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Column: Ravens win is one for the ages

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Column: Ravens win is one for the ages

Just before the sixth quarter of one of the most fascinating and improbable NFL playoff games you'll ever see, Justin Tucker trotted out onto the field and did something you hardly ever see.

He practiced making a field goal. And for one of the few times on a frigid afternoon-turned-evening in Denver, something turned out exactly as planned.

The game that seemed like it was destined never to end finally did, much to the dismay of 76,732 shivering fans and a quarterback who had seemed destined to take the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl. It was Peyton Manning's interception that gave the Baltimore Ravens their golden opportunity in the 38-35 win, though Manning could hardly be blamed for the Broncos being in that position to begin with.

He was still playing deep into overtime for the same reason Ray Lewis will go on to play at least one more game before calling it a career. Lewis was on the sideline probably rehearsing his farewell speech when a shocking collapse by the Denver secondary allowed a game tying touchdown on a 70-yard pass to Jacoby Jones with just 31 seconds left.

Up until then, it was just about how John Elway imagined things going when the Broncos courted Manning during the offseason and let the orange-clad faithful in Denver know that Tebowtime was over.

A frigid weekend in January. A big-time quarterback under center. And a fourth quarter drive engineered by Manning that appeared to wrap up this playoff win with a giant bow.

Except the Broncos aren't one step closer to the Super Bowl. The Ravens are flying to either Houston or New England, and the way they felt after Saturday's game they might not even need a plane.

It was tough enough to win it. Trying to describe it all afterward might have been even tougher.

``Thanks for bearing witness to one of the greatest football games you're ever going to see,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``That football game did the game of football proud.''

Indeed it did, warts and all. Yes, the brilliant plays were all there - how many times have you seen a player start both halves with long kick returns for touchdowns as Denver's Trindon Holliday did? - but the miscues were almost as memorable and arguably more significant.

That begins with Manning, who was supposed to be the coolest one on a very cool field but had three turnovers that led directly to 17 points. It continues with Ravens punt and kickoff return teams that gave up scores that might have sunk any team that didn't believe like it was supposed to win no matter what happened.

``We never wavered, we never wavered,'' Lewis said. ``This will probably go down as one of the greatest wins in Ravens history.''

But the play that will be debated and dissected in Denver for far longer than Tebowmania ever lasted was the biggest gaffe of all. It came after standout cornerback Champ Bailey had already been beaten for two long touchdown passes, and everyone in the stadium was asking the person in the seat next to them what happened to the vaunted Broncos pass defense.

Eight men were playing off the line, knowing the game was theirs unless something freakishly horrible happened. Eight men who all knew a desperation pass was coming but somehow were unable to defend against it.

Eight men who could do nothing but watch as Jacoby strutted into the end zone with the tying score.

``You got to start taking shots at some point and it happened to work out,'' Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. ``It was pretty incredible.''

There were snow flurries on the field and the wind chill had dipped below zero when Manning and Lewis met again at midfield, this time for the coin flip for overtime. The two were always intertwined in this game and both had their moments, with Lewis getting a team-high 15 tackles and Manning throwing for three scores, the last of which seemingly secured the win for Denver.

Manning had come back from a lost season and a potentially career-ending neck injury to win 11 straight games for his new team. Lewis was calling it a career, and using his pending retirement as one more way to motivate his team to keep playing.

They played nearly 77 minutes before it was finally settled by a rookie kicker who after the end of the first overtime period went out on the field to practice a kick. Tucker made 30 of 33 during the regular season, and this one was perfect, touching off a celebration on the sidelines.

Manning went over and gave Lewis a hug before heading into a somber, stunned locker room. He showered and dressed in suit and tie before coming out to talk about how hard it was for everyone on the team to have their season come to such a shocking end.

``You want it to work and keep going and win, but that's not always the way it works,'' Manning said.

