Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

RAVENS QUICK HITS: Feeling hot, hot, hot

With 69 points in two games, the Ravens have scored more points in consecutive games than in any two-game period in franchise history since 2005. ... Harbaugh was complimentary of quarterback Joe Flacco, for smartly taking a nine-yard sack in the fourth quarter to keep the clock running prior to Steve Hauschka's 33-yard field goal. "Rather than throwing it away or risking a fumble, Joe holds onto it and takes a sack," Harbaugh said. "That keeps the clocking rolling and forces them to take a timeout." ...

Atop the AFC North, the Ravens aren't thrilled that they're being labeled by former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci as the team to beat in the AFC. "We don't care, we don't particularly want that," Harbaugh said. "That's not a place we're comfortable with. It's early, but I'm proud of our football team. They won a tough game on the road, early in the season." ...

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs bumped Sproles on his 81-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield, but help never came as Sproles went untouched on his way to the end zone. "When you play man coverage against a good back like that, sometimes you put a call on to try to knock those guys off and slow them down a little bit," Harbaugh said. "And Suggs tried to do that. They got us caught up in the man coverage on a switch and he came free. That was unfortunate. They caught us." ...

The Ravens haven't been using fourth wide receiver Demetrius Williams much with the emergence of third receiver Kelley Washington, who caught a touchdown against San Diego. "We've been in three receiver sets, he's been the fourth receiver," Harbaugh said. "When we feel like he's ready to help us win a game based on the situation, he'll be out there. He's worked really hard. You don't put on 12, 15 pounds of muscle mass in the last year that he's done to get himself ready to play if you're not a hard-working guy. I think without question he'll be a big part of the plans the next few weeks." ...

The Ravens didn't agree with the offsides penalty on rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher where an official stopped the play as center Matt Birk was getting ready to snap the ball. "I made a call this morning," Harbaugh said. "That was a really well-officiated game. That would be one that we weren't too sure about. We'll give them one, I guess, but they did a good job." ...

Harbaugh chose his words carefully when asked about former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's New York Jets' upset win over the New England Patriots. "I've got to be careful on that," he said. "How this thing shakes out, we're going to be rooting for the Ravens all the way through and it looks like the Jets are going to be a big part of that just like Rex said they would. We're not surprised. We've come to pretty much believe everything Rex says." ...

The Ravens had some trouble with cramping with strong safety Dawan Landry getting an IV on the sideline to replenish his fluids. "Our guys were doing fine until they put the thermometer up on the big scoreboard and it showed 108 degrees," Harbaugh said. "All of a sudden, our guys were dying. That was psychology or something going on there, but they started cramping toward the end."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why the Ravens missed on Baskett

WHY NO BASKETT?: The Ravens were heavily involved in discussions with free agent wide receiver Hank Baskett before he signed with the Indianapolis Colts.They made trade inquiries about him before he was placed on waivers by the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, they were in talks with Baskett the night prior to him signing with the Colts.

The Colts had an edge as far as having more time to get the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder acclimated to their offense with a Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins.

"Hank Baskett was a consideration," Harbaugh said. "We talked to Hank the night before it happened. In my opinion, Hank would have come here. He pretty much made that clear. Hank and I have a great relationship."Ultimately, the Ravens decided that it would have been tough to get Baskett up to speed in time for the Chargers game. Plus, the Colts really needed a receiver badly in light of Anthony Gonzalez’s two-month knee injury."

The Colts had an advantage of one more day,” Harbaugh said. “Their advantage was their opportunity to get Hank up and playing this week was much better than ours was. He wouldn’t have been here to practice until Thursday or Friday."

That was a little tougher for us to make a decision because when you bring somebody up, you’ve got to let somebody go. The most important thing for us this week was going to be the Chargers game. We had to keep that foremost. We tried to pull it off, but the fact that they play Monday night was the key."

LJ Smith ready to go v. Chargers?

Tight end L.J. Smith is optimistic that he might play Sunday after being sidelined since late August with a pulled left hamstring.He’s listed as questionable and is expected to be a game-time decision, and will see how warm-ups go before a determination is made on his status.

"I feel like I’ve made enough progress that I feel pretty good about my chances," Smith said Friday. "This was the most work I’ve had all week and it feels good. I’m right there. I had a good week."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh echoed that sentiment. He’s of the opinion that Smith is closing in on being ready to play.

