Ravens, 49ers bring big-hitting 'D' to Super Bowl

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Ravens, 49ers bring big-hitting 'D' to Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It was as if linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens' defense set out to provide a quarter-by-quarter demonstration of how they do business.

About 11 minutes into the AFC championship game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Lewis drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit that pushed tight end Aaron Hernandez's chin strap up near his nose.

Then, in the second quarter, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe gave New England another free 15 yards by hitting an offensive lineman in the face mask in response to an after-the-play shove.

Fast-forward to early in the third, and Pollard was flagged for his team's third personal foul of the day, thanks to a leaping hit against the helmet of receiver Wes Welker. Two plays later, Welker dropped a third-down pass.

And finally, a couple of minutes into the fourth, Pollard struck again. No penalty was called this time, but his helmet-to-helmet hit on Stevan Ridley resulted in a fumble and left the running back on his back, looking limp and helpless. Ridley left the game with a head injury, while the Ravens recovered the football and were on their way to next Sunday's Super Bowl against the equally aggressive San Francisco 49ers.

In an age of high-powered offenses in the NFL - this season's games featured 45.5 points, the highest average since 1965 - and increasingly safety-conscious officials, a pair of hard-hitting, oft-penalized defenses are meeting for the championship. Those second-half shutouts of the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in the conference title games were only the latest reminder from the 49ers and Ravens that defense still matters.

Sometimes it isn't about some sort of newfangled, complicated Xs-and-Os defense, either. It's about players pushing it to the limit - and, sometimes, perhaps beyond - in a league that has been taking steps to rein in certain kinds of hits.

``Being physical? That's vital, man. That's what we live by,'' Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams said. ``That's something that Ray Lewis established here back in `96, and we're going to continue to do that. It's been, I guess, in our bloodline. It's in our DNA. We don't bring in guys that's timid. We don't bring in guys that's not going to hit anybody.''

What about San Francisco's defense?

``They're just as physical as we are,'' Williams replied, offering what in his mind is probably the highest compliment he could pay another team's players.

San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith deflected a question about whether his defense is as good as Baltimore's, replying: ``I mean, we're just trying to win a ring.''

Actually, that's probably better asked about the Ravens: Are they as good as the 49ers?

Opposing offenses scored 15.5 points per game against the 49ers, which ranked third in the 32-team NFL in the regular season. The Ravens gave up 20 per game, 11th-best.

The 49ers allowed only two touchdown passes of 20-plus yards, the lowest total in the league. Baltimore allowed six.

During the regular season, the Ravens were whistled for an NFL-high 19 personal fouls. Their team also was penalized more yards overall than anyone else.

The 49ers, for their part, tied for fourth with 15 personal fouls and ranked fifth in penalty yardage.

``When you go against a team that has that kind of reputation, and you can watch it on film, it definitely gets in your mindset and you know you have to deal with it,'' Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger said. ``I'm not sitting here saying that we're intimidating everybody or anything like that. But you know we're coming to hit you, for sure.''

Pollard put things a little more starkly.

This is a guy who has developed a knack for leaving injured opponents in his wake. It was his Week 1 hit on Brady in 2008, for example, that cost the star QB the rest of that season.

``For everybody, for fans, people who don't understand - they want to say, well, I'm being a dirty player. Well, no, I'm not being a dirty player. I'm just playing defense,'' said Pollard, a seventh-year veteran out of Purdue. ``And I ask you the question: If I came into your house, with your door locked, and I just kicked it down, and came to try to steal stuff, you're going to defend your house, am I correct? So that's the stand I take. We've got grass behind us. We've got the end zone that we have to defend, we've got to protect.''

If his is a way of thinking about the game that, as Williams noted, Lewis brought to Baltimore, the 49ers' current group - featuring players such as safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Patrick Willis - can trace its lineage back to Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.

He, for one, enjoys watching these two teams do what they do when opponents have the ball.

``There is a Steel Curtain or Chicago Bears type mentality with both of these defenses. Both of them bring a kind of edge to how they play,'' Lott said in a telephone interview. ``They both swarm to the ball, get a lot of people to the ball. It won't be just one guy hitting you. There will be a number of guys.''

Lott spoke admiringly about how well the 49ers and Ravens do what should come more naturally than it seems to in the NFL nowadays: tackle.

