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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) When the Baltimore Ravens last went to the Super Bowl, Art Modell was the owner, Brian Billick served as head coach and Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback.

Now, 12 years later, they're back with owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco and one significant link to both teams: Ray Lewis.

Drawing inspiration from Lewis, their long-time middle linebacker, the Ravens bullied their way past New England 28-13 Sunday night to win the AFC championship and set up a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. The victory ended a lengthy dry spell for a franchise with one Super Bowl appearance in its 17 years of existence.

Lewis was voted Super Bowl MVP after the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 on Jan. 28, 2001. He announced earlier this month that he would step into retirement after Baltimore completes its current playoff run, and his teammates were determined to make sure that didn't happen before the Super Bowl.

``Ray is a guy who's been here since the beginning of this franchise,'' strong safety Bernard Pollard said Monday. ``He's a guy who is The Raven. We respect him when he speaks. Everybody stops and everybody hears him. He's kept this team together, he's kept this organization together in so many ways.''

Lewis knows what it takes to win. He knows about playing in the Super Bowl. Most of all, he knows how to get his teammates ready to play with unyielding intensity.

``Everyone knows what kind of player he is and what he's meant to this team and this organization,'' center Matt Birk said. ``There's probably not another leader like him. There's no one like him, somebody that means as much as he does to this team. Just everything he's been through, being here since Day 1, and the way he plays and the emotion and the passion that he plays with. I've been his teammate for four years, and that's how it's always been.''

Lewis got to the Super Bowl in his fifth season, then had to wait until his 17th to get back. In between, Modell sold majority ownership of the team to Bisciotti in 2004 and Harbaugh replaced Billick, who was fired after the 2007 season.

Harbaugh on Monday paid homage to Modell, who died in September, and voiced praise for the current owner.

``Art Modell is the foundation, the bulwark of this organization,'' Harbaugh said. ``He and Steve come from the same place, kind of how they see things.''

Dilfer, meanwhile, was released within months of his solid performance in the Super Bowl. He was replaced by Elvis Grbac, who played one season before retiring. The Ravens then went through a half-dozen starting quarterbacks, including Anthony Wright, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller and Steve McNair, before drafting Flacco in the first round of the 2008 draft.

Flacco took over as a rookie in the season opener and has started every game since.

One day after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying New England quarterback Tom Brady, Flacco couldn't fully comprehend the enormity of going to the Super Bowl.

``I think we're still on a little bit of a high from the game,'' Flacco said. ``I don't know if anybody quite believes it yet, but it's pretty real.''

Blanking New England 21-0 in the second half? Beating Brady and the second-seed Patriots after knocking off the top-seeded Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning? It was almost as if the Ravens needed to pinch themselves.

``I'm just kind of numb to the whole thing,'' Birk said. ``Slowly, it's coming though. Hopefully, I guess you realize the moment and appreciate it, but then obviously get to work.''

This year's team went 10-6 in the regular season. Not bad, but Baltimore had a better record in 2006 (13-3), 2008 (11-5) and 2010 (12-4) and 2011 (12-4). The Ravens reached the AFC title game in 2008 and 2011 before finally getting it right on Sunday night.

They did it after overcoming the death of Modell, a three-game losing streak and the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Jim Caldwell, who took over for Cameron on Dec. 9, will return in the same position next season, Harbaugh announced Monday.

``I think our guys have done just a tremendous job all year of battling through adversity and overcoming the tough things that really make you into a close football team,'' Harbaugh said. ``That's what (Sunday night) was. It was a team victory. It wasn't one guy, it wasn't about a group of guys, it wasn't about one side of the ball. It was about a football team playing really good football in one of the biggest moments that football has to offer.''

Ever since he first arrived in Baltimore, Flacco imagined playing in the Super Bowl. And now, he's on his way.

``I think every year when you get ready to go, you visualize yourself playing football at this time of year,'' Flacco said. ``It's a tough deal to get to, but we've made it this far and we just got to make the most of it.''