"I would say that L.J. improved dramatically, especially in the last two days," Harbaugh said. "He was full participation, as far as I could tell. I don’t know exactly the number of reps he took. He’s got a chance to be ready to go. It was good to see."

Vincent Jackson is a beast!

All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates isn’t the only formidable weapon in the San Diego Chargers’ arsenal. The Baltimore Ravens also have to account for imposing Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.Jackson represents a challenge with his uncommon blend of size at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.

"He’s a big receiver who can run and he’s always been a tough matchup for cornerbacks, especially the smaller corners," Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington said. "There’s always things you can do to make those matchups favorable. They’re going to do what they think they can do best, and we’re going to do what we think we can do best."

Jackson caught five passes for 56 yards, including an acrobatic touchdown catch, in the opening game against the Oakland Raiders. For his career, he has registered 135 receptions for 2,289 yards and 17 touchdowns. Last season, he caught a career-high 59 passes for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns.And his size tends to create mismatches outside. So, the Ravens will need to generate a pass rush to disrupt Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers’ timing.

"It’s going to come down to technique," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Poor corners, people think it’s them. You’ve got to pressure. They can only do that for so long. Our defensive line and our linebackers feel that same kind of responsibility."

The problem with defending someone as big and athletic as Jackson is he’s virtually always open just by the simple fact of his ability to muscle and out leap smaller defensive backs for the football.He’s a bully out there.

"I’ve played against him quite a few times and Vince has a ton of talent," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He’s definitely big and pretty fast for his size, but you can’t have it all. He can’t do everything. We have to use what we do better."

During a fourth quarter Kansas City Chiefs scoring drive against Baltimore last Sunday, the Chiefs drove 80 yards on six plays with every play coming through the air.Plus, the Ravens had a breakdown in coverage against the Chiefs when Washington allowed a 50-yard catch to Mark Bradley where he was a step behind and missed on a swipe at the ball.

"That play was tough from start to finish and bad on my end," Washington said. "I knew what I did wrong as soon as the ball was snapped. I didn’t get a hand on him. Then, I was stumbling the whole way. He made a good catch. I hate that it happened, but it happened."

Tomlinson out v. Ravens

SAN DIEGO — LaDainian Tomlinson has been ruled out of the San Diego Chargers’ home opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday due to a sprained ankle, just the second time the star running back will miss a start due to injury in his brilliant nine-year career.

The former NFL MVP, who was hurt in Monday night’s 24-20 win at Oakland, hadn’t missed a game due to injury until January, when a groin injury kept him out of a playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.Tomlinson’s carries will go to Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett, a late-season addition last year who made the roster out of training camp.

Also out are center Nick Hardwick (ankle) and defensive end Travis Johnson (groin). Right guard Louis Vasquez (knee) could also be sidelined, along with linebacker Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jamal Williams (elbow). All three are listed as questionable for Sunday.Hardwick will be replaced by Scott Mruczkowski.

If Vasquez can’t go, Brandyn Dombrowski will get his first NFL start.The Chargers have the wrong opponent to not be at full strength. They expect a tough, physical game against the hard-nosed Ravens, who advanced to last season’s AFC championship game before losing to the Steelers.The previous year it was the Chargers getting one win away from the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots.

“You’ve got two teams that are awfully good and see themselves as being pretty good,” coach Norv Turner said Friday. “They are a very physical football team and we are a physical football team. So I think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup. We both have aspirations of doing something very special. Both teams would like to have the kind of year to get there again.”

Both squads are coming off close wins over AFC West opponents. The Chargers beat Oakland 24-20 and the Ravens beat the visiting Kansas City Chiefs 38-24.

“I think playing in our home stadium is big for us,” Turner said.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ravens bring back tight end into nest

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens signed rookie tight end Davon Drew to the practice squad, reclaiming their fifth-round draft pick after he received an injury settlement recently from the Miami Dolphins.

Drew tried out for the Ravens on Monday.

Drew was claimed off waivers by the Dolphins after the Ravens cut him during their final major roster cutdown, which prevented Baltimore from placing him on their practice squad.

Days later, Drew was cut loose by the Dolphins after just one practice. Drew replaces tight end Isaac Smolko on the practice squad.

Drew failed the Ravens' conditioning test when he reported to training camp and dealt with a sprained ankle throughout the preseason.

Drew was one of two Ravens draft picks to be claimed by other teams with running back Cedric Peerman claimed by the Cleveland Browns. A converted quarterback, Drew was named All-Conference USA twice.

