|Five things you have to know about the Ravens||12.17.13 at 7:15 pm ET|
The Patriots will try to close out the AFC East and put a major dent in the playoff hopes of the Ravens when they travel to Baltimore for a Sunday afternoon contest. Here are five things you have to know about the Ravens.
1. They almost always do a really good job at defending Tom Brady.
Old warhorses like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer around, but the Ravens remain are as stout as they come defensively. There are some questions about their ability to close defensively — they’ve allowed 96 points in the fourth quarter this season, the most of any AFC team still in the playoff chase — but there’s still a lot to like about what they’re doing. They’re in the top 10 when it comes to total defense (334 yards per game allowed, ninth-best in the league), run defense (102.4 rush yards per game allowed, seventh-best in the league) and points per game allowed (19.8 per game, seventh-best in the league). They are one team that consistently makes things difficult for Brady, who is 2-3 against them in his last five games. Over the course of his career, the quarterback averages 57 percent when it comes to his completion rate, and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-10 in his career against Baltimore. (According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Ravens have held Brady under 6.8 YPA in six of eight career meetings.) With New England facing a dicey situation when it comes to offensive line depth, particular at tackle, the pressure off the edges will be a concern — old friend Terrell Suggs (9 sacks) figures to have something to say about this one before the week is done, and Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) should also be a handful for the Patriots offensive line.
2. They have almost as much experience playing close games this season as the Patriots.
When the Patriots and Ravens meet Sunday, chances are good that it’ll be a close game. Eleven of the 14 games New England has played this year have been decided by seven points or less, while Baltimore has played in 10 games decided by seven points or less. The Ravens have gone 5-5 in their games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Patriots are 7-4. Baltimore has won their last three games by a total of seven points, which includes Monday’s win over the Lions, a contest that wasn’t decided until Justin Tucker connected on his sixth field goal of the night, a 61-yarder than lifted the Ravens to an 18-16 win. All that comes against a backdrop of almost nothing but close games between these two teams — since 2004, five of the eight games between Patriots and Ravens have been decided by six points or less. Expect another close one come Sunday afternoon.
|Ray Lewis on Aaron Hernandez: ‘New England had to know something’||09.08.13 at 1:11 pm ET|
Newly retired Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis made quite the debut for ESPN on Sunday. During his first appearance on ESPN’s pregame show, Lewis weighed in on Aaron Hernandez and what he believes the Patriots should have known about their former tight end now accused of first-degree murder.
During a roundtable discussion with Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson, Lewis said the Patriots should have sensed that Hernandez, who remains in jail after pleading not guilty following him being arrested and charged with allegedly murdering Odin Lloyd, was headed down the wrong path.
“I want to make sure we clear something up because we have to do this for our brand of the National Football League: Our numbers are very small when it comes to the pain and the crime that happens in everyday America, the numbers of athletes that get in trouble,” Lewis said. “New England had to know something, just like 31 other teams had to know something about Aaron Hernandez’s background, and that’s your red flag. Now, it’s up to you to say, ‘You know what, I’m still going to try that.’”
Jackson then said someone with the Patriots should have had information about Hernandez’s activities from his high school and college days to sound alarm bells.
“Someone had to know this kid was heading toward incarceration,” Jackson said. “I think the mistake they made the thought was if we give him the money is it will help to straighten him out. But when they gave him the money, he only spiraled further out of control because he had the money.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on hand in Orchard Park for the Patriots’ season opener, has said he and the organization were “duped” by Hernandez when they signed him to a $40 million contract extension before the 2012 season.
|Catching up with … the Ravens||08.07.13 at 9:25 am ET|
As we count down to the start of preseason games, we take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints, Steelers, Panther, Broncos, Texans and Browns. Now, we wrap up with the Ravens.
Specifics: Christmas is coming early for Patriots fans, who get to watch the team visit the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens in another prime-time matchup on Dec. 22.
Say goodbye to … linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, defensive back Ed Reed, defensive back Bernard Pollard, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, defensive end Paul Kruger, defensive back Cary Williams.
Welcome … defensive end Elvis Dumervil, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, linebacker Rolando McClain, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Daryl Smith, linebacker Arthur Brown, defensive back Michael Huff.
