Weather is blustery but focused Broncos aren't

Weather is blustery but focused Broncos aren't

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Try as they might, the Baltimore Ravens just couldn't get under the skin or into the heads of the Denver Broncos, who were more concerned about talking up their opponents than trash-talking them.

Most of the Ravens were exceedingly complimentary of the Broncos this week, but some spent time excusing their 34-17 home loss to Denver last month with dismissals ranging from the soon-to-retire Ray Lewis and several others being out of the lineup to the Broncos' receivers pushing off too much.

Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said after Baltimore's emotional wild-card win that the Ravens were glad to get another shot at Denver.

Asked how it will be any different than last time, he declared, ``We'll make it different.''

``I wanted Denver, because they beat us,'' said Boldin, who was shut out in the first meeting, a game in which the Broncos breezed to a 31-3 lead and cruised to the finish.

The Broncos, not big on bravado all season, shrugged it all off.

``We beat them, so of course they want to play us again,'' cornerback Chris Harris said. ``We're up for the challenge.''

Those were about the brashest statements that came out of the Broncos locker room all week.

Not exactly a Pacquiao-Marquez pre-fight smack down.

``It's going to be a tough game,'' running back Knowshon Moreno said. ``It's not going to be easy.''

Fans aren't buying it, and oddsmakers have installed the top-seeded Broncos (13-3) as more than a touchdown favorite. They haven't lost in three months, are coming off a bye and playing at altitude against a team playing on a short week.

Although quarterback Joe Flacco has four road playoff wins on his resume, the Ravens were a mediocre 4-4 this season on the road, where he threw just seven of his 24 touchdown passes.

Then, there's Peyton Manning. Although he's 0-3 lifetime in cold weather in the playoffs - Saturday's high will hover around 20 degrees with some snow expected - he's beaten the Ravens (11-6) nine straight times, including twice in the playoffs.

He's been stellar with that glove on his right hand the last two weeks in preparation for the wintry weather and as a concession to the altered feel of his grip following four neck surgeries. With the glove, his completion percentage has been almost 6 points better and his passer rating almost 20 points higher than without it.

The Broncos aren't taking anything for granted, though. They pointed out all week that the last time they played, the Ravens were without Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshal Yanda, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and tight end Ed Dickson, all of whom will be available Saturday.

``So, this will be a completely different game, a completely different test,'' Broncos coach John Fox said.

Manning said he didn't have any reaction to the Ravens saying they were eager for a chance to atone for that lopsided loss.

``I know they have some guys back that did not play in the first game,'' Manning said, noting this is certainly the time of year you want to be healthy. ``... Those guys make a difference for their team. They made a difference for their team on Sunday holding their opponent to zero touchdowns. It's an excellent defense, really no matter who's in there, in my opinion, but certainly when they have all their other guys back, they're extremely tough.''

Joining the praise parade, Broncos safety Rahim Moore gushed this week about swapping jerseys with his hero, Baltimore Pro Bowler Ed Reed, after last month's game, and Champ Bailey pumped up Lewis, saying, ``I know he's going to miss the game, but I think the game will miss him more because there's nobody like him.''

Following a 12-week layoff with a torn right biceps, Lewis led the Ravens with 13 tackles to spark an emotional win over Indianapolis in the final home game of his spectacular 17-year career last week. The 37-year-old middle linebacker intends to retire after Baltimore completes its playoff run.

A marquee at a Denver hotel not far from Sports Authority Field reads: ``Join us for Ray Lewis' retirement party at 2 p.m. Saturday.''

The Broncos would cringe at such braggadocio.

The weather may be blustery but they certainly aren't, pointing out repeatedly that the Ravens are the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, and they've won at least one game in each of those trips. They've also had a month to get used to Jim Caldwell calling offensive plays after his discombobulated debut against Denver on Dec. 16.

Of course, not all the Ravens were boastful or bombastic this week; several had high praise for the Broncos - and the Broncos brushed off those compliments, too, lest they lose their focus.

``I don't really buy into all that mental warfare and all that stuff,'' linebacker Von Miller said. ``I just like to get between the lines and just play football. I think that's where you can settle the score, on the football field.''

Notes: Fox said RB Willis McGahee didn't have any setbacks this week. If the Broncos beat Baltimore and he continues to progress next week, he'll be eligible to return for the AFC championship, two months after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. ... RG Zane Beadles said a big reason for his breakout season was his work with a sports psychologist last spring.

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

MORE RAVENS: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

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