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Harbaugh brothers take 49ers, Ravens to Super Bowl


Harbaugh brothers take 49ers, Ravens to Super Bowl

This Super Bowl will be filled with firsts - and one significant last.

The Harbaughs, San Francisco's Jim and Baltimore's John, will be the first pair of brothers to coach against each other in the NFL title game.

Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers and Joe Flacco of the Ravens each will be playing in his first Super Bowl - where success is the ultimate measure of elite QBs.

It'll be Baltimore's first crack at a championship in a dozen years, San Francisco's first in 18. They are a combined 6-0 in Super Bowls (the 49ers own five of those victories), so one club will lose the big game for the first time.

And middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Baltimore's emotional leader and top tackler, will be playing in the final game of his 17-year career before heading into retirement.

``This is our time,'' Lewis pronounced.

For all of those story lines, none is expected to command as much attention as Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh. The game in New Orleans on Feb. 3 was quickly given all manner of nicknames: The Brother Bowl. The Harbaugh Bowl. The Har-Bowl. The Super-Baugh.

The Harbaughs' sister, Joani Crean, wrote in a text to The Associated Press: ``Overwhelmed with pride for John, Jim and their families! They deserve all that has come their way! Team Harbaugh!''

As John prepared to coach the Ravens in the AFC championship game Sunday night, he watched on the stadium's big video screen as Jim's 49ers wrapped up the NFC championship.

John looked into a nearby TV camera, smiled broadly and said: ``Hey, Jim, congratulations. You did it. You're a great coach. Love you.''

Less than four hours later, the Ravens won, too. Some siblings try to beat each other in backyard games. These guys will do it in the biggest game of all.

Who's a parent to cheer for?

During the 2011 regular season, the Harbaughs became the only brothers to coach against each other in any NFL game (the Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving Day that year).

The NFC West champion 49ers (13-4-1) opened as 5-point favorites, seeking a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title to add to those won by Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Lewis was the MVP when the AFC North champion Ravens (13-6) beat the New York Giants in 2001.

With Kaepernick's terrific passing - he was 16 of 21 for 233 yards and a touchdown in only his ninth career NFL start - and two TD runs by Frank Gore, San Francisco erased a 17-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 Sunday.

Baltimore then fashioned a comeback of its own, scoring the last 21 points to defeat the New England Patriots 28-13, thanks in large part to Flacco's three second-half touchdown tosses, two to Anquan Boldin. Lewis and the rest of Baltimore's defense limited the high-scoring Patriots to one touchdown.

In the often risk-averse NFL, each Harbaugh made a critical change late in the regular season in a bid to boost his team's postseason chances. Clearly, both moves worked.

After 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the starter in last season's overtime NFC title game loss to the Giants, got a concussion, Jim switched to Kaepernick for Week 11 - and never switched back. Now San Francisco has its first three-game winning streak of the season, at precisely the right time.

Baltimore, meanwhile, was in the midst of a three-game losing streak when John fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoted quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell to replace him.

The 50-year-old John is 15 months older than Jim and generally the less demonstrative of the pair, although John certainly did not lack intensity while making his case with officials a couple of times Sunday.

The ever-excitable Jim - who was treated for an irregular heartbeat in November - was up to his usual sideline antics in Atlanta.

He spun around and sent his headset flying when the original call stood after he threw his red challenge flag on a catch by the Falcons. He hopped and yelled at his defense to get off the field after their key fourth-down stop with less than 1 1/2 minutes left. He made an emphatic-as-can-be timeout signal with 13 seconds remaining.

Expect CBS to fill plenty of time during its Super Bowl broadcast with shots of Jim, that trademark red pen dangling in front of his chest, and John, who usually wears a black Ravens hat. That is sure to be a focal point, right up until they meet for a postgame handshake in two weeks' time.


AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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John Harbaugh defends Joe Flacco's play during difficult season for Ravens

John Harbaugh defends Joe Flacco's play during difficult season for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens coach John Harbaugh strongly defended quarterback Joe Flacco after Wednesday’s practice, in the midst of a difficult season for his franchise quarterback, and with the Ravens (3-4) riding a four-game winning streak.

Flacco’s current quarterback rating is 75.4, which would be the second-lowest of his nine-year career if the season ended today. He has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (five).

So does Harbaugh think Flacco is “elite”? Asked how he assessed Flacco’s play at this point in the season, Harbaugh did not hold back.

“I’m a Joe Flacco guy, and I believe in Joe,” Harbaugh said following Wednesday’s practice.  “Joe Flacco is a great football player. Joe Flacco is the key to our success. So we need to all do everything in our power, so all the things fall into place for him. He can play. He can throw it, he can make decisions, he can score touchdowns for us, he can do all the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that. Joe will take care of what he needs to do.

“I’m not worried about Joe taking care of what he needs to do. Joe works on it harder than anybody, cares about it more than anybody. But we need to protect him, we need to run routes, we need to create confidence in our passing game, we need to run the ball well.”

But after Wednesday’s practice, Flacco admitted he needed to play better, regardless of injuries along the offensive line, or struggles with the Ravens’ running game.

“I am obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said. “We are not a good offense, and it starts with the quarterback. I have to be better. We have to be more precise, and that starts with me – just more consistent overall.”

How well Flacco performs after the bye will be a major key to the Ravens’ fate. But despite Flacco’s recent struggles, his coach still has his back.

MORE RAVENS: Hester counting on bye week to rehab groin injury

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Ravens' Devin Hester hopes to use bye week to overcome groin injury

Ravens' Devin Hester hopes to use bye week to overcome groin injury

OWINGS MILLS – Dealing with a groin injury that has severely hampered his play, Ravens returner Devin Hester planned to rehab during the bye week, hoping for a better second half of the season.

“I’m spending tomorrow here, get some more treatment,” said Hester following Wednesday’s practice. “I’m not going to really treat it (the bye) like a vacation.

“It’s tough. You can’t really be yourself. But it’s the NFL. Things like this come up all over the league. There’s not one team that’s out there that’s injury free. You got to spend more time in the training room, get your body right.”

Hester said he originally injured his left groin Week 2 against the Browns, and aggravated his right groin two weeks later during practice. Not only has Hester fumbled four times, he has not shown the explosiveness that made him the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns.

Hester will turn 34 years old Nov. 4, which raises the question if he is too old, or too injured, to be a consistent returner anymore.  Hester remained optimistic he could use the bye week to get healthy.

“I just want to contribute and do my part,” Hester said. “There’s always going to be a clock ticking. During this bye week, hopefully I can bounce back next week and be up to par.”

MORE RAVENS: Ravens anxious for Perriman to ramp up production