Deep thoughts: Long ball could carry Ravens to win

201301291231450913367-p2.jpeg

Deep thoughts: Long ball could carry Ravens to win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Fear the dreadlocks, San Francisco.

Torrey Smith just might be the difference in a Super Bowl that will hinge on the 49ers' ability to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from scoring with the long ball.

You might remember Smith from that playoff game in Denver on Jan. 12. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey sure does. Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl star, watched the dreadlocks flapping from the back of Smith's helmet as he chased the speedy wide receiver into the end zone on touchdown catches of 59 and 32 yards.

Oh, and let's not forget that Baltimore forced overtime in that game on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.

The Ravens have 17 pass completions of at least 40 yards this season, six of them involving Smith. Sometimes, Smith runs deep just to free up wideout Anquan Boldin or tight end Dennis Pitta or running back Ray Rice underneath, leaving Flacco a variety of viable targets.

``It all depends,'' said Smith, the speedy receiver from Maryland. ``It's not like they say, `Hey Torrey, just run straight down the field' all the time. Some of it is scheme-wise to open other guys up. Against certain coverages, I have certain responsibilities. We do attack vertically. That's a strength of ours, and I'm one of the guys that they definitely use to do that.''

Combine all that with a San Francisco defense that gave up 396 yards passing to Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the NFC title game, and it could add up to a very long night for the 49ers.

``Joe Flacco, he's playing excellent football right now,'' former 49ers star receiver Jerry Rice said. ``You've got Torrey Smith and also Anquan Boldin on the outside, and passes over 18 yards. They targeted Torrey Smith 109 times. So they're not afraid to throw the ball deep. The secondary of the San Francisco 49ers, they have had problems with the deep ball, so they can't let these guys run free.''

The 49ers know this. Whether they can prevent Smith & Co. from breaking loose is another story. Rice is also a threat - he caught 61 passes for 478 yards during the regular season.

``I think No. 1, you've got one (receiver) that's got track speed that will take the top off your defense, so he's going to draw some attention,'' San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers said. ``Anquan is a very physical guy. He doesn't go deep as much as Torrey, but he's got the ability to. He's just got that connection, strong arm guy, physical guy, so it's going to be a challenge with him, too.

``We're challenged at every position. The tight end in the red zone, he's got a connection, too. Ray Rice out of the backfield, people don't look at that, but when you break down film, he continues to make linebackers look silly and break yards. ... So everybody on our side of the ball has their hands full with those guys.''

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens' defense will be poised to hitch their emotions to middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the final stage of his last ride into retirement. The 37-year-old announced before Baltimore's first playoff game that he would quit when the Ravens ended their run, and since that time they've been played their best football of the year.

So has Lewis. He has a team-high 44 tackles during the playoffs after missing the previous 10 games with a torn right triceps.

``They're going to be up,'' San Francisco running back Frank Gore said. ``Ray Lewis means a lot to that organization. He's been playing the game for a long time, he's probably the best at his position and guys love him.''

Sure, the Ravens would love to win it for Lewis. But only one player on the roster owns a Super Bowl ring (Lewis), and the rest of the players are in it for themselves.

``There's no way in the world that you can imagine Torrey blocking better down the field because Ray is quitting,'' Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. ``There's no way in the world that (fullback) Vonta Leach is going to give that much more, knocking that linebacker in the hole. I believe if Ray was saying he was going to play another year, these guys would give us the same thing.''

Ravens offensive linebacker Bobby Williams was asked why the Ravens are going to win.

``The spirit of the team is something special,'' he said. ``Everybody works hard around the league. The 49ers work hard. But the spirit of this team is different.''

After thumping Indianapolis at home and outlasting the top-seeded Broncos in double overtime, Baltimore disposed of host New England. Flacco, in succession, outplayed Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Now he goes up against second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is fleet of foot but short on experience.

Unless Kaepernick runs wild or connects repeatedly with Randy Moss, the self-proclaimed ``greatest receiver ever to play this game,'' then big brother John Harbaugh will be the one smiling when shaking hands with little brother Jim, San Francisco's coach, as purple and black confetti falls from the roof of the Superdome.

PREDICTION: Ravens 24, 49ers 20.