Also, offensive lineman Brian Johnson received an injury settlement from the Ravens.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Ravens O-Line finding its groove

OWINGS MILLS -- Joe Flacco hardly had a hair out of place, let alone any collection of bumps and bruises following the Baltimore Ravens' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The quarterback was only sacked once while managing to throw a career-high three touchdown passes as he dropped back to throw a career-high 43 passes.

According to the official game book, Flacco was only hit one time. It wasn't by happenstance.

Two new starters made their regular-season debuts in Baltimore as center Matt Birk and rookie right offensive tackle Michael Oher. However, the timing and cohesiveness of the blocking was well above-average during a 38-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Well, the protection is where it starts," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during his weekly Monday press conference. "That's why we've made some of the decisions we've made. We said from the first day that everything starts upfront on both sides of the ball.

"So, the priority is building an offensive line, the priority is building a defensive line and you kind of work back from there. But it sure starts in the core and the offensive line played really well."

The lone sack was allowed by left offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who was beaten on a speed rush by former first-round pick Tamba Hali.

Other than that, it was a pristine outing.

The Ravens racked up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense, grinding out 198 yards on the ground and controlled the clock for 39 minutes and 49 seconds.

"That's what we're trying to build here, a physical offense, a grind it out kind of offense" Oher said. "I think we're doing a great job. We've just got to keep on fighting.

"Our coach stays on us about a lot of things, playing fast. I wouldn't say the speed was that overwhelming."

Oher handled his assignments adeptly in his first NFL start.

At times, the mobile first-round draft pick manhandled the Chiefs' front seven. He played aggressively throughout the contest against a 3-4 alignment.

"He played really well, but there are a lot of things he can do better," Harbaugh said. "For a rookie coming out for the first time, facing that odd front, he did a nice job."

And Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl center with the Minnesota Vikings who signed with Baltimore during the offseason, did a nice job of making the line calls and controlling the Chiefs' interior defensive linemen.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this offense, a part of this team," Birk said. "The best thing I like about this offense is we work hard. We've got guys that want to work, want to be great."

Regardless of whether it was running backs Ray Rice (108 yards) and Willis McGahee (44 yards, one touchdown run) or fullback Le'Ron McClain (one touchdown run), there were large holes to run through.

In particular, the right side tandem of Oher and guard Chris Chester cleared some big pathways. Especially with their seal blocks on Rice's 22-yard run that set up McClain's one-yard touchdown plunge.

"The thing about the offensive line is, we have to block the same for all of them," Oher said. "Whoever is back there, it’s like a three-headed monster. They are some great backs. We just have to do the same thing, no matter what.”

When Flacco dropped back to pass on his game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Clayton, he had sufficient breathing room to let Clayton's post pattern develop and release the football despite the presence of a heavy blitz package.

"We kind of called the play for that," Flacco said. "What they did there, we expected them to do. Mark did a great job at the top of his route. The offensive line did a great job of protecting the gaps and giving me just enough time to get the ball off."

Photo by Sabina Moran

Baskett release by Eagles, not likely to land in Baltimore

OWINGS MILLS -- The Philadelphia Eagles cut wide receiver Hank Baskett after activating quarterback Michael Vick from the exempt list.

Baskett could possibly draw interest from Baltimore because of his ability as a reserve receiver and special-teams player, but has to clear waivers as a vested veteran. The Ravens have a low-ranking waiver priority after making it to the AFC championship game last year, so Baskett will probably wind up somewhere else.

The Ravens are less inclined to pursue wide receivers now after a strong opening game from that group against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Along with Eagles receiver Reggie Brown, Baskett had been linked to the Ravens in trade speculation.

Baskett caught one pass for six yards in the first game and has 72 career receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns during four NFL seasons.

Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, who tried out for the Ravens last week, tried out for the St. Louis Rams on Tuesday.

Tyree remains unsigned as the Rams agreed to terms with former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ruvell Martin after working him out as well as former Tennessee Titans receiver Chris Davis and former New Orleans Sants receiver Skyler Green.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ravens Notebook: Rice, McGahee tandem piling up yards

Ravens hold Larry Johnson to 20 yards

BALTIMORE -- Even with the aerial show the Baltimore Ravens put on during a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, they haven't abandoned their trademark smash-mouth running game.

