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Ravens, 49ers plan different endings

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Ravens, 49ers plan different endings

This time, it will be different.

That's the mantra the Ravens and 49ers must carry into Sunday's conference championships.

One step from the Super Bowl once more, the Ravens and 49ers believe they've found that extra element for success. For San Francisco, it might be the versatility and big-play potential Colin Kaepernick brings to the offense. For Baltimore, it could be the ramped-up emotions from Ray Lewis' pending retirement.

The odds makers believe the Niners have what they need to beat the Falcons one year after an overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC title game; San Francisco is favored by 3 1-2 points at Atlanta. That says a lot.

But the bookies don't believe the Ravens will do any better than in last year's AFC championship, when they fell at Foxborough 23-20. Baltimore is a 9 1-2-point underdog to the Patriots.

``There are challenges that get you to the point that you are at as a football team and make you who you are, even as a person,'' said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team needed a last-minute 70-yard touchdown pass to force overtime at Denver last Saturday before beating the top-seeded Broncos. ``And, our guys have handled all those things extremely well. Individually, a lot of our guys - and collectively - have come out of it stronger and better men, and we're a stronger and better team.''

His younger brother, Jim, head man of the 49ers - siblings have never met as head coaches in the Super Bowl - has guided San Francisco to the NFL's final four in both of his seasons. This is John Harbaugh's third conference title game in five years in charge.

The 49ers' Harbaugh sees the togetherness and developing maturity of his team as a reason it could reach the franchise's first Super Bowl since winning its fifth in 1995.

``We want to be about that,'' he said. ``But I don't think it's attributed to anything, I think it's just who we are as a team, who our players are. It's a talent and it's character. I've always thought that about our team.

``Being a great teammate, doing the best to your God-given ability each and every time, is a great gift that you can give another man. To have his back. That's a strong phrase, but I don't think that's just something our guys talk about, I think it's who they are.''

Who the Niners are is quite different this time around. Last season, they used a shutdown defense, strong special teams and a conservative, avoid-mistakes offense to get this far. But quarterback Alex Smith and that offense bogged down too often against the Giants.

San Francisco added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham at wideout and still had the superb Frank Gore at running back. But Moss has been a complementary player and Manningham is out with a torn knee.

Tight end Vernon Davis, Smith's most reliable target a year ago, has had a lesser role.

The big changes? The emergence of receiver Michael Crabtree, the solidification of the offensive line, and, of course, Kaepernick.

As he showed in setting a playoff record for QBs with 181 yards rushing, and throwing for 243 in the divisional round against Green Bay - his playoff debut, no less - Kaepernick is a game-breaker.

``I think quarterbacks that have a talent for running the ball can be very effective,'' Jim Harbaugh said, stating precisely what he felt when he left Smith on the bench after the incumbent recovered from a concussion late in the season and went the rest of the way with Kaepernick.

``That's been long known in football, the National Football League as well. A quarterback that can get out of the pocket, run, pick up first downs, that's a threat that the defense has to account for.''

It's also what the 49ers didn't have in their repertoire against New York. Now, they have inserted a whole section of plays in the game plan built around Kaepernick's speed and intermediate hurdler strides.

``There are some quarterback-driven runs that have been added because our quarterbacks are very good at those, and Colin especially,'' Jim Harbaugh said. ``It's already noted that he's very fast. He's very good at reading and executing that type of offense. So, that's the reason.''

And a main reason the people in the Bay Area believe this is the 49ers' year.

Across the country in the Chesapeake Bay area, the other Harbaugh's stomping grounds, that conviction is just as strong.

Critics say the Ravens are too old, inconsistent and banged-up on defense. That they don't pass protect well. The quarterback Joe Flacco has won a postseason game in each of his five pro seasons, yet has no Super Bowl appearances.

Plus, the Ravens had every chance to knock off the Patriots last year and failed.

But those detractors tend to ignore that Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have become extremely dangerous in the passing game. That the line has been effective in the playoffs and Flacco barely was bothered by Denver's strong defense last weekend.

And that Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed have Baltimore's D on the upswing. Remember, 14 of Denver's points came on special teams, and the Ravens forced three turnovers by Peyton Manning.