Forsett's cousin is on The Bachelorette — and survived the opener

cliffkeenanjulierefframe_1.jpg

Forsett's cousin is on The Bachelorette — and survived the opener

Because Monday Night Football only runs in the fall and winter, one would think that America's TV guide would be lacking a program full of intense, testosterone-driven competition between determined men during the summer time. But that's why ABC has given us The Bachelorette, a dating game show that'll come on once a week and features a woman named Jo Jo looking for love amongst a handful of guys wearing suits that are way too tight and sporting unhealthy amounts of hair gel.

Fine, so it's not a perfect substitution for four quarters of NFL action, but it'll have to do (it beats turning the TV off and interacting with loved ones, at least). And for Ravens running back Justin Forsett, The Bachelorette will actually be more than something he simply puts up on the screen when he doesn't want to watch The Departed, which is seemingly on at least once a day, again. That's because his cousin is a contestant striving for Jo Jo's heart.

Here's what Forsett had to say during the show's premiere:

Then, when asked which of the dudes he was related to, he responded:

When looking through The Bachelorette's cast, there's no Chris, but there is a Christian, whom must be the person Forsett is referring to. As far as how Christian's debut went? Well — to put it into football terms — he picked up a win in Week 1:

Of course, Forsett was unable to escape the night without being on the received end of some ridicule. Former Jaguars star (and teammate of Forsett's in 2013) Maurice Jones-Drew fired this message off after seeing the Ravens' workhorse's original post in which he said he hopes Christian would come out on top:

Well, Christian survived the opener, at least. Whether he's able to keep the drive going and eventually cross the goal line, though, is something that will only be revealed in the coming episodes, 

(Author's note: Writing about The Bachelorette while using football metaphors helps make writing about The Bachelorette feel more acceptable). 

MORE RAVENS: HARBAUGH ZINGS MIKE TOMLIN A COUPLE OF TIMES

AFC North: Veteran pass rusher Freeney reportedly to work out for Bengals

ronniestanleybrentminicamprefframe_1.jpg

AFC North: Veteran pass rusher Freeney reportedly to work out for Bengals

Veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney has been looking for a landing spot, and the Cincinnati Bengals could be it. The Bengals plan to work out Freeney this week, according to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com

Freeney turned 36 years old in February, but looked like he still had gas in his tank last season with the Cardinals. An October pickup, Freeney produced eight sacks and forced three fumbles in just 245 snaps, and helped the Cardinals reach the NFC championship game.

Consider that Freeney’s eight sacks last season were more than anyone on the Ravens had. Elvis Dumervil led the Ravens in 2015 with six sacks.

How well Freeney would fit with the Bengals, who play primarily a 4-3, could be an issue. But Freeney’s veteran leadership might be an asset to a Bengals team trying to end years of playoff frustration. The Bengals have made the playoffs five straight seasons, but have lost their playoff opener each of those times. Freeney won a Super Bowl with the Colts, and would like to play in another before he calls it quits.

RELATED: HARBAUGH ZINGS TOMLIN OVER HANDSHAKES, JACOBY JONES

Harbaugh zings Tomlin over handshakes, Jacoby Jones

ronniestanleybrentminicamprefframe_1.jpg

Harbaugh zings Tomlin over handshakes, Jacoby Jones

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin are normally adversaries, but they were on the same side last week. Both coaches were in attendance at a charity event on Thursday to support the There Goes my Hero Foundation, but even when it comes to a good cause it soon became clear that rivalries never take a break.

During his address to the crowd, Harbaugh took the opportunity to take a few jabs at his Steelers counterpart.

"For 3-and-a-half hours, we're battling each other," Harbaugh said. "And then for about 30 seconds on the walk across the field, sometimes we're still battling each another, right? This guy's got a great handshake."

Over the years, Harbaugh and Tomlin have shared some heated handshakes after some intense games. The comment brought some laughs from the crowd and Harbaugh still had another zinger ready.

"I suspect he's a pretty good tackler, too. We never exactly saw the tackle," Harbaugh said. He then turned has back in imitation of Tomlin before saying, "But he thought about it."

The joke was a reference to the infamous Jacoby Jones incident in 2013 in which Tomlin was caught standing on the field blocking the path of Jones on a kick return. Jones looked like he had a clear lane for a touchdown, but had to take a step back towards the middle of the field allowing a tackler to catch him from behind. Tomlin had his back to the play and tried to jump out of the way when Jones approached, but many Ravens fans, including Harbaugrh evidently, are not quite so sure Tomlin was as innocent as he claimed.

It's good to know rivalries never take the summer off.

RELATED: THREE REASONS WHY FLACCO CAN FINALLY TOP 4,000 YARDS PASSING NEXT SEASON