Ray Lewis more focused on 49ers than retirement

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Ray Lewis more focused on 49ers than retirement

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) For weeks, no one could determine when The Ray Lewis Retirement Tour would draw to a close.

Since Lewis announced on Jan. 2 his ``last ride'' in the NFL would coincide with the end of the Ravens' postseason run, there was the possibility that each game would be his last.

Now, after successful stops in Denver and New England, there is no longer any doubt: Win or lose, Lewis will perform for the final time on Feb. 3, in New Orleans on the NFL's grandest stage.

It wouldn't be surprising if Lewis approached the Super Bowl with a feeling of finality, but the 37-year-old middle linebacker insisted Thursday that he's thinking only about helping the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.

``Honestly, outside of putting my head in the playbook and studying San Fran, I really haven't thought about anything else,'' Lewis said.

``It's going to be a great day, period, no matter what happens. And that's kind of the way I've approached it,'' he said. ``I haven't even said, `Oh man, this is your last game, what do you think?' I really haven't. Because I just really am keeping my teammates focused on the real prize.''

Now in his 17th season, Lewis is preparing for his second Super Bowl - the first in 12 years. The last time he played for the NFL championship, Lewis earned MVP honors in Baltimore's 34-7 win over the New York Giants.

After waiting all this time to get back, Lewis has no intention of merely settling for being part of the big game.

``The real prize is actually going and winning the Super Bowl,'' he said. ``It's great to get there, don't get me wrong, but to win it is something special.''

And then, only then, Lewis will think about what it means to walk off the football field for the final time.

``You feel that confetti drop, I'll probably reflect then, when I'm there,'' he said. ``But, it really hasn't crossed my mind like that.''

San Francisco inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who wears No. 52, has nothing but admiration for Baltimore's No. 52.

``I'm just a big fan of him, period,'' Willis said Thursday. ``Just his enthusiasm on the field, the passion he plays with. I've always been a big fan of those who play with passion, such as Ray Lewis. I know people always want to make comparisons and talk about torches and all this. At the end of the day, I always say I can only be the best player I can be.

``As a fellow linebacker, being at the Pro Bowl and being able to be coached by the same coach (Mike Nolan) at one point in time in our careers, we've become friends. Ray's one of those guys, he loves to give his wisdom and give his knowledge, and I'm the type that I love to listen - anybody who's been there, done that, especially his caliber of player, who's played a long time.''

Lewis has been with the Ravens since 1996, and it wasn't long after his arrival that he became the captain of the defense. As his career went on, he lost a step but made up for it with tireless film study and sharp instincts.

After his rookie year, the only time Lewis didn't get a Pro Bowl invitation were those seasons when he was beset by injury - 2002, 2005 and 2012.

Last year he received his 13th Pro Bowl nod despite missing four games with a foot injury. This season, after tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14, there was a strong possibility he wouldn't be back.

At first, the Ravens believed he was done for the year. But Lewis vowed to return, and his teammates were determined to make it happen.

``We knew we wanted to make the playoffs in order for Ray to have a chance to come back,'' safety Ed Reed said. ``He's that engine, that motor that's going to go all the time. He understands what the offense is trying to do to you when you're talking about the run game. He's calling out plays before they even happen. That's what you really miss when Ray is out.''

Since his return, Lewis has 44 tackles in three games. He isn't limping into retirement; rather, he's headed out with a flourish.

``He's played really well. He's played just like he's always played,'' coach John Harbaugh said.

Lewis attributes his involuntary 10-game absence as the reason behind his resurgence on the field.

``I've always said that anytime you can give your body a true rest - not just your body - anytime you can give your mind a certain rest from the game and from the every week wear and tear, when you come back you come back just as fresh as ever,'' Lewis said. ``For me right now, I feel fresh. My mind is fresh, my body is fresh and I'm just excited to really be able to end the thing up the right way.''

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

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

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In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

Not everyone close to Dennis Pitta was immediately sold on his second NFL comeback attempt. Will his twice-fractured hip hold up? How much is Pitta risking his long-term health?

Pitta has pondered those questions for months. But after the first week of OTA’s, the Ravens’ 30-year-old tight end remained confident he had made the right decision.

“I had to convince a few people, and I’m thankful for those who have been in my corner all along and had my best interests in mind,” Pitta said. “Like I’ve said before, I know my situation better than anyone else, and I’m confident in the decision I made to come back, and certainly there were people who wanted to make sure that I was confident in that decision. I have a great support team behind me, and we all feel good about this move.”

Pitta first fractured his hip during training camp in 2013, then again on a non-contact play against the Browns in 2014. However, Pitta says he doesn’t think about his right hip when he’s on the field. He’s also not lowering his expectations, despite not playing at all in 2015, and not playing a full season since 2012.

Pitta was one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 61 passes for 669 yards during the 2012 regular season, then adding 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Ravens’ playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

Asked if he could return that level of play, Pitta suggested, “Why not?”

“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year. Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play and it’s just a matter of getting those reps back to where I’m confident in doing all of that. So, yes, expectations personally are very high.”

Pitta obviously wasn’t ready to end his career. If he is on the 53-man roster Week 1, it will be a terrific comeback story.

Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

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Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

If you didn't the the Pittsburgh Steelers enough already, this ought to help. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and receiver Antonio Brown decided to take in some hockey on Thursday and unfortunately, they were cheering for the local team.

On the one hand, what do you expect? They play for the Pittsburgh Steelers so it's no surprise to see them cheering for the hometown team. On the other hand, the Steelers are the team Ravens fans all love to hate so to see them supporting the chief rivals of the Washington Capitals, that stings.

Just one more reason to hate the Steelers this football season.

RELATED: SEAN PAYTON SAYS RAVENS LOSING WEEK OF OTAS ISN'T THAT BIG OF A DEAL

Sean Payton says Ravens losing week of OTAs isn't that big of a deal

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Sean Payton says Ravens losing week of OTAs isn't that big of a deal

The Ravens forfeited one week of OTAs as part of their punishment for breaking offseason workout rules (the team dressed players in full pads during rookie minicamp, which is a no-go). But don't worry guys, Saints head coach Sean Payton says that's no biggie. 

Of course a few OTA days seem like peanuts to a guy who was suspended for all of 2012, you may be thinking. But hear the man out.  

During a radio interview with PFT Live, Payton was asked about the impact of losing those sessions. 

I don’t think it’s a big deal. The reason I say that is, look, it doesn’t keep the players from lifting and running and so a week of OTAs would be three on-the-field sessions. You don’t want to lose those opportunities and, shoot, one of those opportunities you might have some type of team building experience set up. I think each team does similar things during the OTAs. There’s a lot of offense versus defense. There’s some restrictions regarding one-on-ones but the players are out there in their element, and they’re going though a little bit of a practice format for two hours. So really that equates to about six hours on the field.

Payton explained that the offseason's first phases are valuable because players return to the facility to work out and build camaraderie.

The Ravens may miss out on practice elements, but they're still getting to do what's most important at this early juncture.