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Column: Wilson stands tall as only rookie QB left

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Column: Wilson stands tall as only rookie QB left

This was always going to be one of those once in a decade quarterback classes, even before Russell Wilson announced his arrival from what is arguably the loneliest outpost in the NFL.

Everyone expected big things out of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. Wilson was more of a pleasant surprise, catapulted from third-round obscurity to what passes for football stardom in a city far removed from the media spotlight.

Now he's the only rookie quarterback left in the playoffs. Next thing you know, he'll get some Subway commercials of his own - or maybe something even better.

A rookie quarterback winning a Super Bowl? The way Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have been playing, the notion is no longer so unimaginable.

On a Sunday that was painful for RG3 and brutal for Luck, it was the undersized and once-unappreciated Wilson who emerged a star. He played with the calmness and efficiency of a veteran, rallying the Seahawks from a 14-0 deficit against the Washington Redskins almost before he had a chance to fasten his chin strap.

And if you didn't know enough about him before, one look at Wilson racing downfield to block for Marshawn Lynch on the go-ahead touchdown should get everyone excited about this kid.

``Marshawn always tells me, `Russ I got your back,''' Wilson said. ``I let him know I have his back, too.''

What was billed as a matchup of young stars turned into a mismatch of sorts when Griffin reinjured the knee he sprained a month ago and limped noticeably from the first quarter on. He wasn't coming out, and coach Mike Shanahan wasn't taking him out, a pair of decisions that will be debated.

Football is a game of pain, and Griffin played on. But a running quarterback who can't run is not exactly a recipe for playoff success, and he struggled mightily.

When the night finally ended for him late in the fourth quarter, he lay crumpled on the turf at FedEx Field after fumbling and then collapsing with his leg twisted around him in a frightening moment for anyone watching. Among those who were watching was Wilson, who went to a knee and prayed for his fellow rookie.

``He's a tremendous football player,'' Wilson said. ``I just prayed he was all right.''

Just how bad the injury is won't be known until Griffin gets an MRI on Monday. He said after the 24-14 loss that he wasn't sure himself whether he had further injured it.

But the dreadlocked rookie star made it clear that standing on the sideline watching the game wasn't an option. He carried the Redskins into the playoffs, and they weren't going to play without him.

``I had to go out there and do what I could to help the team win,'' he said. ``Period.''

It was a disconcerting end to a spectacular season for Griffin, whose personality and promise got him sandwich shop commercials even before he started winning games for the Redskins. He and Luck started the year as the most talked about pair of quarterbacks coming into the NFL in years, and both lived up to their billing by carrying their teams into the playoffs.

Luck, though, couldn't overcome a Baltimore defense fired up by the pending retirement of Ray Lewis. Luck was pressured all day, and his receivers dropping six passes didn't help as Indianapolis was eliminated 24-9 by the Ravens.

And while Griffin looked as though he would pile up some points for the Redskins by opening the game with two touchdown drives, he felt the knee go while planting to pass on the second drive and was never the same. By halftime, his team was barely clinging to the lead, and he faced a talk with Shanahan about his immediate future.

On that, both agreed. He had gotten them this far, and deserved the chance to take them even further.

``He said, `Trust me, I want to be in there. I deserve to be in there,''' Shanahan said. ``I couldn't disagree with him.''

Almost lost in the debate over whether Griffin should have stayed in was that Wilson still had some work to do to bring the Seahawks back. He did it on a fourth-quarter drive that Lynch capped off a 27-yard, broken-field run - with Wilson barreling ahead of him to block at the goal line.

That's hardly surprising because the quarterback that even Seattle didn't really seem to want when training camp opened - the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a lucrative offseason deal to be their No. 1 - always seems to flourish when it matters most. Wilson doesn't play with the proverbial chip on his shoulder because he felt slighted in the NFL draft, but the whole team plays that way because Seattle wasn't even in the postseason discussion when the year began.

``I don't know,'' Wilson said when asked if he had felt left out of the rookie quarterback discussion. ``The goal is to win a lot of games and help my football team win games. That's all I know.''

Something else Wilson should know is he's two wins away from being the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks will have to do it on the road, but they're peaking at just the right time and are just slight underdogs in Atlanta next Sunday.

Who knows, soon there may be a lot of people ending their sentences with a ``Go `Hawks!'' the way Wilson likes to end his. If it sounds a bit collegiate, just remember he is still a rookie quarterback.

Only now there's something different. He's the only one left.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Rare spinal conditon forced Zach Orr to retire

Rare spinal conditon forced Zach Orr to retire

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens inside linebacker Zach Orr had no choice but to retire, after a physical examination detected a spinal condition that made it extremely dangerous for him to continue his career.

“I have a condition that I was born with,” Orr said Friday, making his formal retirement announcement during a press conference. “I’m forced to walk away from the game of football.”

Orr said a CAT scan revealed a rare congenital abnormality, and that the top of his spinal column had never fully developed. Orr was never aware of his issue until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Steelers on Christmas that led to further testing.

While Orr never imagined he would retire at age 24, he felt blessed to be leaving the game before his condition led to a catastrophic injury. Orr has been playing football with his spinal condition since he was nine years old, and said doctors could not explain how he had played so long without his issue being detected.

“When I first found out the news, it was shocking,” Orr said. “Football is something I’ve done my whole life.”

Orr said retirement was his only option, because he would never pass an NFL physical. He also said that reports the Ravens tried to talk him out of retirement were inaccurate.

“They’ve supported me through this,” said Orr, who added that one of his high school teammates was paralyzed playing football.

Orr kept his composure during the press conference, but admitted he took the news hard at first. One of those emotional moments came after a telephone conversation with recently retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

“I broke down a couple of times, as recent as a couple of days ago,” Orr said.

Three of Orr’s teammates attended Friday’s press conference – linebackers C. J. Mosley and Albert McClellan, and safety Eric Weddle. General manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and linebackers coach Don Martindale were also in attendance. Orr is one of the most popular and respected players in the locker room. An undrafted free agent in 2014, Orr made the team as a special teams standout and earned a starting job for the first time this season. He led the Ravens in tackles (130), finishing 10th in the NFL in that department.

Orr had a bright future as a player. Now, that future will head in another direction.

“Instead of asking – ‘Why me?, ask ‘What’s next?’” Orr said.

“I’m very proud that he’s been a Raven,” said Harbaugh. “I can’t wait to see what the next door holds.”

Related: Ravens name their new offensive line coach

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Ravens linebacker Zach Orr to retire due to shoulder injury

Ravens linebacker Zach Orr to retire due to shoulder injury

Ravens starting inside linebacker Zach Orr has decided to retire due to a serious shoulder injury, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Only 24 years old, Orr led the Ravens in tackles last season after winning a starting job for the first time, and his career was trending upward. Losing Orr, an undrafted free agent from North Texas, leaves the Ravens with another void to fill after a disappointing 8-8 season.

The Ravens scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference Friday in which further details on Orr’s retirement were expected.

Orr played in all but one game last season, but sat out the season finale with what was termed a neck injury. He is one of the team’s most popular players in the locker room, working his way from undrafted free agent, to special teams standout, to starter.

Related: Steve Smith addresses coaching rumors