Quick Links

Ravens faced obstacles in return to AFC title game

201301121611583055480-p2.jpeg

Ravens faced obstacles in return to AFC title game

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens overcame an assortment of injuries and obstacles to return to the AFC championship game, one victory from reaching the Super Bowl.

Their usually stout defense was besieged by a season-long string of setbacks.

Thirteen players with starting experience were sidelined during the regular season, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb and tackle Haloti Ngata. Two dozen different defensive players received at least one start, but only two - safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams - started all 16 games.

The offense had its issues, too.

Frustrated with the unit's struggle during a December swoon, coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handed the reins to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.

Baltimore secured its second straight AFC North crown despite losing four of its last five regular-season games. Unlike last year, however, there was no first-round bye. Yet the Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the playoff opener before eliminating the top-seeded Denver Broncos last weekend to earn another shot at New England in the AFC title game Sunday night.

``I don't think a lot of people expected us to be here,'' Ngata said. ``For us to overcome a lot of things, everything that has happened with our team, I think we all just understand that we're a family here, and we can lean on each other and depend on each other.''

Not long after their season-ending 23-20 loss to New England last January, the Ravens began to realize this team would be radically different. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano accepted the job as head coach at Indianapolis, and three key starters left as free agents: linebacker Jarret Johnson, guard Ben Grubbs and defensive end Cory Redding.

Soon after that, the troubling offseason continued with another devastating blow: Suggs, the 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year, tore his right Achilles tendon in early May.

In spite of it all, the Ravens won five of their first six games. But in a 31-29 victory over Dallas on Oct. 14, Lewis tore his right triceps and Webb ripped the ACL in his left knee and was placed on injured reserve.

Suggs made his season debut the following week, but the five-time Pro Bowl star missed two games in December with a torn right biceps and is still seeking to regain the form he displayed last year. Guard Marshal Yanda also sat out two games with a sprained ankle and safety Bernard Pollard was sidelined for three straight weeks with a chest injury.

And still, the Ravens pressed on.

``I think that we are battled-tested,'' Yanda said. ``We went through a lot of injuries. We went through line shuffles. We went through losses. We went through losing streaks, and every team goes through that during the year. It's all about just battling through it and trying to get hot and trying to play your best football at the end of the year. I think we're doing that. We are just going to have to do a lot of things to continue to do that come'' Sunday.

Judging by their performance in last Saturday's 38-35 double-overtime win over the Broncos, the Ravens appear to be hitting peak form. Lewis returned from a 10-game absence to lead the team in tackles against both the Colts and Broncos, and his teammates appear to have drawn strength from the ups and downs they've encountered over the past five months.

``A lot of teams go through a lot of things,'' Harbaugh said. ``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. And, our guys have handled all those things extremely well. Individually and collectively, a lot of our guys have come out of it stronger and better men, and we're a stronger and better team.''

Tight end Dennis Pitta broke his right hand in practice in late July and received a concussion in November. But Pitta hasn't missed a game yet, and now he and the Ravens are eager to keep the season going with a win in New England.

``It's not easy being back in this position,'' Pitta said. ``We've had a lot of highs and lows this season. We had a three-game losing streak when nobody thought we would win another game. We've battled and we've been through a lot, and I think it's better prepared us for this point now. We're excited to be in this game and to be able to get a rematch with these guys.''

---

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

Quick Links

Suggs, Smith among six Ravens named to PUP list

Suggs, Smith among six Ravens named to PUP list

The Ravens announced six players placed on the physically unable to perform list Saturday - linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, running back Trent Richardson, and cornerback Jumal Rolle.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (knee), cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot), tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), and cornerback Will Davis (knee) were not placed on PUP, indicating they were ready for the team’s first full-team training camp practice Thursday.

Any player on the PUP list can be activated and return to practice at any point prior to the regular season. Once a player is placed on the regular-season PUP list, he must sit out at least the first six weeks of the regular season.