The running back tandem of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee provided more than enough yards to keep the Chiefs honest during the Ravens' 38-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as Baltimore rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

Rice rushed for 108 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard run on a sweep down to the Chiefs' 1-yard line that set up Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain's touchdown plunge.

"A hundred yards doesn't come easy," Rice said. "We were getting five or six yards at a time and then those five or six-yard runs started turning into 15-yard runs and 10-yard runs and 20-yard runs.

"That's what good teams do. On top of all the good passing, you can look at our running game and say we did pretty good."

McGahee caught a touchdown in the first half and rushed for a fourth-quarter touchdown to cap the Ravens' scoring, gaining 44 yards on 10 carries.

The former Pro Bowl runner endured the worst season of his career last year statistically as he dealt with knee, ankle, rib and eye injuries and didn't mesh well with the coaching staff.

Now, he's definitely a part of the offense again in a complementary role behind Rice.
"They took care of me in training camp, I'm glad they did that," McGahee said. "With me and Ray rotating in and out, it keeps them off-balance. We're unstoppable."

CONTAINING LJ: The Ravens definitely hadn't forgotten that Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was the last runner to eclipse the century mark against them.

Johnson rushed for over 100 yards in a 20-10 Baltimore win on Dec. 10, 2006.

The Ravens' rebuttal was a convincing one as Johnson rushed for only 20 yards on 11 carries.

The Ravens own the longest current streak in the NFL of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, a 36-game streak.

"We kind of owed him one," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "To win, you need to shut down the run. We also wanted to keep that streak alive, so we did what we do best. We anchored down and stopped the run."

Johnson's longest run was just seven yards.

"It was great that we were able to keep Larry Johnson contained and make them a one-dimensional offense," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.

And the Chiefs finished with just 29 rushing yards on 17 carries, an average of 1.7 yards per attempt.

Our No. 1 goal is to stop the run," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He was the last one to run for 100 yards. He's a stud. We were looking to stop those guys."

HE'S BACK: Nose guard Kelly Gregg recorded four tackles and two assists, tying middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the most tackles.

It marked Gregg's first regular-season game back on the field after missing last season when he underwent microfracture knee surgery.

"It's good to be back," Gregg said. "I was down and out. These guys, they always talked to me last year and kept me going. I'll tell you, it's just good to get back and get a win with these guys. Just go lights out and hopefully good things will happen.”

FIRST TIMERS: The Ravens are excited about their improvements in the offensive line.
It was the first regular-season start in Baltimore for six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and rookie right tackle Michael Oher.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this offense, a part of this team," Birk said. "The best thing I like about this offense is we work. We've got guys that want to work, want to be great."

A first-round draft pick from Ole Miss, Oher actually seemed to fare better than left tackle Jared Gaither.

He seemed to maintain his composure and had some good blocks on running plays as he ran interference for Rice and McGahee.

"I did all right, but my technique can get a lot better and I can discipline myself a lot better on some things," Oher said. "It’s all correctable.

“Our coach stays on us about a lot of things, playing fast. I wouldn’t say the speed was that overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, Gaither had some issues keeping up with Chiefs pass rusher Tamba Hali.
Hali had five tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.

"He's definitely a great player and a great defensive end," Gaither said. "He did well. He was a tough matchup."

NOT IMPRESSED: Despite the Ravens generating a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wasn't entirely pleased.

He was looking for greater efficiency even though Baltimore converted all four red-zone opportunities and converted 10 of 17 third downs for a 59 percent efficiency.

"We're trying to score, score and take care of the football," Cameron said. "I think we still left a lot of points out there. I'm not a big yards guy.

"I'm concerned about scoring points and taking care of the football. It wasn't a record for points, was it?"

What pleased Cameron the most was how the Ravens came through in the clutch with three consecutive scores to close out the game.

"I'm excited because our guys made drives at the end," Cameron said. "Our guys scored on the last three drives. That's the most impressive part to me."

MOVING THE BALL: How impressive was the Ravens first -quarter scoring drive? Seven different Ravens ran or caught a pass in the 13-play, 70-yard drive.

Cameron credited Kansas City’s special teams with pinning the Ravens back.

Dustin Colquitt, one of the NFL’s best, shanked a punt for 28 yards, but still averaged 47 yards a kick.

“They did a great job making us go a long way,” Cameron said. “I don't know how long those drives were. Their kicking game, their punter, did a good job in making us go, 65, 70, 80 yards--and score from that length consistently."

