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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) When the Baltimore Ravens last went to the Super Bowl, Art Modell was the owner, Brian Billick served as head coach and Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback.

Now, 12 years later, they're back with owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco and one significant link to both teams: Ray Lewis.

Drawing inspiration from Lewis, their long-time middle linebacker, the Ravens bullied their way past New England 28-13 Sunday night to win the AFC championship and set up a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. The victory ended a lengthy dry spell for a franchise with one Super Bowl appearance in its 17 years of existence.

Lewis was voted Super Bowl MVP after the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 on Jan. 28, 2001. He announced earlier this month that he would step into retirement after Baltimore completes its current playoff run, and his teammates were determined to make sure that didn't happen before the Super Bowl.

``Ray is a guy who's been here since the beginning of this franchise,'' strong safety Bernard Pollard said Monday. ``He's a guy who is The Raven. We respect him when he speaks. Everybody stops and everybody hears him. He's kept this team together, he's kept this organization together in so many ways.''

Lewis knows what it takes to win. He knows about playing in the Super Bowl. Most of all, he knows how to get his teammates ready to play with unyielding intensity.

``Everyone knows what kind of player he is and what he's meant to this team and this organization,'' center Matt Birk said. ``There's probably not another leader like him. There's no one like him, somebody that means as much as he does to this team. Just everything he's been through, being here since Day 1, and the way he plays and the emotion and the passion that he plays with. I've been his teammate for four years, and that's how it's always been.''

Lewis got to the Super Bowl in his fifth season, then had to wait until his 17th to get back. In between, Modell sold majority ownership of the team to Bisciotti in 2004 and Harbaugh replaced Billick, who was fired after the 2007 season.

Harbaugh on Monday paid homage to Modell, who died in September, and voiced praise for the current owner.

``Art Modell is the foundation, the bulwark of this organization,'' Harbaugh said. ``He and Steve come from the same place, kind of how they see things.''

Dilfer, meanwhile, was released within months of his solid performance in the Super Bowl. He was replaced by Elvis Grbac, who played one season before retiring. The Ravens then went through a half-dozen starting quarterbacks, including Anthony Wright, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller and Steve McNair, before drafting Flacco in the first round of the 2008 draft.

Flacco took over as a rookie in the season opener and has started every game since.

One day after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying New England quarterback Tom Brady, Flacco couldn't fully comprehend the enormity of going to the Super Bowl.

``I think we're still on a little bit of a high from the game,'' Flacco said. ``I don't know if anybody quite believes it yet, but it's pretty real.''

Blanking New England 21-0 in the second half? Beating Brady and the second-seed Patriots after knocking off the top-seeded Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning? It was almost as if the Ravens needed to pinch themselves.

``I'm just kind of numb to the whole thing,'' Birk said. ``Slowly, it's coming though. Hopefully, I guess you realize the moment and appreciate it, but then obviously get to work.''

This year's team went 10-6 in the regular season. Not bad, but Baltimore had a better record in 2006 (13-3), 2008 (11-5) and 2010 (12-4) and 2011 (12-4). The Ravens reached the AFC title game in 2008 and 2011 before finally getting it right on Sunday night.

They did it after overcoming the death of Modell, a three-game losing streak and the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Jim Caldwell, who took over for Cameron on Dec. 9, will return in the same position next season, Harbaugh announced Monday.

``I think our guys have done just a tremendous job all year of battling through adversity and overcoming the tough things that really make you into a close football team,'' Harbaugh said. ``That's what (Sunday night) was. It was a team victory. It wasn't one guy, it wasn't about a group of guys, it wasn't about one side of the ball. It was about a football team playing really good football in one of the biggest moments that football has to offer.''

Ever since he first arrived in Baltimore, Flacco imagined playing in the Super Bowl. And now, he's on his way.

``I think every year when you get ready to go, you visualize yourself playing football at this time of year,'' Flacco said. ``It's a tough deal to get to, but we've made it this far and we just got to make the most of it.''

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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.

MORE RAVENS: Stanley and his adopted dog from BARCS to be on Animal Planet

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Have a cool idea? The Ravens might just give you $200,000 for it

Have a cool idea? The Ravens might just give you $200,000 for it

The Ravens are trading in the kicks for pitches all in the name of charity. In a new partnership with Light City Baltimore, the popular football team is utilizing their resources to give back to their community through an exclusive pitch competition for eligible local companies.

The pitch competition, officially titled, the Baltimore Ravens Innovation Challenge at Light City will be held on April 6. The Ravens are looking for start up companies with innovative ideas in need of a little investment push. The applications are live on their website with an upcoming deadline of March 6.

Eligibility includes:

  • Based in Baltimore City or Baltimore County

  • Annual revenue under $5 million

  • Must not be in industries the Ravens have category exclusive partners, including beer and financial services.

Only a lucky six will be selected to pitch to the panel of judges which includes investors and Ravens personnel. Perhaps the ones to impress most are the live audience who also have the opportunity to vote for their favorite. Like most competitions, there can only be one winner and this lucky company will win the $200,000 sponsorship package.

The package includes:

  • LED signage at M&T Bank Stadium

  • Digital advertising on the Ravens website

  • Print advertising in the Ravens yearbook

  • Game day publications

  • Exposure at Ravens Walk, Ravens training camp and the Ravens Flock Festival.

Furthermore, the winning company will work directly with the Ravens to execute the sponsorship.

So, for all you entrepreneurs out there, put on your thinking caps and let your lights shine.

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