Recent history: The game most prevalent in everyone’s mind will be, of course, Baltimore’s 28-13 win in the AFC championship last January. The Patriots’ 13-7 halftime lead quickly evaporated as Joe Flacco threw for three second-half touchdowns en route to the Ravens outscoring the Pats 21-0 in the final two quarters.
Playoffs included, the teams have split their six games since the start of the 2009 season. New England last came out on top in the January 2012 AFC championship, when Tom Brady — who threw for 239 yards and no touchdowns — ran it in from one yard out for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The Patriots should be worried because … well, you never want to discount the defending champs, right? Baltimore will be without a number of its biggest names on defense from a year ago — Lewis, Reed, Ellerbe and Pollard among them — but the Ravens re-tooled and could be even better this time around. They added Dumervil, a Pro Bowler, took Elam and Brown in the draft’s top two rounds and signed a reliable veteran in Huff. Just a few weeks into training camp, the defensive corps’ early showing has Ravens players and coaches alike clamoring about the potential.
The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … in tearing apart its Super Bowl-winning core, the Ravens also lost significant contributors in its passing game. They traded Boldin to the 49ers, then lost Dennis Pitta for the year due to a hip injury, and now are facing Ed Dickson missing time with a hamstring tear. As it is right now, Torrey Smith is the No. 1 receiver with Jacoby Jones backing him up. Flacco, who despite signing a six-year, $120.6 million contract still is in the middle of the pack in terms of quarterback rating, completion percentage and yards per game, could have some trouble.
The skinny: The average margin of victory in the teams’ last nine games spanning the last decade is eight points, with five of those contests being decided by a field goal or less. The personnel has changed aplenty in that time, of course, but the message should be to sit back and enjoy the ride. January’s season-ending loss could serve the Patriots well in the motivation department.
|Heath Evans on M&M: Deer-antler spray ‘nothing, and I mean nothing’ like PEDs||02.01.13 at 12:00 pm ET|
NFL Network analyst Heath Evans spoke with Mut & Merloni from New Orleans Friday about his own use of the velvet deer antler substance Ray Lewis reportedly used, how it differs from traditional steroids, and how the Ravens can beat Colin Kaepernick.
Evans said he has been taking the deer antler substance in tablet form, which is stronger than the spray, and that it’s made a significant difference in his cognitive function since he retired from football.
“I’ve had ADD since I was born, but probably only in 2009, 2010 – I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concern about maybe some of the cognitive stuff, just stuff you shouldn’t forget,” Evans said. “And over the last six months since I’ve been taking the velvet deer antler tablets, I sleep. I rest. I recall on-air on NFL Network, being sent downstairs at night by Beth and not forgetting what she sent me down there for.”
“I’m, like, the least psychosomatic person in the world,” he went on. “The chips that [SWATS co-owner Mitch Ross] put on people’s wrists so they run faster and bench more, they didn’t work for me. And I think there are a lot of psychosomatic athletes, and I would not represent that product of his. But the deer antler was something I was introduced to in 2008 by a good friend of mine that runs Garden of Life, the multi-hundred billion dollar company, and I saw some good, actual things come out of it.
“I don’t use notes on air anymore. If I do, it’s once a week or it’s a longer-working subject. Last year, I was almost strapped to my notes at times.”
Evans said if Lewis did take the deer antler spray, it’s not worthy of the PED discussion it’s drawn.
“The PED word, steroids and all that nonsense – this is nothing, and I mean nothing, like that,” Evans said. “If that helped Ray recover, it was minimalistic. It probably did have some effects, but it was because Ray dieted perfect. He rested perfect. He did everything else they told him to do. He had surgery and he took care of his body, and he probably wasn’t out drinking and smoking and doing a lot of the stuff other NFL players do, and his body responded, because our bodies are amazing when we treat them right.”
Boomer Esiason called in from New Orleans to talk with Dennis & Callahan about the state of the 49ers and Ravens as they head into the Super Bowl, and whether the Ravens’ intangibles or the 49ers’ talent will prevail.
In a week filled with off-field news items about Ravens and 49ers players, Esiason said he doubts the accusations of PED use will slow down Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, but that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver seems shaken up by the media attention he’s gained this week for an anti-gay remark.
“Given all that Ray Lewis has been through, from the double murder back in 2000 to all of his gyrations during games and all of the publicity that’s he’s gotten, that’s the last thing that they worry about,” Esiason said.