HIT IN THE WALLET COMING?: Johnson is expecting to be fined by the league office after being penalized for roughing the passer when he lightly grazed quarterback Brodie Croyle's helmet from behind with his forearm.

"I probably will," said Johnson, who registered a career-high two sacks. "You're going for the strip and your arm is going over. I thought I hit him in the neck.
"I talked to the official and if you get a piece of the helmet, you're getting a flag. That's just the way it is. They're going to err on the side of caution. You have to accept that."

INJURY UPDATE: Starting inside linebacker Tavares Gooden left the game in the third quarter with a mild right knee sprain and was helped off the field by two trainers.
X-rays were negative, though, and no ligaments were torn.

After going to the locker room to be examined, Gooden returned to the sideline to ride on an exercise bike. However, he didn't return to the game and was replaced by Jameel McClain.

"It looks like it's going to be okay," Harbaugh said. "It looks like a sprain, we'll see."

Strong safety Tom Zbikowski left the game with a concussion in the first half and didn't return, but it's not considered to be serious.

Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo didn't aggravate his sprained right toe, but did bruise his knee. He limped off the field, but returned.

"I banged the outside of my knee," Ayanbadejo said. "In the NFL, we don't like to wear pads. I came off the field and made sure the doctor looked at it immediately and made sure all of my structures are sound. It was like a charley horse on the bone."

In his first full game back since returning from a strained heel, Suggs left the game for a short time in the first half when he collided with free safety Ed Reed.
"Me and Ed Reed hit each other in the head," Suggs said. "It's liable to happen like that, but I got right back in there. No biggie. I was a little woozy. I was a little dazed, but I just shrugged it off."

McGAHEE RUNS AND CATCHES: McGahee’s first-quarter touchdown was the 40th of his career, but just his second score on a reception.

“I always knew I had the ability to catch the ball,” McGahee said. “I just never had the opportunity to take advantage of it.”

McGahee thinks that quarterback Joe Flacco has improved enormously in his second year.

“He’s more confident,” McGahee said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

QUICK HITS: A moment of silence was observed before kickoff in memory of former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered in July in Nashville, Tenn. by his girlfriend. ... The Ravens deactivated tight end L.J. Smith (pulled hamstring), John Beck (third quarterback), running back Jalen Parmele, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained medial collateral ligament), offensive tackles Oniel Cousins (sprained ankle) and Tony Moll, nose guard Brandon McKinney and rookie outside linebacker-defensive end Paul Kruger. ... The Chiefs deactivated quarterback Matt Cassel (sprained left medial collateral ligament), quarterback Matt Gutierrez, cornerback Brandon Flowers (shoulder), running back Dantrell Savage, center-guard Andy Alleman, tight end Jake O'Connell and linebackers Turk McBride and Pierre Walters. ... Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was on the Ravens' sideline before the game. ... Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, was on the sidelines. "He calmed me down one time," Harbaugh said. "He's got a good big picture of the game and a good feel for the game. I think it's important to take that perspective if it's down there. He would have wanted to run the dive option." ... Former NFL offensive coordinator Al Saunders is helping the Ravens on a consultant basis. "Al is in a consulting kind of role," Harbaugh said. "He has become a valuable part of what we're doing." ... The 38 points represents the most the Ravens have scored in an opening game in franchise history.

Ravens finish off Chiefs with Flacco

BALTIMORE -- In a major departure from a past built around an intimidating defense and a punishing running game, the Baltimore Ravens managed to win through a fairly unprecedented method.

When quarterback Joe Flacco lobbed a perfect spiral into the outstretched hands of wide receiver Mark Clayton with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter for a 31-yard game-winning touchdown to beat a heavy blitz, it represented a watershed change from the past when the Ravens were unable to generate a win through the air in pivotal situations.

In this case, Flacco's strong right arm helped the Ravens pile up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense to manufacture a 38-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs to open the season before 71,099 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Flacco established career-highs with 307 passing yards and three touchdown passes with one interception, completing 26 of a career-high 43 passes for a 95.8 quarterback

"It's awesome," Flacco said. "It's so much fun. As a quarterback, that's what you want to do. You want to sit back there, let your offensive line take care of you and give the ball to your receivers."