Lewis was just as philosophical in victory, talking about higher powers and things that happen when men come together. He said he was particularly inspired by a visit he made to a Baltimore hospital Thursday night, where he saw sick kids who will never be able to experience the joys he has in playing the game of football.

``I challenged my team this week to not listen to anything outside our building, to buy into everything we are as a team,'' Lewis said. ``When you get everybody to buy in, it's just so special to see it.''

Even more special might be to see the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

And after a win for the ages, a lot more people are beginning to believe that's just where they will end up.

----

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

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Fantasy Football Rankings, Week 14: Winning Time

Fantasy Football Rankings, Week 14: Winning Time

It's Week 14. For those in the fantasy football playofs or still alive for a spot, congrats -- and breathe easy. You've been doing something right, obviously, even if that's just getting lucky. Whatever the case, stick with your plan, your mode of thinking. The two notes here:

1) Don't let where players were drafted affect your decisions anymore

2) Matchups are huge, but don't bench a stud for a stiff just based on the opponent.

Beyond that, here's my first look at the Week 14 rankings. Good luck out there and keep track of the injury report!

Quarterbacks

1.  Andrew Luck, IND
 
2.  Drew Brees, NO
 
3.  Russell Wilson, SEA
 
4.  Aaron Rodgers, GB
 
5.  Matthew Stafford, DET
 
6.  Tom Brady, NE
 
7.  Jameis Winston, TB
 
8.  Kirk Cousins, WAS
 
9.  Cam Newton, CAR
 
10.  Matt Ryan, ATL
 
11.  Dak Prescott, DAL
 
12.  Philip Rivers, SD
 
13.  Colin Kaepernick, SF
 
14.  Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
 
15.  Andy Dalton, CIN
 
16.  Marcus Mariota, TEN
 
17.  Eli Manning, NYG
 
18.  Derek Carr, OAK
 
19.  Tyrod Taylor, BUF
 
20.  Carson Palmer, ARI
 
21.  Alex Smith, KC
 
22.  Joe Flacco, BAL
 
23.  Carson Wentz, PHI
 
24.  Robert Griffin, CLE
 
25.  Matt Barkley, CHI
 
26.  Brock Osweiler, HOU
 
27.  Ryan Tannehill, MIA
 
28.  Blake Bortles, JAC
 
29.  Trevor Siemian, DEN
 
30.  Bryce Petty, NYJ
 
31.  Sam Bradford, MIN
 
32.  Jared Goff, LA

Running backs

1.  David Johnson, ARI
 
2.  Le'Veon Bell, PIT
 
3.  Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
 
4.  LeSean McCoy, BUF
 
5.  Melvin Gordon, SD
 
6.  Spencer Ware, KC
 
7.  DeMarco Murray, TEN
 
8.  Matt Forte, NYJ
 
9.  Jeremy Hill, CIN
 
10.  Devonta Freeman, ATL
 
11.  Jordan Howard, CHI
 
12.  Jay Ajayi, MIA
 
13.  Latavius Murray, OAK
 
14.  Thomas Rawls, SEA
 
15.  Carlos Hyde, SF
 
16.  Todd Gurley, LA
 
17.  Frank Gore, IND
 
18.  Robert Kelley, WAS
 
19.  Devontae Booker, DEN
 
20.  Lamar Miller, HOU
 
21.  Doug Martin, TB
 