“Now, on the other side, Culliver, who made the anti-gay statement, he was really uncomfortable and really felt badly about what he said. I don’t necessarily know that he understood the enormity of what he said. His situation’s a little bit different, and he’s probably going to carry that a little into the game, because I really felt that he he looked very very embarrassed and overwhelmed by the whole dust-up that his comments created.”
Asked about Ravens safety Ed Reed, whom Bill Belichick admires, Esiason said he could see Reed aiming to play with a quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning assuming he leaves the Ravens as a free agent this offseason.
“I’m sure that Ed Reed probably loves this experience that he’s having with the Baltimore Ravens right now,” Esiason said. “I would think he’d be willing to take a little less money — I imagine, I don’t want to put words in his mouth — to play for one of those franchises for a chance at a Super Bowl ring.”
Esiason’s Super Bowl prediction was a tight, defense-dominated battle: “This game should be a fourth-quarter game. It should be a relatively tight game. It should stay in the 20s. I’d be really shocked if somebody scores 30 points in this game, unless there’s some breakdown on special teams, which I really don’t expect.”
|Mike Florio on D&C: ‘Virtually impossible’ for Patriots to live up to dynasty expectations||01.22.13 at 12:25 pm ET|
Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots in the wake of their loss to the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC championship game.
The Patriots continue to be successful in the regular season, but they have not won a Super Bowl since 2005.
“Every NFL team is a challenge. There’s so much parity now that the gap between the best team and the worst team is narrower than ever before,” Florio said. “It’s just the reality that when you get to the postseason, it’s so intense and everybody is reaching for that brass ring. To be in the conversation every year — you think back over the last decade, there’s only one year where the Patriots haven’t qualified for the postseason, and they were 11-5 without Tom Brady that year.
“This is a team that is consistently knocking on the door, and you get spoiled by that run of success early on. Those three Super Bowls in four years set a standard for the franchise, a standard for Bill Belichick, a standard for Tom Brady that it’s just virtually impossible to continue that. Every other ‘dynasty’ we’ve seen fades at some point not long after winning their last Super Bowl. These guys haven’t faded. They continue to hang around. They continue to get to the final four. They continue to get to the Super Bowl. The only problem is they haven’t won one in eight years and counting.”
Wes Welker, who had eight receptions for 117 yards and the lone Patriots touchdown on Sunday, again enters the offseason with uncertainty, as his contract is up.
“He falls into the category of a veteran player who’s going to have to see what else is out there before he realizes whether or not he’ll take what the Patriots are offering,” Florio said. “The risk that you take as the Patriots is that there’ll be some team that has an owner who decides to make what could be a bad football decision but what definitely is a good business decision and jump on Wes Welker for the name recognition, to have the press conference in March where you hold up the new jersey and you get people excited and you get them to buy tickets, and maybe you can also hurt a division rival if you’re the Bills, the Jets or the Dolphins — not that any of those three teams are going to go after him. But that would be the kind of formula — a team willing to spend more than the Patriots will spend and a team willing to maybe make what would be a bad decision because maybe Welker isn’t the same guy in any other offense.”
Added Florio: “Those teams that would make good football sense also have good business sense. They’re not going to go out and overpay Wes Welker. Now, the question is, would he take less money to go somewhere else? If he got to the point where he doesn’t want to play for the Patriots — I haven’t sensed that. He got paid a heck of a lot of money in 2012. He still had a good season. He’s still got some gas in the tank, but does he want to stay with the Patriots, with Tom Brady, with Bill Belichick? Nationally, people just assume that everybody in that locker room has a Super Bowl ring. Wes Welker doesn’t have one. The vast majority of those guys don’t have one, they’re still pushing for their first one, so there’s still a sense of unfinished business I would assume that Wes Welker has after completing his six seasons with the Patriots.”
|Wes Welker’s wife apologizes for anti-Ray Lewis Facebook post||01.21.13 at 8:46 pm ET|
Anna Burns Welker, the wife of Patriots receiver Wes Welker, apologized Monday after putting up a Facebook post Sunday night that mocked Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis‘ questionable past.
In a post on her Facebook page (via The Big Lead) following Sunday’s AFC championship game, Anna Burns Welker wrote:
Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis‘ Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!
Burns Welker released a statement on Monday afternoon (via Larry Brown Sports:
I’m deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook. I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday’s game.
It is such an accomplishment for any team to make it to the NFL playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the accomplishments of both of these amazing teams.
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