It's the most yards produced by Baltimore since gaining 479 yards on Nov. 19, 2000 against the Dallas Cowboys. It's the Ravens' most first downs ever with 32, breaking their old record of 29 set during their inaugural season in 1996 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"This is a new year, a new offense, a new mentality," Clayton said. "We are kind of remaking ourselves."

It's also the first win by the Ravens in Baltimore over Kansas City after three previous losses.

And it probably doesn't happen without Flacco's ability to pick apart the Chiefs' secondary, or his elusiveness on a three-yard touchdown pass to running back Willis McGahee in the first quarter as he had some nifty moves to avoid the pass rush for several seconds before flipping the football to McGahee.

"He's got great command," center Matt Birk said. "His demeanor is just perfect. He's just steady as she goes."

Between Flacco's composure and quick-strike capability and the defense stonewalling Chiefs running back Larry Johnson as he was held to 20 rushing yards on 11 carries, the Ravens (1-0) were able to overcome a sloppy special-teams outing as they allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown and new kicker Steve Hauschka pushed a 41-yard field goal try wide of the target.

Still, the fact remains that the Chiefs are a 2-14 team from last season that was playing without starting quarterback Matt Cassel due to a sprained left medial collateral ligament and going with Brodie Croyle under center. He's still winless as a starter, but kept the Chiefs in contention with two touchdown passes as he completed 16 of 24 passes with no interceptions.

As free safety Ed Reed said while trudging up the tunnel into the locker room, "It shouldn't have been that hard, man."

The game was tied at 17-17 on Ryan Succop's 53-yard fourth-quarter field goal after Croyle hit wide receiver Mark Bradley with a 50-yard pass behind cornerback Fabian Washington as Washington was running with Bradley and couldn't make a play on the ball.

The Ravens immediately responded with a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive keyed by a 25-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap.

Running back Ray Rice's 22-yard run on a sweep to the right got Baltimore down to the 1-yard line to set up Pro Bowl fullback LeRon McClain's one-yard touchdown run for a 24-17 advantage.

Then, the Chiefs responded with a pair of receptions to Dwayne Bowe prior to tight end Sean Ryan's 10-yard touchdown catch.

Linebacker Derrick Johnson returned a Flacco interception 70 yards to set up one Kansas City touchdown.

"We let them hang around," Flacco said. "They're pretty much a new team, and they had something to prove. We had to make sure we were on top of our game, stayed calm, staying poised. We did a good job of doing that, and that's why I think we pulled it out in the end.

"We wanted to put the ball in the air, at least early on in the game. See what we could do from there. That was pretty much the game plan. It's awesome."

Flacco consistently kept the offense moving as he picked out several different targets, including Clayton for five receptions and 77 yards in his first game back from a strained left hamstring and Heap for five receptions, 74 yards and a nine-yard score.

It was the first 300-yard passing game of Flacco's career and his most pass attempts ever.
"I think there's going to be many more of those to come," Heap said. "We just saw the emergence. We just saw the beginning of what he's capable of."

"Whether we end up throwing more when it's all said and done, there is no way to predict that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think that we'll be capable of throwing the ball probably in more ways this year than we did last year."

Plus, the Ravens rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries as Rice produced his second 100-yard game of his career as he rushed for 108 yards on 19 carries. A former Pro Bowl runner, McGahee rushed for a one-yard touchdown to give the Ravens some breathing room with 31 seconds to play.

"It wasn't pretty, but it was us," Rice said. "For three quarters, it was tight. We faced adversity. If you face stuff like this early, you go home and correct it. I think we established a home character.

"We play like Ravens, we never quit. Nothing fazes us. We could've easily cracked when they went ahead. I know when I got out there, there wasn't a doubt that we were going to move the ball."

Flacco had some inaccurate moments, though, sailing his throws.

"We didn't take advantage of every opportunity early in the game," Harbaugh said. "As the game went on, the story was us answering. They went ahead, we answered. They tied the game, we answered. They tied the game again, but we answered and then we answered again to put it away.

"Our defense got the stop in the end. That's what we're most proud of. Obviously, we have so many things to work on in all three phases, special teams, offense and defense."

The Chiefs didn't produce a first down until two minutes were left in the first half.

For the game, Kansas City gained just 188 yards.

The biggest problems were on special teams as Chiefs safety Jon McCraw busted through the gap between the center and the right guard to block Sam Koch's punt and recover it for a touchdown.

"It was just a miscommunication," special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "One of the guys didn't block who they were supposed to block and those things can happen early in the season and sometimes you can get away with it and not give up a block.

