Flacco seeks redemption in rematch with Broncos

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Flacco seeks redemption in rematch with Broncos

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The most telling image of Baltimore's game against the Denver Broncos last month was Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lying flat on his stomach near the goal line after his futile pursuit of cornerback Chris Harris.

Baltimore was poised to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half to pull within 10-7. Instead, Harris intercepted an ill-advised, hurried pass from Flacco and took it 96 yards into the end zone.

Denver won 34-17.

``Stuff like that happens sometimes, and believe me, I'm the last guy that wants it to happen,'' Flacco said of the interception. ``But you've got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game. I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That's why we are where we are right now.''

In spite of that lopsided defeat, the Ravens won the AFC North title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 last weekend. That set up Flacco and Baltimore (11-6) for another shot at the Broncos (13-3) on Saturday.

``They beat us up pretty good a couple weeks ago,'' Flacco said. ``But I think you always have that little chip that you want to go out there and prove to people that you're a good football team.''

Flacco is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to lead his team into the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. He's never missed a game since taking the reins at the outset of his rookie year, and this season he set career highs in completions (317), yards passing (3,817) and 300-yard games (five).

There have been more highs than lows for the former University of Delaware star, which is why Flacco found it easy to quickly dismiss that awful sideline pass against the Broncos on Dec. 16.

``It stuck with me a couple minutes, and then I moved on and went out there and played some more snaps,'' he recalled. ``And then when we lost, it stuck with me for a couple minutes again. Then we started getting ready for the next game and we went out and won it.''

Flacco rebounded to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 rout of the New York Giants. Flacco made a brief appearance in the meaningless finale at Cincinnati, then threw for 282 yards and two scores against the Colts last weekend.

It's been nearly a month since that awful interception against the Broncos, enough time Flacco and the Ravens to put it behind them.

``That's not in my mind at all going up to Denver,'' Flacco said. ``We feel confident, and I think we should.''

Taking advantage of a moving pocket, Flacco was sacked only once against Indianapolis. That should work to Baltimore's advantage against Denver, which registered three sacks for 32 yards in the first game between the teams.

``Whenever you have great edge pass rushers, you need to move the pocket,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Joe can run. He's faster than people think, so he can get out of there and run for some yards, too. Yes, it's something they have been working on.''

Much of the talk leading up to Saturday's game has been about Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who will be making his first playoff start for the Broncos after a splendid run with Indianapolis. Flacco knows that his team's success will depend heavily on whether he can generate enough offense to outdo Manning - while at the same time keeping the ball out of his counterpart's hands.

``Our goal is to go in and score touchdowns,'' Flacco said. ``Obviously, they have a high-powered offense and can score at a pretty high rate.''

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Flacco and Baltimore is playing on the road. The Ravens went 7-2 at home (including last week) and are a very mediocre 4-4 on the road. In addition, Flacco has thrown 17 of his 24 touchdown passes this season in Baltimore.

``You just have to be ready to go into a hostile environment and play your best football,'' he said. ``It's not going to be up and down with the crowd; they're going to be in it 100 percent for the whole game. The bottom line is we have to go in there and just make sure that we have a good, sound week of practice and we work on all the things that could possible go wrong - just because of all the noise and things like that - and make sure we have an answer for it.''

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Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

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Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

Will the Ravens’ increased speed at wide receiver force opponents to defend them differently?

The Ravens hope so.

They were without Breshad Perriman (knee injury) all of last season, and without Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles injury) the final two months.

That gave opponents license to put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, and to crowd Ravens receivers with press coverage – unafraid that the Ravens could throw deep with success.

However, Perriman is healthy again, and the Ravens added two speed receivers by signing Mike Wallace during free agency and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round.

The Ravens believe that speed will lead to more big plays, help their running game, and give Smith and other receivers more operating room.

“We’ve had years when we couldn’t back anybody up,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “The ability to back people up, it’s huge – to quote a famous politician not to be named here. It’s hard for me to see the speed all of the time in some of these drills. I’m like,`How fast are they really moving?’ Then I go ask the (defensive backs) and they say, ‘They’re moving really fast.’ And that makes me feel good about it.”

Perriman averaged 19.5 yards per catch at Central Florida, Moore averaged 19.3 yards per catch at Cincinnati, and Wallace has averaged 15.2 yards per catch over a seven-year NFL career.

The Ravens believe their speed will make opponents think twice about crowding the line of scrimmage. And when opponents do crowd the line of scrimmage, the Ravens plan to make them pay with big plays.

RELATED: FREE AGENT WEDDLE ALREADY MAKING AN IMPACT

Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

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Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

Veteran safety Eric Weddle is quickly making a strong impression with the Ravens.

After the first week of OTA’s, both coach Johh Harbaugh and defensive back Lardarius Webb mentioned Weddle as being a difference maker, after being acquired in free agency from the Chargers.

Weddle’s experience as a three-time Pro Bowler should be vital for a Ravens secondary that surrendered too many big plays last season.

Webb sees Weddle seamlessly taking command of the secondary, calling out coverages and making sure teammates are lined up properly.

“If he has anything to tell me I’m always listening,” Webb said. “He’s going to be big for this defense – for this team. He speaks up. I told him, `We want Eric Weddle. Don’t hold back. Don’t be quiet. We want you. If you yelled when you were with the Chargers, I want you coming out here yelling. Just be yourself. Grow the beard back, because we want the beard. If that’s who you were, grow the beard. He’s growing it back. He’s being himself and we’re loving it. It was a great move.”

Weddle has been offering advice to Webb on making the transition from cornerback to safety. Weddle can also lead by example, helping the development of young safeties like Terrence Brooks and Matt Elam.

At age 31, Weddle wants to show he can still play at a Pro Bowl level, and he desperately wants to make the playoffs. Harbaugh seems to have no doubt Weddle will make the Ravens’ defense better.

“I just really appreciate his attitude,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got an enthusiasm for the work day. He loves football. He loves every part of the work day. He loves every part of being in here and being a football player. There’s never something that you look at him and he’s not excited to do. That is infectious. That’s something that makes us all better, and to me, that’s one of the things that a great leader does and he’s got those qualities.

“He fits in with how we do things around here perfectly. I give (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) all the credit in the world. That was a great signing.”

RELATED: CONDITIONING REMAINS AN ISSUE FOR RB RICHARDSON

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

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“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

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