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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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Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

And then there were four.

Four teams remain in the hunt for Super Bowl LI, and this weekend's games showed exactly what it takes to survive and advance this time of year. They also illustrated, quite clearly, how the current Ravens simply don't rise up to that level.

Here are two ways in particular:

* Strong quarterback play

Aaron Rodgers needed less than a minute to move his team into position for a game-winning field goal against Dallas.

Then again, the Cowboys' Dak Prescott needed less than a minute to move his team into position to tie the game moments earlier.

Did the Ravens offense under Joe Flacco this year ever appear capable of pulling off such a feat?

Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns without an interception as the Falcons rolled past Seattle. He averaged 9.1 yards per pass play, above their league-best regular-season average of 8.8. That's what an efficient, potent passing game looks like. The Ravens ranked 26th this year, averaging 6.04 yards per pass play.

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* Playmakers

When Dallas got inside the Packers' 10-yard line in the final four minutes, trailing 28-20, was there any doubt that the ball was going to Dez Bryant? The Packers had to know it. They just couldn't stop it. Bryant reached up with his 6-2, 220-pound frame and hauled in the inside slant that made it 28-26, and then Prescott scored on a quarterback draw for a two-point conversion to tie the game.

Did the Ravens this year ever have such a proven, go-to target near the goal line? If they did, they probably wouldn't have ranked 20th in red zone percentage this year and relied so heavily on kicker Justin Tucker. Too many field goals instead of touchdowns doomed this team.

Aaron Rodgers had to improvise, then made a great throw with an even better catch by Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal. Could the Ravens have pulled off that play this year?

When the Steelers were trying to close out their win over the Chiefs, they opted to throw a pass, knowing an incompletion would stop the clock and possibly give the ball back to the Chiefs. It carried some risk, but Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a game-clinching first down.

The Steelers could have opted to run the ball with Le'Veon Bell, who piled up 170 yards on 30 carries. That's what a commitment to the run looks like.

Brown, Bryant and Julian Edelman all finished with more than 100 receiving yards.

Each of these teams has playmakers, and they all stepped up.

MORE RAVENS: Ray Lewis tells Tom Brady to quit complaining

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AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has created a new firestorm heading into the Patriots-Steelers AFC championship game, by posting a Facebook Live video from the locker room in which coach Mike Tomlin referred to the Patriots as “a--h----s”.

Tomlin was giving his postgame address to the team after the Steelers’ 18-16 playoff victory over the Chiefs.

While Tomlin was speaking, Brown was streaming the locker room scene on Facebook, unbeknownst to Tomlin.

The coach talked about the Patriots having a head start in preparation, because they won their divisional game Saturday night, while the Steelers-Chiefs game did not end until late Sunday night in Kansas City.

“When you get to this point in the journey, man, not a lot needs to be said,” Tomlin said in the video, which Brown has since deleted from social media.

“Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We just spotted these a--h---s a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f---king morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their a--. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.

“Keep a low profile, and let’s get ready to ball like this up again here in a few days and be right back at it. That’s our story.”

Well, it’s a little late for the Steelers to keep a low profile now, after Brown’s video went viral.

This is why most coaches don’t like cameras in the locker room immediately after games. The statements are candid. The concept of what is said in the locker room, staying in the locker room, is lost.

Now Tomlin, Brown, and the Steelers will have to deal with the fallout. But it will only raise the AFC showdown, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

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