"They got us when there's still some communication issues. It's something we should have picked up and shouldn't have messed up, but those guys get paid, too, on the other side."

Plus, Hauschka flubbed a field goal in the wind.

It was his first regular-season game as the replacement for veteran Matt Stover.

"I think the wind took the ball, but the reason it did is because I didn't hit the ball clean," Hauschka said. "You have to hit it clean or it gets broken up by the wind. I need to learn to hit them more confidently in the wind. I'm just glad it didn't cost us and we got out of there with a win. It's good to get used to the nerves."

On the decisive touchdown, Flacco beat a nine-man blitz to find Clayton behind Brandon Carr on a post pattern.

Clayton displayed no issues with his leg as he accelerated away from Carr to get into the end zone.

"Just had a post on and that was the perfect call, man," Clayton said. "Caught the defense in the perfect coverage, and we were able to execute the throw and catch."

Then, the defense flexed its muscles on the Chiefs' ensuing drive with outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacking Croyle for the second time on the first play. A forced fumble was recovered by Terrell Suggs, but the officials determined after an instant-replay review that Croyle's forearm was down and caused the fumble.

Three plays later, defensive end Trevor Pryce sacked Croyle to give the football back to Baltimore on downs at the Chiefs' 9-yard line.

"At the end, they're backed up and it seems like you have the advantage," Johnson said. "But if they get one first down and get rolling, you've got problems."

After taking over possession, McGahee ran the football three times in a row to get into the end zone.

Rather than have Hauschka attempt a chip-shot field goal, the Ravens opted to stick with McGahee on the ground.

In the Ravens' estimation, the risk of a blocked kick outweighed the reward of a field goal try.

"More things can happen on a field goal than any other kind of play," Harbaugh said. "We're fourth-and-six inches, I think we have a better chance of making the touchdown than we do of something bad happening on the field goal. They could actually block a kick and score a touchdown, worst-case scenario.

"So, you weigh all that stuff and you decide that's the lowest-risk possibility to give us the best chance to win the game. If for some reason they stop us, they have to go 99 2/3 yards to score a touchdown."

One year removed from an 11-5 season and an AFC championship game appearance, the Ravens were expected to blow Kansas City out. They entered the game established as a 13-point favorite.

Did the Ravens take the Chiefs too lightly?

"I don't think we were underestimating them," Heap said. "Everybody was expecting the game to go one way. I think in our heads we thought the game would go one way as well, but you can never overlook any team."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BALTIMORE RAVENS NOTEBOOK: News & Notes Ravens v. Chiefs

OWINGS MILLS -- The theory about speed versus size is about to be tested again Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens' cornerbacks take on imposing Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

The Ravens feature two of the faster starting cornerbacks in the league in Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington, but both are relatively undersized.

So, they figure to be put to a severe test against Bowe.

Bowe is a 6-foot-2, 221-pound downfield target who caught 70 passes for 995 yards as a rookie two years ago. Last season he registered 86 receptions for 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He’s a big, physical, fast receiver,” said Foxworth, who will share the assignment of covering Bowe with Washington. I think he’s one of the young, up-and-coming receivers in the league, and I’m looking forward to the chance to match up.”

From his days with the Denver Broncos, Foxworth has significant experience against Bowe having squared off with him three times previously.

"I think anytime you’re a professional and you’ve had the experience of playing against somebody, you know what went good or what didn’t go real well," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I know Domonique will have known how to play against him. He’ll be a real test for us. He’s a bigger receiver than we’re used to seeing every day in practice.”

Bowe's presence tends to keep defenses honest, less inclined to crowd the line of scrimmage to collide with powerful running back Larry Johnson.

"Dwayne Bowe is physical, big and physical,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Great-looking guy, good hands, wants the ball, obviously, like all the great ones do. I’d say an up-and-coming star.”

Initially, Bowe failed to meet new Chiefs coach Todd Haley's expectations and was demoted to third-string.

Reinstated as a starter now, Bowe is expected to be the Chiefs' featured receiver Sunday.
"I think Dwayne has made very good progress," Haley said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He started out a little slow, but he's starting to get it. He's starting to get it and understand what's expected of him, and I think Dwayne wants to be good, and that usually gives him a chance at success."

INJURY REPORT: Tight end L.J. Smith didn't practice for the third day in a row due to a pulled left hamstring, and he’s regarded as extremely unlikely to play against Kansas City.

