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Lewis ends NFL career in championship fashion

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Lewis ends NFL career in championship fashion

NEW ORLEANS (AP) So, Ray Lewis, now that you've won a Super Bowl, what's next?

No, he's not going to that amusement park. The Baltimore Ravens linebacker is heading into retirement - and he can't wait.

``Now I get to see a different side of life,'' Lewis said Sunday night after helping the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31. ``My family, and my sons, my kids, they've sacrificed for me. Now I have the opportunity to sacrifice for them.''

Lewis ended his 17-year NFL career in perfect fashion, directing a successful goal-line stand that provided him a world championship to take into retirement. After the 49ers failed to score on three straight plays from the Baltimore 5-yard line in the closing minutes, the Ravens could begin celebrating their first Super Bowl title in 12 years.

``How else can you finish that off but with a goal-line stand?'' Lewis said. ``That is championship football.''

The 13-time Pro Bowl star began his final night on the football field with a motivational speech to his teammates. He ended it looking upward into a waterfall of silver streamers and purple confetti. And minutes later, he put his hands on the Lombardi Trophy.

``What we did as a team today was the ultimate,'' Lewis said.

As an individual, Lewis made seven tackles. Nothing special, really. He had 44 in Baltimore's previous three playoff games. But the Ravens played like champions behind Lewis, and as usual, they drew inspiration from him.

``There will never be another leader like him and we sent him out like his brothers,'' Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs. ``His legacy will go untainted.''

The last time Lewis played in a Super Bowl, he was voted MVP of Baltimore's 34-7 rout of the New York Giants. This time, Joe Flacco was the MVP because the Ravens' offense outplayed the team's usually reliable defense.

Ever since Lewis announced on Jan. 2 that this would be his ``last ride,'' the Ravens have talked about providing him a title to take into retirement. And so they did.

``It's pretty cool,'' Flacco said. ``Ray's a great person and everyone knows he's an unbelievable player, but he's the best teammate. It's unbelievable to send him out like this.''

What a journey it was.

After defeating Indianapolis at home to open the playoffs, the Ravens beat top-seeded Denver on the road and knocked off second-seeded New England. Then, underdogs again in the Super Bowl, Baltimore blew most of a 22-point lead in the second half before mounting one final defensive stop.

``To me, that was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I've ever been a part of in my career,'' Lewis said. ``What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage?''

Lewis' old buddy, 34-year-old Ed Reed, contributed a first-half interception. Jacoby Jones scored two touchdowns, and after the second - a 108-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter - he saluted his retiring teammate with a rendition of the ``squirrel'' dance Lewis made famous.

Days earlier, Lewis was confronted about his use of deer antler spray in his effort to return from the triceps injury. He vehemently denied trying the banned substance, and that sideshow fizzled out quickly enough so that it was not a distraction Sunday.

The Ravens will have another middle linebacker next season, but they will never have another Ray Lewis. Coach John Harbaugh was asked why the team responded so passionately to him and his effort to go out on top.

``If you're going to talk about the Ray thing, you want to ask about it, then the answer's got to be faith,'' Harbaugh said. ``I mean Ray is driven by spirituality and faith and that's what he draws on and that's where his strength comes from. So if you really want to know, I mean that's what he's tapping into and that's what makes it so beautiful and so perfect.''

Lewis was the second draft pick in Ravens' history, following Jonathan Ogden in 1996. Ogden, who was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame on Saturday, waved to his former teammate during the pregame coin flip Sunday.

Perhaps one day, Ogden will extend the same greeting to Lewis in Canton, Ohio.

For now, however, Lewis is looking to joining his family for some quiet time.

``No other way to go out and end a career. This is how you do it,'' Lewis said. ``Everything around me is my kids. Daddy gets to come home now. They aren't going to like me being at home all the time.''

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Playing Flacco in preseason makes sense, but still a risk

Playing Flacco in preseason makes sense, but still a risk

The Ravens feel good about their decision to play Joe Flacco on Saturday night. However, watching Tony Romo of the Cowboys grimacing in pain Thursday night was another reminder why teams have become more cautious about playing franchise quarterbacks during the preseason.

The Cowboys got a scare Thursday night against the Seahawks, when Romo went down holding his back after taking a hit just three plays into the game. Romo did not return, but he never left the sidelines and said he was fine after the game.

The hit on Romo was a reminder that Saturday’s preseason game against the Lions (7 p.m.) will have some angst for the Ravens, with Flacco playing his first game since a serious knee injury last November. Should the Ravens have elected to keep Flacco out the entire preseason? They could have, but coach John Harbaugh decided against it.

RELATED: HOW BIG IS RAVENS ROSTER BUBBLE?

“There’s really no doubt that he’s ready to play,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “But football is risky for everybody. That’s just the way it works. You have to weigh the benefits with the risks and put them out there. Joe is a quarterback. He’s not going to break. He’s going to play. We’re planning on him playing well, just like he has in practice. It will be his first game action in a long time. I’m sure that’s going to be a factor, but I’d rather have it be in this game than in two weeks from now against the Bills.”

Flacco said he could have been ready for Week 1 without playing in the preseason. But he wanted to get some live action before the real season began. Saturday night’s third preseason game, playing with most of the starters, represents the best time to do it.

Flacco is anything but a fragile quarterback. Until last year, he had gone more than seven seasons without missing a start.

Sooner or later, Flacco has to play. But that doesn’t mean Ravens fans won’t hold their breath Saturday night if Flacco gets hit.

MORE RAVENS: WILL LEWIS WIN STARTING LEFT GUARD SPOT OVER URSCHEL?

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How big is the Ravens' roster bubble?

How big is the Ravens' roster bubble?

