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49ers boast one of best linebacking corps around

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49ers boast one of best linebacking corps around

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) This week in the Big Easy, NaVorro Bowman plans to finally make good on the steak dinner he owes pal Patrick Willis.

Bowman is only a couple of months behind. In late November, he promised his teammate a night out after signing a five-year contract extension worth $45.25 million, with $25.5 million in guaranteed money. Willis' request: surf-n-turf, with a medium-plus steak, lobster tail, mashed potatoes, vegetables. Vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Arguably the NFL's most-feared linebacking tandem, these two have understandably been a little bit busy lately leading the San Francisco 49ers back to the Super Bowl on Sunday against Baltimore for the first time in 18 years.

``It will probably happen in New Orleans,'' Bowman said with a grin.

Why not just bring Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith along for the fun, too? They've certainly done their part to earn a little reward.

The 49ers have quite a luxury with ball-hawking inside linebackers Bowman and Willis wreaking havoc on opposing offenses - and Smith and Brooks doing the same on the outside.

``I think that's one of the main reasons we're in the situation we're in, getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, is you've got to have good players,'' All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith said. ``And that linebacking corps is probably one of the best in the league, if not the best.''

They take pride in their come-at-you-from-all-angles pass rush and in being stingy run-stoppers. Members of this close-knit unit push each other on the practice field and consider themselves family off it. Just take Bowman's decision to make Willis the godfather of his twin daughters born last year, Stoni and Cali.

Aldon Smith finished with a franchise-record 19 1/2 sacks in 2012 - falling three shy of Michael Strahan's single-season mark set in 2001 for the Giants. Yet he didn't have a single one over the final three games, most of that stretch with Justin Smith sidelined because of a partially torn left triceps.

``They make a lot of guys' jobs easier by doing what they do,'' safety Dashon Goldson said.

While Willis is the captain and one of the faces of the franchise, he is always quick to point out he wouldn't be making the plays he does without the rest of this hard-nosed defense that remained intact from last year's playoff run.

``I say it all the time, I'm very fortunate to be a part of the defense and alongside the linebackers and to be playing with those guys,'' Willis said. ``People can make it about me and say what they want to say. I wouldn't be nearly the player I am today if I wouldn't have had those front seven or the linebackers setting the edges and making plays as well. I'm fortunate to have those guys. I hope we can go out there and play our best football Super Bowl Sunday and be able to wrap it all up and say, `We did it.'''

A big reason Bowman decided to stay put through the 2018 season is that Willis will be around through 2016 - keeping one of the best duos together for years to come.

``They're good on film,'' 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. ``Week in, week out, you don't see anything like that as far as their blitzes and playmaking ability - the ability to play the run the way they do and also cover is just very unique.''

The 24-year-old Bowman, a third-round draft pick out of Penn State in 2010, had 149 tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble this season as a second-year starter. As a rookie, his 20 special-teams tackles ranked third in the NFL.

Willis, 28, is wrapping up his sixth NFL season after making 120 tackles with two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles.

``That's a young lion, man, that I talk to a lot,'' said retiring Ravens star Ray Lewis, whose No. 52 is worn by Willis. ``Since he has come into this league, I've always been (talking to him) - since we met each other at the Pro Bowl and I knew his story and why he wears 52 and all that. It's a special story to become close with him like that. I always try to throw the smallest tidbits out to help his career out, to help him (know) how to get better, `You should do this, you should do that.'''

Bowman and Willis were All-Pro picks together in each of the past two seasons. Aldon Smith joined them on this year's team.

And they have plans to do a lot more for the two-time reigning NFC West champion Niners (13-4-1).

Brooks is signed through 2017 and Smith through `15.

``Not just football, they're all great guys. I enjoy being around all of them,'' Bowman said. ``We all can run. We all can do a lot of great things. Some teams only have one guy that can do certain things. I think that's what makes us unique. We have a chance to do something special, and we're going to prepare as if our lives depend on it for this game.''

Last February, Brooks signed a six-year, $44.5 million contract extension with $17.5 million guaranteed. He has more than delivered on the new deal this season, his second as a full-time starter. Brooks had 46 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned 50 yards for a touchdown in a Nov. 25 win at New Orleans - so he should be plenty comfortable in the Superdome.

In fact, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio recently reminded Harbaugh just how important Brooks is to this group of linebackers.

``Vic Fangio made the comment the other day that smartest thing we did as an organization was pay Ahmad Brooks and keep him as a 49er,'' Harbaugh said. ``And we would all concur with that. He's done it with very little fanfare, in terms of how he talks about himself. But, he's been a tireless worker. Go back to the first days of the offseason program, don't know if he ever missed a day.''

Fangio believes this bunch can still play better - and he hopes that performance comes Sunday at the Superdome.

``I think it'd be pretty hard if we compare it to the other 3-4 teams in the league to find a better unit,'' he said.

Yet Fangio remains cautious in his praise. He has coached some mighty talented linebackers in his day, including the New Orleans group considered among the best ever - Sam Mills and Vaughn Johnson on the inside, Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling outside.

And Fangio is not ready to rank the current 49ers unit that hasn't been together that long.

``I've ducked answering that question yet. These guys have been together two years, and only one year as a full-time starting unit because Aldon didn't start last year,'' Fangio said. ``But I do think, eventually, if they stay humble and hungry, I will have a positive answer to that question in due time. ... The sky's the limit with our guys.''

Outspoken safety Donte Whitner has no problem stating it:

``I believe that our linebackers are the top linebackers in the National Football League,'' he said, ``and we have to go out there and prove it next Sunday.''