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Ravens vs. Jaguars Week 3 report card: Defense/special teams

Ravens vs. Jaguars Week 3 report card: Defense/special teams

We've already handed out report cards to the offense after the Ravens' 19-17 win at Jacksonville on Sunday. Now it's time to grade the defense and special teams, which are the driving forces behind the third 3-0 start in franchise history:

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

The Ravens stuffed the Jaguars ground game. Chris Ivory's return was supposed to boost the Jags, but the Ravens held him to 14 yards on 12 carries. Overall, the Jaguars rushed 21 times for 48 yards. The Ravens also once again got interior pass rush pressure. Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy both had sacks, and Jernigan tipped two passes, one of which was intercepted by Tavon Young. Jernigan continues to play the best ball of his career. Brandon Williams finished with four tackles, and undrafted rookie Michael Pierce continues to contribute.

LINEBACKER: A-

The Ravens linebackers made an impact against the run and also against the pass, both with pressure and in coverage. Terrell Suggs, who had been quiet for 2 1/2 games, recorded a pair of fourth-quarter sacks. C.J. Mosley had an acrobatic one-handed interception, and Zach Orr picked off the Jaguars last pass after it was tipped by Lardarius Webb. Coverage by the linebackers was a major issue last season but has been much improved. Orr had  a team-high eight tackles. Second-round rookie Kamalei Correa saw his first defensive snaps of the season and showed well but dropped what might have been a pick-six interception.

SECONDARY: B

Eric Weddle was fully involved, with four tackles, two pass breakups and a few blitzes. Tavon Young recorded his first interception and Lardarius Webb tipped a pass that was picked off by Zach Orr.  Shareece Wright had some issues for the second straight week. He was beaten twice by Allen Robinson for touchdowns, and expect teams to continue to go after him with Jimmy Smith on the other side.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

The special teams unit produced two of the biggest plays of the game -- Justin Tucker's 54-yard field goal that proved to be the game-winner, and Brent Urban's blocked field goal that set up the Ravens game-winning drive. But before that, the usually solid special teams had been a mess. Devin Hester, brought in mainly for his dependable ball security, fumbled away a punt return. Back-to-back penalties on Morgan Cox essentially cost the Ravens more than 25 yards on one punt sequence. The Ravens gave up a 42-yard punt return that set up the Jaguars' first touchdown. This group made the big plays at the end but is usually much better overall.

MORE RAVENS: OFFENSIVE REPORT CARD

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Steve Smith Sr. and Jalen Ramsey talk trash both during and after game

Steve Smith Sr. and Jalen Ramsey talk trash both during and after game

Jaguars rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey had plenty to say about Steve Smith Sr. following the Ravens' 19-17 win in Jacksonville

And of course, the Ravens’ fiery wide receiver fired back.

The Smith-Ramsey beef extended from the field, to the locker room, to social media following the Ravens’ 19-17 victory. Smith and Ramsey exchanged words on the field after the game before they were separated.

RELATED: FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM THE RAVENS' WIN

Then in the locker room, Ramsey had plenty to say, considering the Jaguars (0-3) lost, again, and that Smith had his best game of the season – eight catches for 87 yards.

Ramsey took jobs at Smith being 37 years old, among other things.  Asked why things got heated between him and Smith, Ramsey said, “I don’t know. Ask him. When you’ve been beating the opponent that’s in front of you both physically and psychologically all day, they tend to get mad like that. I don’t care how old he is. If that made him angry then he can go home and sleep on it. I don’t care. It is what it is.”

Asked if he was made that Smith talked to him after the game, Ramsey said, “Yeah, but I’m not worried about him. He was still mad that I was locking him up. Alright, well sleep on it. I’m not trying to hear that after the game.”

Did Ramsey think he got in Smith’s head?

“What do you think?” Ramsey said. “You tell me. Any time I lined up on him – y’all go watch that.  Y’all tell me who got in whose head. He came up to me after the game. He’s an old man acting like that.”

Smith’s retort on Twitter was classic Smith.

“I gave U every opportunity to speak face to face,” Smith wrote. “But you found your voice safely behind closed doors. Young man, I don’t need ur respect! In 5 to 10 u will be retiring and they will be taking my measurements for something you will NEVER BE #HOFer. I got cleats with stronger thread then you!!!”

Just think, Ramsey and Smith were almost teammates. The Ravens tried to trade up from No. 6 to No. 4 to draft Ramsey. But the Cowboys declined and took running back Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4. The Jaguars took Ramsey at No. 5 and the Ravens took left tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 6.

Things worked out fine for the Ravens. They love Stanley. They love Smith.

They love being 3-0. And clearly, Smith still loves talking trash.

RELATED: RAVENS WEEK 3 OFFENSIVE REPORT CARD