With two preseason games left and a little more than a week until the 53-man roster has to be set -- the first cut from 90 to 75 players must be done by Tuesday, with the final cut to 53 by Saturday, Sept. 3 -- the bubble is about to burst for many Ravens.

There has been speculation all camp about players landing on the right side or the wrong side of the roster bubble, but how big, exactly, is that bubble?

The hard truth is it's not very big at all. This isn't the case of 90 people competing for 53 jobs. By our count, 47 spots on the team can be considered locks, which leaves just six open spots. And one of those is at quarterback.

Here's how my colleague Clifton Brown and I view the Ravens roster bubble with two games left, although an injury could send one of these locks to IR and make the bubble just a bit larger.

RELATED: WILL LEWIS WIN STARTING LEFT GUARD SPOT OVER URSCHEL?

QUARTERBACK:

Locks (1): Joe Flacco

Bubble: Ryan Mallett, Josh Johnson

The Ravens will keep just two quarterbacks, but Johnson has done enough to warrant consideration for the job and put Ryan Mallett on the bubble.

RUNNING BACK:

Lock (5): Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Kyle Juszczyk

Bubble: Lorenzo Taliaferro

With an outstanding camp West moves to the 'lock' category, and Taliaferro could begin the year on the PUP list, which will buy him some time to get healthy. But that doesn't guarantee Taliaferro will play for the Ravens again.

TIGHT END:

Lock (4): Dennis Pitta, Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams

Bubble: Daniel Brown

Pitta is still out with a broken finger but he will be on the active roster, something few expected four months ago. Maxx Williams has also missed time recently, so this group at the moment isn't nearly as deep as once thought. Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) will begin the season on the suspended list but could be heard from later in the year.

WIDE RECEIVER:

Lock (6): Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore.

Bubble: Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, Keenan Reynolds

This group is deep but also loaded with injury concerns. If healthy, the top six will all make the 53-man roster. Given the injury questions surrounding Perriman, Campanaro, Moore and Smith, it makes sense to keep a seventh receiver, and Butler is well ahead of the other two.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

Locks (7): Rick Wagner, Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Ryan Jensen.

Bubble: Vladimir Ducasse, James Hurst, De'Ondre Wesley

Lewis could be the starter at left guard if Urschel remains sidelined, giving the Ravens an all-rookie look on Joe Flacco's blind side. Jensen had a rough night at Indianapolis but can play anywhere on the line. They love that versatility. The Ravens will likely keep an eighth lineman, and they usually stash a couple of others on the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Locks (5): Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban

Bubble: Willie Henry, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Michael Pierce

Henry earned coach John Harbaugh's ire with a penalty that gave the Colts a chance to attempt a potential game-winning field goal last week, but the Ravens rarely cut draft picks, let alone fourth-rounders. He is pretty close to a lock. The season-ending injury to Bronson Kaufusi opens the door for someone.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER:

Locks (5): Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za'Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon

Bubble: Chris Carter, Victor Ochi

With Kamalei Correa also playing outside, the Ravens probably keep only the top five.

INSIDE LINEBACKER:

Locks (4): C.J. Mosley, Zach Orr, Kamalei Correa, Anthony Levine

Bubble: Arthur Brown, Patrick Onwuasor

Levine remains one of the Ravens top special teamers and can play safety in a pinch. His move to linebacker spells trouble for Brown.

CORNERBACK:

Locks (4): Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young

Bubble: Sheldon Price, Will Davis, Kyle Arrington, Maurice Canady

Rookie sixth-rounder Canady has missed time with an injury but returned to practice this week. Arrington remains out and his spot on the 53-man roster is looking more tenuous by the day. Ozzie Newsome likes to say that "you can never have too many corners," but it remains to be seen how many the Ravens will keep.

SAFETY:

Locks (3): Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis

Bubble: Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam

Elam is sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery, which could open the door for Brooks. Levine's ability to play safety could factor here. Don't rule out the Ravens signing a veteran safety once other teams make cuts; that's when they landed James Ihedigbo a few years ago.

SPECIALISTS:

Locks (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox

Bubble: None

All have been to the Pro Bowl and all are back. No questions here.

MORE RAVENS: ZA'DARIUS SMITH AMONG THOSE NOT PLAYING SATURDAY

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Will Lewis win starting left guard spot over Urschel?

Will Lewis win starting left guard spot over Urschel?

OWINGS MILLS – Will the Ravens go into the regular season with two rookies protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside?

“If we go into the regular season that way, it will be because I’m confident in those two guys over there,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Those two guys are rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who already has the starting job locked down, and rookie left guard Alex Lewis. Lewis heads into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Lions making a push to be a Week 1 starter as well. Third-year left guard John Urschel hasn’t played since the preseason opener and he didn’t practice this week. Lewis has taken advantage of the extra reps.

RELATED: ZA'DARIUS SMITH AMONG THOSE NOT PLAYING SATURDAY

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said that Urschel has a “contusion”, and was expected to be back soon. But the longer Urschel is out, the more time Lewis has to convince the coaches he should start.

That’s why Saturday night’s preseason game is huge for Lewis. He’s making a rapid adjustment from being a fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, to a possible starter in the NFL.

 “You’ve really got to focus on your technique, your fundamentals, because everyone at this level is good,” Lewis said. “You don’t have those one or two guys you game plan for. In the NFL, all 11 guys on the other side are those dogs you’re trying to get ready for.”

With Flacco starting at quarterback Saturday night, the pressure will be on Stanley and Lewis to play well as a tandem. The Ravens knew they would need a new starting left guard, after Kelechi Osemele signed with the Raiders during free agency. Urschel could still be that guy. But if Lewis plays well Saturday night, it could sway the coaching staff in his direction.

MORE RAVENS: FLACCO LOOKS FORWARD TO PLAYING, BUT NOT GETTING HIT