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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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Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

When the Ravens entered training camp, tight end was considered the deepest position on the team after the signing of veteran Ben Watson and the return of Dennis Pitta from two serious hip injuries.

But now, the Ravens are staring at the prospect of having just one healthy tight end for their Week 1 game against the Bills.

Watson suffered what is believed to be a season-ending Achilles injury on the first play of the Ravens preseason game Saturday night against the Lions, and Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed) remain sidelined with injuries. Two other tight ends, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle must begin serving suspensions when the regular season starts – Waller four games and Boyle 10.

So of the top six tight ends on the depth chart, Crockett Gillmore is the only healthy one who will be on the roster for the Sept. 11 opener.

But Gillmore, who had one catch for 2 yards in the Ravens 30-9 win Saturday night, said no one is in panic mode.

MORE RAVENS: 3 OBSERVATIONS FROM FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

“This is an organization that has dealt with those kinds of things since I’ve been here, and we’ve always had guys step up,” Gillmore said.

Watson’s injury does have a painful ring of familiarity; the Ravens lost veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to season-ending Achilles injuries last year.

“It’s not like we’re sweating bullets around here,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

The problem is, at least two of them – Waller and Boyle – can’t play early in the season. Pitta has been out with a broken finger sustained in a scuffle with Kamalei Correa in a stadium practice earlier this month, and Wiliams has missed the past two preseason games. Their availability for Week 1 remains uncertain.

Watson’s injury could open the door for Daniel Brown to make the team, at least until Waller’s suspension is over, depending on the progress of Pitta and Williams.

Another option might be to look to utilize fullback Kyle Juszczyk more often in a hybrid role.

 “That’s a versatile guy that can do everything,” Gillmore said.

“We’re not sweating,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a bunch of receivers, too. We’ll make it work.”

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Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

BALTIMORE – Five instant observations from the Ravens’ 30-9 preseason win over the Lions, which made the Ravens 3-0 this preseason:

1. Ben Watson’s season-ending Achilles injury made this victory hollow:

The veteran tight end was lost on the first play from scrimmage, and his season was lost before he ever played a regular season game for the Ravens. Football can be cruel.

2.  Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon’s knee injury could be another blow.

It was announced that Dixon had a sprained left knee, but he was helped off the field, and no timetable was given for his return. It would not be surprising if an MRI is forthcoming. If so, many people will be holding their breath.

MORE RAVENS: DEEPER LOOK AT FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

3. Rookie pass rusher Matt Judon looks ready to have an immediate impact.

Judon had a strip-sack on another active night. At the very least, Judon looks like could have an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

4. Linebacker-safety Anthony Levine could be the Ravens’ most improved player.

Levine had an athletic interception, and he has made a successful transition to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Last week, Levine picked off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt against the Colts and took it to the house. Levine’s ability to line up in multiple spots, and to make plays, could make the Ravens’ defense more versatile and less predictable.

5.  Wide receiver Jeremy Butler keeps making plays.

I know it’s preseason, and I know the Ravens are deep at wide receiver. But I think they have to keep Jeremy Butler. He had his second touchdown catch of the preseason, he can contribute on special teams, and he caught 31 passes last season. I see the Ravens keeping seven receivers - Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, and Butler.

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Three observations as post-injury Flacco returns to field in preseason debut

Three observations as post-injury Flacco returns to field in preseason debut

BALTIMORE – Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played two series Saturday night against the Lions, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 94 yards before leaving the game. It was Flacco’s first game since his season-ending knee injury last November. Here are three observations from Flacco’s action:

1. The Ravens got what they wanted - they got Flacco work, and he escaped unscathed.

Flacco had talked about playing the entire half, but Ryan Mallett took over in the second quarter. Flacco had already thrown 16 passes, and his knee has not been an issue since Day 1 of training camp. After seeing what happened to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo the night before, it was hard to blame the Ravens for playing it safe.

Flacco got his first sack out of the way, and it came courtesy of an old friend. Lions tackle Haloti Ngata got credit for sacking Flacco for a one-yard loss. Flacco and Ngata were teammates with the Ravens for seven seasons. Flacco got right up, and Ngata and Flacco now have something else to laugh about, because he shrugged it off and continued to play. 

MORE RAVENS: WATSON LOST FOR SEASON

2. Flacco had good chemistry with wide receiver Mike Wallace.

He tried to hit Wallace deep on his first pass, and Wallace caught three passes for 37 yards. Wallace was one of the new weapons the Ravens acquired this offseason, and he has talked about how much he looked forward to playing with Flacco. Perhaps the Ravens will get more from Wallace than the Vikings and Dolphins did in recent years.

3. Flacco did enough to enter Week 1 feeling even more confident.

He won’t play in the preseason finale, so Flacco can prepare for Week 1 against the Bills, and he has already gotten his feet wet in game action. Mission accomplished.