Then there's the Lewis retirement factor, which can't be underestimated.

``I think, for me personally, when he announced it, I just thought that Ray Lewis has been in the league for so many years, 17 years, and he only went to the Super Bowl once,'' Ngata said. ``I looked at it as, `I've never been to the Super Bowl in seven years, and times like this never come around.'

``So, you definitely have to make the most out of it and work real hard to try to get there. I think every individual has worked a little bit harder just to know that we probably will never be in this situation again.''

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

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Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

The concussion suffered last year by Rams quarterback Case Keenum against the Ravens, and the way it was handled, surely played a part in new punishment announced Monday by the NFL for teams violating the league’s concussion protocol.

The Players Association and the league made a joint announcement about the new standards.

Under the new policy, teams could be fined anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for a first violation of the concussion protocol, or suffer loss of draft picks. For a second violation, the minimum fine will be $100,000.

Major concerns about enforcing in-game concussion protocol were raised during a November game last year at M&T Bank Stadium between the Rams and Ravens.

With just over a minute left to play, Ravens defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan sacked Keenum, and the back of his head slammed violently against the turf. Keenum held his head while lying on the ground and initially had trouble getting to his feet.  

The Rams’ athletic trainer ran onto the field to check on Keenum, but he remained in the game. Keenum fumbled two plays later, and after the game, it was announced he had suffered a concussion.

The league investigated the Rams’ handling of the situation and the team was not fined. However, not everyone was satisfied, including NFLPA president Eric Winston.

“Show me someone that says, ‘No, the Rams did exactly the right thing,”’ Winston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year. “They didn’t. Everybody knows they didn’t.  So there has to be discipline, right? Because when a player doesn’t do something that he’s supposed to do, he gets fined for that when it comes to health and safety.”

As a result, the NFL and the Players Association have agreed on punishment that could help protect players who have been concussed.

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New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

Fortunately for Joe Flacco, he was born with an arm meant for chucking footballs prodigious distances and a body destined to stand in an NFL pocket. That's because — if he wasn't in possession of these gifts and didn't have the work ethic to put them to good use — he may not be cut out for everyday life and a typical job.

Last year, a Pepsi and Tostitos commercial came out and showed that the Ravens quarterback was clueless when it came to party throwing. A recent Ford ad, meanwhile, is demonstrating that No. 5 should stick to purchasing vehicles as opposed to selling them.

Here's the spot in its entirety:

Trying to convince someone to buy a car because it's "like two motorcycles stuck together" is not exactly the best selling point. As the commercial concludes, letting Flacco focus on the field and the professionals take care of everything else is the most ideal use of everyone's time.

RELATED: RAVENS SHOULD CONSIDER A RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE APPROACH

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NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

Jim Brown, one of the greatest NFL players of all time, has been actively involved in trying to rehabilitate the career of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

In his role as a special advisor with the team, Brown has been in contact with Gordon, who was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Monday.

Gordon has been suspended 27 of the Browns’ last 32 games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The league announced Monday that Gordon would still be suspended the first four games of the 2016 season, but could be reintstated Week 5.

Gordon can join the Browns when they begin training camp Thursday, and participate in team meetings and activities. If Gordon meets all of the league’s behavior requirements during his suspension, he can return in Week 5. He will miss the Ravens-Browns game Week 2 in Cleveland, but could Gordon could face the Ravens when they host the Browns in Week 10.

Gordon is an extraordinary talent, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, with 1,646 yards in just 14 games. Plenty of people, including Brown, are hoping Gordon has finally put his problems behind him.

“I’ve talked with Josh twice on the phone, and the last time I talked with him he sounded very motivated and I think he was in rehab and feeling good about it and discovering some things about himself,” Brown told Cleveland.com. “He really seemed ready to take responsibility for himself.”

Robert Griffin III and all the Browns’ quarterbacks will certainly be glad to see Gordon in camp. Ironically, Gordon’s 2016 debut could come against the Patriots in Week 5, who will also be expecting quarterback Tom Brady to return from his four-game suspension for Deflategate.