Quick Links

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

201301231312475287080-p2.jpeg

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.''

---

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

---

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

Quick Links

Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Week 14 of the fantasy football season means owners are entering the playofs or battling for a berth. Well, some are shakng their heads at Adrian Peterson, DeAndre Hopkins and Eddie Lacy and wondering how it all went so wrong, but let's focus on those still alive or glory. Week 14 also means it's time for two lineup reminders:

1) Don't overthink things: Just because Brock Osweiler has by far the easier matchup on paper don't you dare start him over Andrew Luck.

2) Leave stubborn behind: Yes, you drafted Todd Gurley in the first round. Yes, you're feeling like a boss for stashing Dion Lewis. Yes, Dak Prescott is awesome and only you believed in him from Jump Street. That doesn't mean you MUST start them. Use that brain of yours to assess the scene in terms of production and matchup.

Either way, the Waiver Wire remains a viable tool, even if just to prevent others owners from getting help. Here's a look at some of that potential help.

Quarterbacks 

1.  Joe Flacco, BAL vs. Patriots
 
2.  Trevor Siemien, DEN vs. Titans
 
* More than likely you're set at QB so consider this just the writer doing his due dillegance. I'll assume Andy Dalton (vs. Browns) isn't available, which leaves two other AFC options as your best hope if in need. Flacco is coming off a monster and now faces a situation where he could be in catch-up mode during the second half against New England. As for Siemien, who missed last week with an injury, he gets a Tennessee defense allowing the sixth most points to fantasy quarterbacks and at least two touchdown tosses for seven straight weeks.

Running Backs

1. Mike Gillislee, BUF vs. Steelers

2. Jacquizz Rodgers, TB vs. Saints

3.  Kenneth Dixon, BAL vs. Patriots

4. Rex Burkhead, CIN vs. Browns

Others: Charles Sims, TB;  Justin Forsett, DEN, Shane Vereen, NYG

* No screaming must adds, intrigue exists. Gillislee has four rushing touchdowns over the last four weeks with rushing totals of  85, 32, 72 and 49 yards in that span. ...The Bucs backfield is possibly for grabs after Doug Martin sat out the final three drives in Week 13. ... Jeremy Hill likely leads Cincinnati in attempts against Cleveland, but Burkhead should be all kinds of active in the regular game plan and possible garbage time. 
 
Wide Receivers 

1.  Pierre Garcon, WAS at Eagles
 
2.  Malcolm Mitchell, NE vs. Ravens

3. Adam Thielen, MIN vs. Jaguars
 
4.  Dontrelle Inman, SD at Panthers

5. Tyler Lockett, SEA at Packers
 
5.  Ted Ginn, CAR vs. Chargers
 
* If you like your otther lineup options and need safe help at receiver, look at Garcon (At least 6-67 in four of last five weeks) and Thielen (7 for 89 in Week 13). Mitchell (17 catches, 222 yards and three touchdowns over last three games), Inman, Lockett and Ginn, have higher ceilings.

Tight Ends 

1.  Gary Barnidge, CLE vs. Bengals
 
2.  Dennis Pitta, BAL at Patriots
 
3.  Lance Kendricks, LA vs. Falcons
 
* The Barnidge recommednation isn't about the expected return of Robert Griffin II -- as if -- but facing a Bengals defense allowing the second most points to fantasy tight ends.
 
Defenses – Because you stream this position

1. 49ers (vs. Jets)

2. Colts (vs.Texans)

3. Jets (at 49ers)

* For those already in the playoffs, look ahead to Week 15 and 16 for possible additions.

MORE NFL: Hungry Flacco can almost taste the playoffs

Quick Links

Joe Flacco leading by example as he tries to lead Ravens to playoffs

Joe Flacco leading by example as he tries to lead Ravens to playoffs

Joe Flacco is trying to make the playoffs for the seventh time in nine NFL seasons, and you can tell he smells the postseason.

Judging from Sunday’s sparkling performance against the Dolphins (36 for 47, 381 yards, four TD’s), the Ravens’ quarterback is ready for the stretch run. The next challenge is Ravens at Patriots on Monday Night Football, which will have the intensity of a playoff game.

Ravens veterans like Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and Marshal Yanda have been through epic battles in New England before, and have delivered in clutch situations. Part of their job this week is to prepare younger teammates, not only for Monday night, but for a December run that the Ravens (7-5) hope will carry them to the playoffs.

“You try to look around you and see who’s been through it with you before, and you see a couple of guys, really,” said quarterback Joe Flacco. “The biggest thing is just trying to somehow get it through to the young guys how unique of an opportunity we have. Getting to the playoffs is a big-time accomplishment, and to position yourself in December to play these meaningful games is also a big-time accomplishment, and you can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to keep your focus 100 percent of the time.’’

To beat the Patriots, the Ravens will need contributions from several young players who have never played against the Patriots, like left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Tavon Young, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and outside linebacker Matt Judon. Flacco isn’t one for rah-rah speeches, but he’ll be delivering messages this week.

“When you’re a young player, sometimes you might think, ‘Oh, there’s always tomorrow,’ and in this league, you never know when you’re going to get your golden opportunity,” Flacco said. “So you have to take every little thing as a big opportunity and make the most of it.”

MORE RAVENS: Ravens fan-favorite on the move again