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Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

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Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.

The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Baltimore Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.

Still, Birk knew the Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.

``At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you,'' Birk said. ``I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team.''

Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3.

``It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``To be able to be involved with that as a leader is a huge thing. It makes you feel really good, and now you try to make the most of it.''

Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.

Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL's biggest game.

``It's great, obviously,'' he said. ``That's the goal. That's your dream. That's why you play.''

Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through over his first 14 years. But Birk exudes no such feeling of entitlement.

``Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn't matter how long you play,'' he said. ``To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been through my four years here - every year getting close and getting close - to finally break through, it's pretty special.''

Reed, 34, has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has long been recognized as one of the finest free safeties in the game. But he never got into the Super Bowl until now, and to make it even sweeter, his first appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana.

``It's been a long time coming, but it takes time,'' Reed said. ``We've built up to this point.''

Teammate Jacoby Jones, who grew up in New Orleans, will be making his Super Bowl debut in his sixth season. After the Ravens beat New England 28-13 in the AFC championship game, Reed prepared for a trip to familiar territory with Jones in tow.

``I really don't have any words for it,'' Reed said. ``I rushed into the locker room to call my mom, because I know that my family has been going through some things, so I'm just thankful to be going home and for the whole of New Orleans to see some hometown guys. Jacoby, we talked about it. We haven't been there since (Hurricane) Katrina. We're just grateful.''

The Ravens failed to win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking through.

``For everything we've been through since coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build something and to create this moment,'' Reed said. ``We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand each other and understand the process together.''

Williams, a backup on the line, played for Philadelphia and Cincinnati before getting into the Super Bowl in his 13th NFL season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th season) and former Houston Texans stars Vonta Leach (ninth) and Bernard Pollard (seventh) signed as free agents with Baltimore for the chance to perform on the sport's grandest stage.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who needed only five years to get it done, takes delight in seeing some of his older teammates finally heading to the Super Bowl.

``No doubt about it, I am excited for everybody that has been in the league as long as those guys have been,'' he said. ``To have this opportunity is pretty cool.''

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Amid Eric Decker rumors, Ravens front office now shifts attention to offensive line

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USA TODAY Sports

Amid Eric Decker rumors, Ravens front office now shifts attention to offensive line

Following the signing of veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens were rumored to be a potential suitor for Eric Decker after his release from the New York Jets. 

Although receiver is a position that must improve, Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti recently made it clear that the team needs to address the offensive line now. 

The Ravens offensive line faces major changes after right tackle Ricky Wagner signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason, center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to the 49ers, and guard Marshal Yanda is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. 

In the 2016 draft, the Ravens took Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the 6th overall pick. Stanley had an impressive rookie campaign, earning AFC North Rookie of the Year in a season where he only allowed three sacks while blocking for Flacco. 

The team added some young talent in this year's draft as well, taking guard Nico Siragusa (No. 122) and Jermaine Eluemunor (No. 159) both in the fourth round. 

However, it is unsure if either rookie is ready to be thrown into the starting offensive line right away.

The Ravens front office may have just made a big splash when signing Jeremy Maclin, but they aren't quite done fixing an offense that has suffered many departures over the years. 

RELATED: JEREMY MACLIN GETS FREE CRAB CAKES FOR LIFE

 

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In addition to signing a two-year deal with the Ravens, WR Jeremy Maclin is getting free crab cakes for life

In addition to signing a two-year deal with the Ravens, WR Jeremy Maclin is getting free crab cakes for life

Like they said in Wedding Crashers: "Crab cakes and football, that's what Maryland does!"

When word got out last week that veteran WR Jeremy Maclin was meeting with the Ravens to possibly pen a deal, one Maryland restaurant took matters into their own hands. 

Jimmy's Seafood, a well known seafood restaurant in Dundalk, Maryland, tweeted at Maclin and presented him with a delicious incentive. 

On Monday, Maclin signed a two-year deal with the Ravens. Maclin was also in talks with the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, but I guess he prefers crab cakes over buffalo wings and cheese steaks. 

Soon after the deal became official, Maclin responded to Jimmy's Seafood's tweet.

The restaurant has strong relationships with many current and former Ravens such as Tony Jefferson, Torrey Smith and Jonathan Ogden.

CEO of the restaurant, John Minadakis, isn't too worried about supplying the wide receiver with as many crab cakes as he would like.

"How many crab cakes can one person eat?" Minadakis said. "It's not going to take us out of business. That's for sure."

The restaurant is even willing to offer up the same deal to other potential Ravens prospects like Eric Decker, who was released from the Jets on Monday.

Whether or not their offer had that much of an effect on Maclin's decision, the man will be eating good for a very long time. 

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