary.

But the Ravens (12-6) have hurt teams with the long ball all season - from their very first offensive play. That was a 52-yard completion from Flacco to Smith that started a 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.

``One of (Smith's) biggest strengths is his speed,'' McCourty said. ``If you give him a step or two, it will turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is.''

Two weeks later against the Patriots, Smith caught passes of 38, 32 and 25 yards, Jones had receptions of a 41 and 24 yards and Anquan Boldin added a 24-yarder. And in the final minute, McCourty was penalized for defensive pass interference, moving the ball 27 yards to the Patriots 7-yard line. Two plays later, Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-30 win as time expired.

Flacco will be facing the Patriots for the third time in the postseason and sixth time overall. So he knows how Belichick likes to defend Baltimore's passing game.

``They're going to probably come up and put pressure on our receivers,'' Flacco said. ``They always, throughout the years, like to get up and not allow our tight ends and our inside guys to get off the ball very well and play over the top of the outside guys.

``We'll see if they match (cornerbacks) on Torrey or Anquan or anything like that. I think they've let up some yards in that area, but at the same time, they do a good job of playing very well and playing some man (coverage) underneath.''

As usual, Belichick is sure to change some defensive tactics and show Flacco something he hasn't seen from the Patriots.

Whatever that is, he'll still have Smith, Boldin and Jones to run under his deep throws.

``They have some great receivers over there, guys with speed,'' Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. ``Flacco has a big arm. He makes good decisions with the football. So they have the ability to beat you in many ways and, definitely, over the top is one of them.''

Flacco had 40 completions of at least 25 yards, tying Denver's Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL this season.

Smith caught six of at least 40 yards, Jones did it four times and Boldin three. Even the tight ends got into the act with Dennis Pitta scoring on a 61-yard pass play and Ed Dickson making a 40-yard snare.

So when Belichick was asked if the Ravens throw the ball deep as well as any team the Patriots have faced, he answered simply and quickly:

``Yes.''

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Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

The NFL announced today that tight end Darren Waller of the Baltimore Ravens would be suspended for a year or longer for his second violation of the substance abuse policy.

Waller was a 2015 sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech who served a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season for a substance abuse violation. After returning from his suspension last year, he posted 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.

After his 2016 violation, he was quoted as saying [via Ravens.com]:

“There were other personal issues, and [marijuana] was the one thing I always turned to,” Waller said. “It was just about finding more positive outlets for me to do, like talking to people about it and things like that. I’m definitely at a better place with that now.”

Unfortunately for the Ravens, he will miss the 2017 season and potentially longer after the latest violation. It leaves the Ravens down two tight ends from last year after Dennis Pitta was released earlier this month after re-injuring his hip.

MORE RAVENS: Zach Orr considering coming out of retirement

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Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

In January of 2017, former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr took the podium at the team's training facility alongside head coach John Harbaugh, GM Ozzie Newsome and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, to announce he would be retiring from football at the age of 24.

Why? Orr suffered a shoulder injury during their week 16 game against longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, which shed light into a condition he's had since birth.

He had a routine MRI, but the Ravens training staff suggested a full body CAT scan as well. The CAT scan reveled Orr had a congenital back/spine condition where one of the upper vertebra isn't totally formed causing there to be an opening. Less than 1 percent of people are born with such a condition and he wasn't aware of it until he suffered this injury.

Doctors told Orr he was at risk of paralysis or even death if he played with such a condition. He also would have never been able to pass an NFL physical, ultimately forcing him to retire.

During his press conference, Orr said this,

"If there's some miracle way where I can play the game, I promise I'd be the first one to grab my cleats again, start back training and try to find a way to get back out there," Orr said.

Well, fast forward to today and it seems that miracle may have happened.

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo told Good Morning Football that after getting a second opinion from doctors, and receiving positive news, Orr is considering a return to the NFL.

"I had my mind made up. I was like man, the doctors told me I was done. This is a serious issue. So I'm going to leave it alone. But I just kept hearing that from multiple people and some were telling me to just go check out and seek out some more opinions and things like that and come to find out my condition, it is rare – .01 percent of the people have what I have – but there's no actual evidence or facts that I'm at a higher risk than any other player. And it's actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same thing that I have that returned to play with no problems."

The doctors' real concerns would be if someone with Orr's spinal condition played with a herniated disk. He did suffer from herniated disks last season, but that injury has since diminished. 

MORE RAVENS: 2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

If Orr does decide to get back into the NFL, getting signed could be pretty easy. 

When he announced his retirement, he never filed for retirement papers and the Ravens never placed him on their reserve/retired list because they never thought he would play again.

Because of this, Orr is considered an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a team right away. 

Orr had his best season in 2016, where he lead the Ravens in tackles with 133. It's been reported that eight teams have reached out to the linebacker since his announcement and that he will be meeting with the Lions on Thursday.