RELATED: WILL SMITH'S BODY BETRAY HIM AGAIN?

Rolle (Achilles injury) is expected to miss the entire season. Here’s the breakdown on the other five PUP list players:

Suggs – He still has not fully recovered from his season-ending Achilles injury suffered in Week 1 last September. Suggs is scheduled to meet with the media Wednesday, where further details about his progress should be revealed.

Smith Sr. – Also recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury suffered in November. Smith said he would not care if he missed the entire preseason. His priority is to be ready by Week 1.

Perriman – He suffered a knee injury during minicamp which did not require season-ending surgery. However, Perriman has still not played a preseason or regular season game since being drafted in the first round in 2015. After two knee injuries in two years, the Ravens have every reason to be cautious with Perriman until they think he is ready to return.

Dumervil – He had offseason foot surgery after playing through pain last season. Dumervil missed mandatory minicamp, but did not sound concerned about being ready for Week 1.

Richardson – His lingering hamstring issue could ruin his bid for an NFL comeback. The Ravens are deep at running back, and Richardson needs to get healthy to have any chance to win a roster spot.

MORE RAVENS: FLACCO HAS LONG ODDS FOR MVP

Quick Links

Best case, worst case scenario for WR Steve Smith Sr.

Best case, worst case scenario for WR Steve Smith Sr.

Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka are taking turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope leading up to veterans reporting to training camp. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Steve Smith Sr., 37-year-old wide receiver

Best-case scenario for Smith:

He enjoys a typical 1,000-yard season, and he remains the Ravens’ top receiver.

Why it could happen:

It’s dangerous to bet against Smith making a full recovery from Achilles surgery, even in the twilight of his career. Few athletes perform with more of a chip on their shoulder than Smith, who is always driven to prove doubters wrong. He’s a technician at route running, he studies film diligently, and he’s a master at using his body and hands to ward off defenders. Smith never relied on pure speed to be a top receiver. So even if he’s a tad less explosive, Smith has the talent to end his career playing at a high level.

Worst-case scenario for Smith:

Smith’s body betrays him, and the Ravens’ depth at wide receiver reduces his playing time and role.

Why it could happen:

Father Time is undefeated, and may finally be calling for Smith. The older an athlete gets, the harder it gets to recover from injuries. With their deep group of tight ends, and the addition of wide receivers Mike Wallace and rookie Chris Moore, the Ravens may not be as dependent on Smith as they have been. Even if Smith is healthy, his role in the offense might be less prominent.

RELATED: FLACCO HAS LONG ODDS FOR MVP

Quick Links

Flacco has same MVP odds as Winston and Mariota

Flacco has same MVP odds as Winston and Mariota

Joe Flacco has been a Super Bowl MVP and has won 10 playoff games. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have played one NFL season.

However, all three of those quarterbacks have been given the same odds (100/1) of winning next season’s MVP award by sportsbook Bovada.lv.

People who think Flacco is an elite quarterback may view that as disrespect. But the Bovada.lv odds throw even more shade at Flacco.

Sixteen quarterbacks are given a better chance of winning the MVP award in 2016 than Flacco. Some of the names you would expect, like Aaron Rodgers, who is the favorite at 4/1, followed by Ben Roethlisberger (7/1), Cam Newton (15/2), Russell Wilson (8/1), and Tom Brady (9/1).

But do Blake Bortles (66/1) of the Jaguars or Brock Osweiler of the Texans (66/1) really have a better chance of winning the MVP than Flacco? According to Bovada.lv they do. That’s also an indication that not much is expected from the Ravens overall after their 5-11 season. The better your team does, the better your chances of winning the MVP.

Newton won the MVP last year starting at 50/1 odds. So if you believe in Flacco and the Ravens, those 100/1 MVP odds for Flacco may look like an enticing play.

RELATED: Can Dumervil lead a rebirth of Ravens's pass rush?