Smith was listed as doubtful on the injury report, which denotes a 25-percent chance he will play.

"If he's ready to go Sunday, he will, and if he's not, he won't," Harbaugh said. "He'll be a game-day decision."

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained left ankle, knee) is preparing to play. He's listed as probable, but was limited in practice Friday.

"We put everything on the injury report," Harbaugh said. "We're very open and honest. Any little thing is going to be on the injury report."

Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right medial collateral ligament) took part in practice on a full-time basis and is listed as questionable, but won't be suiting up this week.

Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo (sprained right toe) is probable and participated fully in practice.

Wide receiver Mark Clayton reiterated that he's recovered from the strained left hamstring that sidelined him during the preseason.

"It feels good, I'm excited," Clayton said. "I'm ready to play as much as I can."

Clayton is slated to start opposite Derrick Mason, but is likely to give way at times to Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams.

Offensive guard Marshal Yanda said that he expects Chris Chester to start at right guard, but he expects to see some playing time less than a year removed from tearing three knee ligaments against the Indianapolis Colts.

"Chris is definitely playing guard," he said. "I think I'll get in some. I'm definitely not starting."

Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is listed as questionable and was limited again due to a sprained left medial collateral ligament. His mobility is reportedly limited.

The Chiefs listed former Ravens wide receiver Terrance Copper (hamstring) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (shoulder) as questionable.

TRYOUTS: The Ravens worked out former Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Carey Davis as well as former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Tony Curtis.

The team also worked out four other free agent tight ends and a fullback.

NICKEL DUTY: Kick returner Chris Carr signed with the Ravens partly because they offered him an opportunity to expand his role on defense.

He's going to operate as the nickel back behind Washington and Foxworth as well as return punts and kickoffs.

"I always take pride in my defense," said Carr, who has switched to No. 25 from No. 30. "I've worked very hard at that and I really want to prove to them that I can play defense.

“I have to go above and beyond. I want to show them that I'm a good all-around player. It's an honor to be out there on defense and I want to do as much as I can for the Ravens."

Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb will fill in behind Carr on defense and will be on several special-teams units.

"When the game starts, the butterflies will be there," Webb said. "I'm a little anxious for the game. It’s exciting.”

GETTING STARTED: For rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher, this represents his first real test as he makes his first regular-season start.

After a strong preseason, the first-round draft pick doesn't seem concerned about nerves.

"It's the same thing, you play hard and do what you know how to do," Oher said. "It's football. Everything will be all right."
For inside linebacker Tavares Gooden, it's a time to justify the Ravens promoting him to the starting defense as the replacement for Bart Scott.

"I've been showing everybody w hat I can do," said Gooden, a third-round pick who spent the majority of his rookie season on injured reserve after undergoing hip flexor and sports hernia surgeries. "I'm trying to leave my mark here and show them that they made a great choice in the draft."

C-MAC NOT RETURNING: Former Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister is in the process of selling his posh Beverly Hills home and is moving back to Maryland and visited the training complex this week. However, McAlister won’t be rejoining the Ravens.

"Come back?" Harbaugh said. "No."

The three-time Pro Bowl selection did not mesh well with the coaching staff last season and was cut this offseason after declining to take a major paycut.

He has struggled to find a new NFL employer, but has repeatedly been linked in speculation to the Dallas Cowboys. McAlister has a history of off-field problems.

QUICK HITS: Former Ravens majority owner Art Modell, who retains one percent of the team, spoke with the team huddled around him after practice. "We all know what he's meant to the NFL, we all know what he's meant to this organization and he was just telling the guys that this is his 48th opener in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "That's two times as old as most of our guys. The older guys know him. You can see the guys like Todd Heap, Ed Reed and Derrick Mason right up there in front because they've got such a great relationship with Mr. Modell. The young guys will have that same type of relationship with him as time goes on. He's a big part of the Ravens." ... The Ravens have instituted a policy banning cellular phones and laptops from practice. "There's no cell phones, never has been," Harbaugh said. "There's no cell phones at practice for anybody. We don't have cell phones in meetings, we don't have cell phones anywhere. It's always been the policy." ... Harbaugh said he took in the Pittsburgh Steelers' exciting overtime win over the Tennessee Titans after putting his daughter, Alison, to bed. "She wouldn't go to sleep," he said. "It looked like football we're familiar with."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Photo by Sabina Moran.