22.  Jonathan Stewart, CAR
 
23.  Mark Ingram, NO
 
24.  LeGarrette Blount, NE
 
25.  Isaiah Crowell, CLE
 
26.  Theo Riddick, DET
 
27.  Rashad Jennings, NYG
 
28.  Jerick McKinnon, MIN
 
29.  Tevin Coleman, ATL
 
30.  Terrance West, BAL
 
31.  Darren Sproles, PHI
 
32.  Dion Lewis, NE
 
33.  Kenneth Dixon, BAL
 
34.  Wendell Smallwood, PHI
 
35.  Tim Hightower, NO
 
36.  T.J. Yeldon, JAC
 
37.  Matt Asiata, MIN
 
38.  Bilal Powell, NYJ
 
39.  Rex Burkhead, CIN
 
40.  Duke Johnson, CLE
 
41.  Paul Perkins, NYG
 
42.  Mike Gillislee, BUF
 
43.  James White, NE
 
44.  Derrick Henry, TEN
 
45.  Ryan Mathews, PHI
 
46.  Chris Ivory, JAC
 
47.  Jalen Richard, OAK
 
48.  James Starks, GB
 
49.  Chris Thompson, WAS
 
50.  Jacquizz Rodgers, TB
 
51.  Charles Sims, TB
 
52.  Dwayne Washington, DET
 
53.  Corey Grant, JAC
 
54.  Christine Michael, GB
 
55.  Damien Williams, MIA
 
56.  Alfred Blue, HOU
 
57.  Robert Turbin, IND
 
58.  Charcandrick West, KC
 
59.  Kenjon Barner, PHI
 
60.  Shaun Draughn, SF

Wide receivers

1.  Mike Evans, TB
 
2.  Antonio Brown, PIT
 
3.  Odell Beckham Jr., NYG
 
4.  Julio Jones, ATL
 
5.  Jordy Nelson, GB
 
6.  T.Y. Hilton, IND
 
7.  Dez Bryant, DAL
 
8.  Doug Baldwin, SEA
 
9.  Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
 
10.  Amari Cooper, OAK
 
11.  Michael Crabtree, OAK
 
12.  Julian Edelman, NE
 
13.  Golden Tate, DET
 
14.  Tyrell Williams, SD
 
15.  Michael Thomas, NO
 
16.  Donte Moncrief, IND
 
17.  Brandin Cooks, NO
 
18.  Demaryius Thomas, DEN
 
19.  Terrelle Pryor, CLE
 
20.  Emmanuel Sanders, DEN
 
21.  Davante Adams, GB
 
22.  Jamison Crowder, WAS
 
23.  Brandon Marshall, NYJ
 
24.  DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
 
25.  Kenny Britt, LA
 
26.  Kelvin Benjamin, CAR
 
27.  Jarvis Landry, MIA
 
28.  Tyreek Hill, KC
 
29.  Stefon Diggs, MIN
 
30.  Malcolm Mitchell, NE
 
31.  Rishard Matthews, TEN
 
32.  Steve Smith, BAL
 
33.  Devante Parker, MIA
 
34.  Mike Wallace, BAL
 
35.  Allen Robinson, JAC
 
36.  Sammy Watkins, BUF
 
37.  DeSean Jackson, WAS
 
38.  Dontrelle Inman, SD
 
39.  Brandon LaFell, CIN
 
40.  Jordan Matthews, PHI
 
41.  Tyler Boyd, CIN
 
42.  Ted Ginn, CAR
 
43.  Willie Snead, NO
 
44.  Randall Cobb, GB
 
45.  Anquan Boldin, DET
 
46.  Sterling Shepard, NYG
 
47.  Cole Beasley, DAL
 
48.  Pierre Garcon, WAS
 
49.  Corey Coleman, CLE
 
50.  Taylor Gabriel, ATL
 
51.  Adam Thielen, MIN
 
52.  Jeremy Maclin, KCQ
 
53.  Cameron Meredith, CHI
 
54.  Marvin Jones, DET
 
55.  Quincy Enunwa, NYJ
 
56.  Tyler Lockett, SEA
 
57.  Michael Floyd, ARI
 
58.  Will Fuller, HOU
 
59.  Robby Anderson, NYJ
 
60.  Marqise Lee, JAC

Tight ends

1.  Jimmy Graham, SEA
 
2.  Tyler Eifert, CIN
 
3.  Travis Kelce, KC
 
4.  Delanie Walker, TEN
 
5.  Greg Olsen, CAR
 
6.  Cameron Brate, TB
 
7.  Ladarius Green, PIT
 
8.  Zach Ertz, PHI
 
9.  Eric Ebron, DET
 
10.  Kyle Rudolph, MIN
 
