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Ravens embrace underdog role in AFC title game

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Ravens embrace underdog role in AFC title game

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Ravens have another opportunity to embrace the underdog role, this time in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

Playing at home - where they've won seven of nine this season - the Patriots have been installed as 9 1/2-point favorites Sunday to beat Baltimore and advance to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens have already defeated New England this season and are coming off a stunning upset on the road against top-seeded Denver. Yet, it appears they're still not getting any respect.

And the Ravens are just fine with it.

``It's just what everyone else thinks,'' defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said Monday. ``In here, on our team, we believe in ourselves. Whatever anyone else thinks, that their thoughts. We'll just have to go back out there and prove people wrong again.''

After eliminating the Broncos 38-35 in double-overtime Saturday, the Ravens (12-6) watched New England (13-4) defeat Houston on Sunday. Baltimore might have had an easier time against the Texans, but many of the Ravens longed for a rematch of last year's AFC title game, won by the Patriots 23-20.

``I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,'' Ngata said. ``If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough.''

The Ravens were also 9 1/2-point underdogs against Denver, which came in with an 11-game winning streak and as the odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Yet, Baltimore is still in the hunt and the Broncos are done for the season.

``It will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history,'' linebacker Ray Lewis declared afterward. ``It's partly because of the way everything was stacked up against us coming in. ... For us to come in here and win, 9- to 10-point underdogs, that's the beautiful part about sports. That's the thing that, if I'll probably miss anything about my career, it will be to listen to what people say you can't do, and then to go do it.''

The 37-year-old Lewis, who has been with the Ravens since their first game in 1996, plans to retire of Baltimore's current playoff run. If the Ravens go all the way, he will no doubt recall they were underdogs this season from September through the first weekend in February.

It always seems to be that way for Baltimore, at least in Lewis' mind.

``My Super Bowl year in 2000, we were never picked one time the entire season to win a game. Not one time,'' Lewis recalled. ``But at the end of the day, we held the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champs. That alone taught me a valuable lesson - that no one outside dictates how we play on the inside.''

OK, so the Ravens weren't underdogs in every game and were 3-point favorites over New York in the Super Bowl. But, with the aid of some revisionist history, Lewis made a valid point.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith echoed that sentiment Monday after someone asked him if he reads media reports before the game.

``They are irrelevant,'' he said. ``None of you all thought we were going to be right here this week anyway.''

For one year now, the Ravens have been striving to be in this position - back in the AFC title game. Ever since Lee Evans had the potential game-winning catch poked from his grasp and Billy Cundiff followed by hooking a 32-yard field goal attempt, Baltimore has been eager for another chance to play for a shot at a Super Bowl berth.

``The feeling we had in the locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC championship,'' Ngata said. ``Hopefully we can get it done this time.''

Underdogs or not, the Ravens are playing the Patriots for the conference crown. Again.

``It's been a long road getting back to this point, and the way we left it last year didn't sit well with us,'' tight end Dennis Pitta said. ``So we're excited to be in this position against and give it another shot.''

Because the Patriots and Ravens are usually among the top teams in the AFC, they have met quite often in recent years. Baltimore's 31-30 win in September was the fifth matchup between the teams since the start of the 2009 season. New England is 3-2, including 1-1 in the playoffs.

``It's definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say. I don't know how they feel about that,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``But we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots. ... They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition. It's always a huge challenge for us, but it's one we're excited about and look forward to.''

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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.