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49ers' Gore kept hope through all the adversity

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49ers' Gore kept hope through all the adversity

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Ray Rice has known nothing but winning since he came into the NFL.

For Frank Gore, it took a while.

Two running backs with contrasting styles and story lines will be on display at this Super Bowl, but they have one thing in common - plenty of respect for each other.

``To battle through what he's been through? He's a warrior,'' Rice said Monday evening, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens arrived in the Big Easy. ``Hats off to my man Frank.''

Gore, the leading rusher for the San Francisco 49ers, also was generous with the praise.

``He does it all. I love to watch him,'' Gore said of his Ravens counterpart. ``When I saw him in college, I knew he was going to be a pretty good back in the league.''

They both are.

But, boy, they sure took different paths to get here.

The 29-year-old Gore has endured plenty of losses, personal heartache (losing his mother to kidney failure) and a startling string of injuries that might've broken a lesser man. He tore up both knees in college at the University of Miami, prompting him to wonder if ``football wasn't for me.'' Shaking off the doubts, he was drafted by the 49ers, but needed major surgery on both shoulders after his rookie campaign. Later, he lost part of another season to a hip injury.

Even harder to take, Gore played on a series of bad teams. Really bad teams. His first six years in the league, the 49ers failed to post a winning record - which was especially hard for him to take, considering he had known nothing but winning with the Hurricanes.

``It was tough, real tough,'' Gore said. ``I would see some guys - who are not here anymore - after we lost, and they would just be like, `Whatever.' I was not used to that. If we lost one game at Miami, it was like our season was over.''

One of his teammates, fullback Bruce Miller, has noticed the determination in Gore's eyes as the team prepares to face the Baltimore Ravens in the title game Sunday.

``It means a lot to him,'' Miller said. ``In meetings and at practice, you can see how intense and focused he is. He's worked hard for it.''

For Rice, the road has been much smoother.

Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the ACC championship game. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

``I've been blessed and fortunate,'' Rice said.

Rice is a slasher of a back, darting through the smallest of openings to break off big gains. He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, recording more than 60 receptions each of those seasons, as well.

In a November game at San Diego, he provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing fourth-and-29, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

Gore is a power back, someone who can churn out the tough yards between the tackles. That style has served him well; he's run for more than 1,000 yards six of the last seven seasons and become San Francisco's career leader in rushing touchdowns.

``We always credit Frank with the tough yards,'' Miller said. ``He doesn't get the easy runs. It's up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That's why we're here.''

Despite their lofty numbers, both running backs are a bit overlooked heading into the title game.

In San Francisco, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense are all the rage. For Baltimore, much of the attention is focused on retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who has finally escaped his playoff demons.

``When you look at the criticism that Flacco has been through, and you see what a young quarterback like Kaepernick is doing, I would make them the headlines, too,'' Rice said. ``I'm just being honest.''

But, chances are, Rice and Gore will have a significant impact on the outcome Sunday, especially since their rookie backups - LaMichael James in San Francisco, Bernard Pierce in Baltimore - emerged as major threats late in the season and playoffs, taking some of the load off the two starters.

``It keeps me fresh,'' Gore said. ``Early in my career, I probably wouldn't have liked it. Now, it gets me ready for the fourth quarter. When the defense is wearing down, that's when I get going.''

All the warm and fuzzy feelings will be put on hold in the Super Bowl.

But no matter who's hoisting the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

``We don't have to hit each other,'' Rice quipped. ``I'd like to win on Sunday. I don't want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I'm happy for him.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry 1963

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Ravens defense picks off Jaguars in 19-17 win

Ravens defense picks off Jaguars in 19-17 win

The Ravens’ offseason emphasis on creating more turnovers is already paying big dividends, and it played a huge role in the Ravens’ 19-17 win at Jacksonville on Sunday.

The Ravens picked off Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles three times, giving them five interceptions in the first three games. Last season, the Ravens totaled just six interceptions, which ranked last in the league and was a franchise record-low.

Against the Jaguars, C.J. Mosley turned in a highlight-reel, one-handed pick of Bortles to thwart one Jaguars drive late in the first quarter, and rookie Tavon Young recorded his first career interception on a pass that was tipped by Timmy Jernigan. That, too, occurred in Ravens territory and denied the Jaguars a chance to add to their 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then clinched the win when Bortles’ desperation pass in the final minute was tipped by Lardarius Webb and picked off by Zach Orr.

The Ravens had not recorded three interceptions in a game since the 2013 finale at Cincinnati.

Throughout training camp, the Ravens worked diligently on turnovers. In one drill, defensive backs had to try to catch tennis balls lofted downfield as a way to get them to track the ball better. The Ravens also worked on tipped passes, on pouncing on incompletions in case one might sometime be ruled a catch-and-fumble, anything to generate more of what John Harbaugh calls “sudden change” plays.

On Sunday, that work paid off, and though it wasn’t always pretty, the Ravens are sitting at 3-0 for just the third time in franchise history.

MORE RAVENS: Flacco sets new franchise record vs. Jaguars

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Five observations from Ravens' tight victory over the Jaguars

Five observations from Ravens' tight victory over the Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE – Five instant observations from watching the unbeaten Ravens (3-0) defeat the Jaguars, 19-17, to keep the Jaguars (0-3) winless:

1. The Ravens aren’t pretty, but they are resilient.

— The Ravens made enough mistakes to lose this game, but found a way to win it. Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, Devin Hester muffed a punt, and there were untimely penalties on the offensive line.

Yet, Ravens defensive end Brent Urban made a huge play late in the game, blocking a 52-yard field goal attempt with just over two minutes to play. Then Justin Tucker delivered with a 54-yard field goal, and Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr sealed the win with a last-minute interception.

2. Having Tucker is a huge advantage for the Ravens.

— Tucker’s game-winning field goal, one of his four field goals on the day, was another example of why the Ravens franchised tagged him before giving him a contract extension.  For a team that plays plenty of close games, Tucker is a crucial weapon. There was never a doubt on his game-winning kick as soon as it left his foot.

3. Ravens inside linebacker C. J. Mosley is playing at a high level.

—Mosley had his second interception in two weeks, making an acrobatic grab when he leaped high in the air, and tipped the ball to himself. He also had a batted pass in the fourth quarter that stopped another Jaguars drive. Mosley looks locked in and could be headed for another Pro Bowl season.

4. There is nothing wrong with Flacco’s mobility. 

— The Ravens’ first touchdown came on a seven-yard Flacco scramble, when he escaped the pocket and ran into the end zone untouched, after no Jaguars accounted for him.

Nobody will confuse Flacco with Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. However, Flacco shows no evidence of being gun shy after last season’s season ending knee injury. He also had a six-yard gain on a quarterback bootleg. The knee injury is clearly in Flacco’s rearview mirror.

5. There is something wrong with the Ravens’ rushing attack

— For the third streak week, the Ravens couldn’t move the ball consistently on the ground.

The long run for the day was a 15-yarder by Terrance West (10 carries, 45 yards), but neither he nor Justin Forsett (seven carries, 20 yards) did much business. Melvin Gordon of the Chargers had 102 yards rushing against the Jaguars in Week 2, and the Ravens expected to have more success. It will be hard for them to keep winning against better teams unless their offense finds more balance.