Only eight teams allowed an average of 5 yards or fewer after a catch this season, and two are meeting to decide who gets to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

``In a game like this where you have guys who are explosive guys, like (Frank) Gore, like (Ray) Rice, like (Colin) Kaepernick, like (Anquan) Boldin, you have to tackle,'' Lott said. ``And you have to tackle properly. These teams do.''

Seven of the 46 previous Super Bowls ended with MVP awards going to defensive players. That includes 2001, when Baltimore's Lewis was honored; it hasn't happened since 2003, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson.

But with players such as Lewis and Terrell Suggs on the field, plus Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, Willis and NaVorro Bowman, Whitner and Pollard, perhaps the MVP of Sunday's game will be someone who prevents points.

``It's just like the old saying,'' Baltimore's Ellerbe said. ``Offense sells tickets; defense wins championships.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Santa Clara, Calif., contributed to this report.

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

Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

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Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

After his memorable career at Navy, Keenan Reynolds fulfilled another dream Saturday when the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round (No. 182 overall).

Reynolds has been told by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome that he will compete for a roster spot as a wide receiver – punt returner, after playing quarterback at Navy. When he received the phone call from Newsome, Reynolds described it has one of the most emotional moments of his life. 

“Relief, excitement,” Reynolds said during a conference call. “I was upset (watching the draft). I know I can play with these guys. To see my name, to see my phone ring…It’s a dream come true. All I ever wanted to do was play on Sundays.”

It remains to be seen if Reynolds’ Navy obligations will interfere with his dream of an NFL career. Reynolds said he had already talked with some Navy officials, and hoped a resolution could be reached.

“I think being in the DMV area is going to help my cause, but again that’s a call that’s up to the Navy,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to the secretary of the Navy and the Navy. But right now I’m just trying to bask in what the now is, and I’m just blessed to be picked up, and I’m ready to get started.”

Asked when he would get an answer from the Navy, Reynolds said, “It will be soon. It will probably happen within the next few days. 

Reynolds believes he can make a quick transition to wide receiver. 

“I’ve been running routes like crazy, trying to get quicker in and out of my routes, I’ve been catching punts – everything that they want me to do. To get to work with Steve Smith Sr. and learn from him, try to get better from him? It’s going to be an awesome ride.”

CSN analyst Brian Mitchell, a former returner with the Redskins, has been working with Reynolds on his punt return technique. 

“He kind of gave me some extra drills,” Reynolds said. “He brings an innovative style, also perspective from somebody who has returned punts. I’m just extremely excited.”

Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

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Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

Ravens fourth-round pick Willie Henry is going from one coach Harbaugh to another. After playing defensive tackle for Michigan’s Jim Harbuagh, Henry will play for John Harbaugh, after the Ravens selected him with the 132nd overall selection.

Clearly, the Ravens received inside information on Henry, and were impressed enough to take him. During a conference call, Henry was asked about playing for another coach named Harbaugh.

“It’s going to be great,” Henry said. “Two great coaches who know what they’re talking about and have great schemes…I can’t wait to go play for another coach Harbaugh. Right now, I’m just ecstatic.”

The Ravens are fairly well stocked at defensive tackle, starting with Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. However, the Ravens like rotating tackles to keep them fresh, and Henry will be given an opportunity to play his way into the rotation. Henry was particularly strong against the run at Michigan, and he also brought consistent pressure up the middle on opposing quarterbacks.

Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

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Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

The Ravens hope they got a fourth-round steal in running back Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, who ran for a school record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns during his college career at Louisiana Tech. By taking Dixon, the Ravens became the first team in NFL history to make five fourth-round picks.

Not only was Dixon a prolific runner, he averaged 10.4 yards per pass reception. At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Dixon also showed plenty of elusiveness avoiding tackles in tight spaces, or in the open field. He will join a crowded running back group with the Ravens that includes Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson. Clearly, carries will be hard-earned next season.

Some scouts thought Dixon would be gone by the third round, and when he was still available at pick No. 134, the Ravens thought the time was right to get him. Even if Forsett remains the Ravens’ starter, they want to make sure he remains fresh all season. Running back is one of the easier positions to make the transition from college to the NFL. Dixon will be given a chance to show that he should earn some touches.