11.  C.J. Fiedorowicz, HOU
 
12.  Antonio Gates, SD
 
13.  Jason Witten, DAL
 
14.  Vernon Davis, WAS
 
15.  Martellus Bennett, NE
 
16.  Coby Fleener, NO
 
17.  Vance McDonald, SF
 
18.  Dennis Pitta, BAL
 
19.  Lance Kendricks, LA
 
20.  Dwayne Allen, IND
 
21.  Jack Doyle, IND
 
22.  Hunter Henry, SD
 
23.  Jared Cook, GB
 
24.  Jermaine Gresham, ARI
 
25.  Gary Barnidge, CLE

Defenses

1.  Minnesota Vikings, MIN
 
2.  Cincinnati Bengals, CIN
 
3.  Denver Broncos, DEN
 
4.  New England Patriots, NE
 
5.  Arizona Cardinals, ARI
 
6.  Miami Dolphins, MIA
 
7.  Detroit Lions, DET
 
8.  Atlanta Falcons, ATL
 
9.  Carolina Panthers, CAR
 
10.  Tennessee Titans, TEN
 
11.  Kansas City Chiefs, KC
 
12.  Seattle Seahawks, SEA
 
13.  Pittsburgh Steelers, PIT
 
14.  San Francisco 49ers, SF
 
15.  Washington Redskins, WAS
 
16.  New York Jets, NYJ
 
17.  Houston Texans, HOU
 
18.  San Diego Chargers, SD
 
19.  Baltimore Ravens, BAL
 
20.  Philadelphia Eagles, PHI

Kickers

1.  Matt Bryant, ATL
 
2.  Dan Bailey, DAL
 
3.  Cairo Santos, KC
 
4.  Justin Tucker, BAL
 
5.  Adam Vinatieri, IND
 
6.  Matt Prater, DET
 
7.  Stephen Hauschka, SEA
 
8.  Stephen Gostkowski, NE
 
9.  Dustin Hopkins, WAS
 
10.  Will Lutz, NO
 
11.  Brandon McManus, DEN
 
12.  Josh Lambo, SD
 
13.  Sebastian Janikowski, OAK
 
14.  Caleb Sturgis, PHI
 
15.  Mason Crosby, GB
 
16.  Roberto Aguayo, TB
 
17.  Graham Gano, CAR
 
18.  Mike Nugent, CIN
 
19.  Nick Folk, NYJ
 
20.  Chandler Catanzaro, ARI

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Ravens' Terrell Suggs simply refuses to mention Patriots' Tom Brady by name

Ravens' Terrell Suggs simply refuses to mention Patriots' Tom Brady by name

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs will go to great lengths not to mention Patriots quarterback Tom Brady by name.

It has been that way for years. Suggs may grudgingly praise Brady if asked. Suggs may say, “You know who I mean,” or “The quarterback from New England.”

But Suggs uttering the name Tom Brady is not happening. Check out this exchange between Suggs and reporters following Wednesday’s practice.

Question: Is it fair to say you really don’t want to talk about Tom Brady?

Suggs: “I’m like Marshawn Lynch, y’all know why I’m here. It’s a big game this week. We get to play on Monday night. We’re playing a good team. They’re ahead of their division. We’re ahead of ours. So we have another big game. It’s going to be fun.”

Question: You don’t want to say his name, do you?

Suggs smiled. Then he replied, “I mean, it’s going to be fun. We’re going to have fun. It’s going to be an interesting game and we accept the challenge.”

Suggs accepted the challenge of not saying “Tom Brady” years ago. That’s just part of the edginess of the Ravens-Patriots rivalry, which both teams are looking forward to renewing Monday night.

MORE RAVENS: Harbaugh talks personal relationship with Belichick