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Vikings: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Like much of the season thus far, the Ravens' offense struggled Sunday against an also struggling Bears.

It seemed as if their offense was playing in slow motion for part of their 27-24 OT loss.

Joe Flacco went 24 for 41 for only 180 yards and threw two interceptions. 

The Ravens had a shot at getting the win but couldn't capitalize on two special teams plays that helped them force the game into OT, leaving many questions about the state of the Ravens' offense.

RELATED: WEEK 6 NFL POWER RANKINGS

The team hasn't had much luck in presumably easy matchups, and now they are headed to Minnesota to take on the 4-2 Vikings.

The Vikings are coming off a 23-10 win against the Packers where quarterback Case Keenum threw for 239 yards and one touchdown. 

Star running back Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 against the Lions and is out for the rest of the season, causing the team to lean on Latavius Murrary and Jerick McKinnon. 

Against the Packers, McKinnon rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown.

Something the Ravens and Vikings have in common is a surplus of injuries. 

Vikings starting quarterback Sam Bradford is still dealing with an aggravated knee injury and isn't expected to make his return Sunday against the Ravens.

Ravens running back Terrance West suffered a calf injury Week 5 against the Raiders and did not play against the Bears in Week 6. Tight end Maxx Williams hurt his left ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game, as well as wide receiver Breshad Perriman who suffered a concussion. Both plays caused a turnover.

The Ravens lead the series 3-2 and haven't faced the Vikings since 2013.

Here's everything you need to know to watch Ravens, Vikings. 

Week 7 Ravens vs. Vikings Game Info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Minnesota Vikings

What: Week 7 NFL regular season 

When: 1:00 p.m.. ET, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017

Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: NFL Game PassCBS All Access

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Minnesota, -5.5

Over/Under: 40

Weather: 63 degrees, partly cloudy

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): 20-0  at Cincinnati Bengals (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): 24-10 vs. Cleveland Browns (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): 44-7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (in London) (L)

Week 4 (Sun, Oct. 1): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 5 (Sun, Oct. 8): at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m. (W)

Week 6 (Sun, Oct. 15): vs Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 7 (Sun, Oct. 22): at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m.

Week 8 (Thur, Oct. 26): vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m.

Week 9 (Sun, Nov. 5): at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10 (Sun, Nov. 12): BYE week

Week 11 (Sun, Nov. 19): at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12 (Mon, Nov. 27): vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 13 (Sun, Dec. 3): vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: (Sun, Dec. 10): at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.

Week 15: (Sun, Dec. 17): at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: (Sat, Dec. 23): vs Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.

Week 17: (Sun, Dec. 31): vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

BALTIMORE -- When the Chicago Bears weigh the good and bad facets of their performance against the Baltimore Ravens, it's likely they will come up with this conclusion:

Who cares? We won.

After blowing a 14-point lead, allowing two long kick returns and committing two turnovers, the Bears used a 40-yard field goal by Connor Barth in overtime to secure a 27-24 victory Sunday.

"You got to be able to take whatever situation you get and make something out of it," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I wanted to get a good W, go home and relax. The coming down to the wire thing is not my favorite style, but . however you get it, you just got to appreciate it."

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Jordan Howard ran for 167 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up the game-winning score for the Bears (2-4), whose two wins this season have come in overtime.

Howard's long run in OT put Chicago at the Baltimore 40. After rookie Mitchell Trubisky completed an 18-yard pass to Kendall Wright, Barth delivered the decisive kick.

"It wasn't always perfect -- it seldom is -- but we're just happy to get out of here with a win," Bears coach John Fox said.

Making his first career start on the road, Trubisky directed a conservative game plan that leaned heavily on the run. The first-round draft pick completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

"We took what the defense gave us," the rookie said. "The run game was working, so let's keep pounding the rock."

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Howard had 36 carries and the Bears gained 231 yards on 54 attempts.

"Whatever it takes to win," Fox stressed. "This week, we had to run the ball -- and we did."

Baltimore (3-3) trailed 17-3 in the third quarter and 24-16 late in regulation before capitalizing on special teams play to get back in the game.

Bobby Rainey took a kickoff 96 yards for a score to begin the comeback and Michael Campanaro brought back a punt 77 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 remaining. The 2-point conversion was successful , setting up overtime.

"Those two special teams touchdowns were huge," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens weren't the only ones to capitalize on big plays. Chicago used a halfback pass from Tarik Cohen to Zach Miller for a first-half score, and Adrian Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown for a 24-13 lead with 5:08 left.

Baltimore was in position for the go-ahead score when Amos got his first career interception on a pass that bounced off the chest of receiver Chris Moore, who was covered tightly by Kyle Fuller.

Chicago forced three turnovers and frustrated quarterback Joe Flacco throughout the afternoon. Operating without injured receivers Jeremy Maclin (inactive) and Breshad Perriman (second-quarter concussion), Flacco went 24 for 41 for 180 yards with two interceptions.

Trubisky put Chicago ahead 17-3 in the third quarter with an on-the-run, 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dion Sims, who outfought Tony Jefferson for the ball in the end zone.

That put the Ravens in a precarious position, especially with a struggling offense.

Rainey alleviated the pressure by taking the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. After being tripped by a teammate, Rainey popped to his feet, broke right and went the distance.

Campanaro did his part later, but it wasn't enough.

"Sometimes your special teams kick in and score two touchdowns, which is great," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "But Chicago did a better job of closing than we did."

The Ravens were coming off a 30-17 win in Oakland in which they did not commit a turnover, didn't allow a sack and were penalized only once.

In this one, Baltimore gave the ball away twice, permitted two sacks and was flagged five times -- in the first half.