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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Colin Kaepernick is a mystery man under center, a strong-armed passer one moment and a 25-year-old kid who can run right out of the pocket for a huge gain the next.

Baltimore must brace for the unexpected on every snap in Sunday's Super Bowl.

There's flashy Michael Crabtree on the edges and Vernon Davis down the middle, Frank Gore and LaMichael James clogging things up in the running game.

The creative, switch-it-up San Francisco offense sure keeps opposing defenses guessing. The 49ers hope to do it again at the Superdome, when the Ravens will face an array of looks from Jim Harbaugh's team.

``With Kaepernick, it's like pick your poison,'' Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice said. ``Are you going to try to shut down that pistol and not let him get outside, where you've got Frank Gore and LaMichael James going downhill? Then, Crabtree and Vernon Davis on the outside. I think the secondary of Baltimore, right there in the middle, is where they're going to get exposed. ... If you double team Crabtree, it's going to be Vernon Davis. If you get Crabtree one on one - for some reason he's playing with a swagger right now that's unbelievable.''

Kaepernick has shown two drastically different styles in two postseason games. What he'll show the Ravens is anybody's guess.

In a 45-31 rout of the Packers in the divisional round, Kaepernick ran for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for 263 yards with two TD passes to Michael Crabtree.

A week later at Atlanta, everything looked different in a 28-24 win that sent San Francisco to its first Super Bowl in 18 years.

Kaepernick only ran the ball twice, instead handing off to his go-to guy, Gore, and the Niners rallied from a 17-0 deficit for the biggest comeback in an NFC championship game.

``He's very good, he's very accurate,'' Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Kaepernick. ``They've done a great job with putting him into a system and building a system to make him successful, but to be able to throw the ball deep you have to have guys that can run deep. Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Randy Moss can run deep.''

And Gore can grind out yards.

Gore, coming off his franchise-record sixth 1,000-yard rushing season, ran for second-half touchdowns of 5 and 9 yards in the comeback in his first career postseason performance with two TDs against the Falcons. He has three touchdowns and 209 yards rushing during this postseason run.

A balanced offense, indeed.

``There's a lot,'' Crabtree said. ``I could go on talking about the talent that we have around here. On the tight ends, running backs, you have to remember we have three people injured that played a major part in our offense. But I would say that with all of these weapons, I don't think that you can go wrong.''

After a quiet year in which he faced double-teams and constant attention by defenses, Davis broke out at Atlanta with five catches for 106 yards with a 4-yard TD grab.

``He does it all. He's a beast,'' Ravens safety Ed Reed said. ``He's one of those guys that you all say has it. He catches touchdowns, he's blocking. I'm surprised they haven't ran him yet, handing him the ball, but he's somebody you really have to know where he is at all times and be mindful of what he's doing, because they give him the ball, for one. You have to give him the ball. Why wouldn't you? But whoever is covering him, whether it's me, (safety) Bernard (Pollard), or anybody on our team covering him, you have to be really mindful of where he's at.''

Crabtree had six catches against the Falcons and Randy Moss - who this week proclaimed himself ``the greatest receiver ever to play this game'' only to have Hall of Famer Jerry Rice beg to differ - made three.

San Francisco's offensive line will have to do a better job than in a 16-6 loss at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night 2011, when the unit allowed the Ravens to match a franchise record with nine sacks.

``We've seen enough film to kind of know what to expect, unless they come up with something different,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said. ``But definitely a talented group up front, and that's what makes them a good defense. They try to do some things to confuse you.''

If Crabtree and Kaepernick can pull off another outstanding outing in the game of their lives, they'll take the podium together again for an entertaining back and forth of compliments and good-natured ribbing.

After one game, they held a joint postgame news conference.

All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, a member of San Francisco's stingy, run-stopping defense, regularly offers a pat on the back and hug to Kaepernick.

``In a close game, we would win because our defense doesn't give up,'' Davis said. ``Our offense is always aggressive and eager to win.''

Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is the plan now. In the Niners' rooting section: Rice, Roger Craig, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

The current 49ers are fully aware of the history, most notably a perfect Super Bowl record that they must protect. San Francisco is 5-0 in championship games and trying to match the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.

``This is incredible, man,' Davis said. ``Just being a part of this franchise is legendary - Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young - and to be able to bring a ring back, that's something that you can cherish for the rest of your life.''

PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Ravens 27.

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Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

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USA Today Sports

Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

On Wednesday, February 14, a horrific school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. 

The tragic event impacted people far and wide, and hit especially close to home for Ravens running back Alex Collins.

The former Arkansas star was born in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and went to high school just 15 miles south of Douglas High School. 

In the offseason, Collins took Irish dancing lessons to improve his footwork, and following the act of terror, the Ravens' tailback learned that one of his dance partners had been killed in the mass shooting.

17-year-old Cara Loughran attended The Drake school of Irish Dance with Collins in addition to two other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and was fatally shot by the gunman on Wednesday afternoon. 

Collins took to his Twitter account to issue this heartfelt message.

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“The school shooting yesterday hit home,” Collins wrote.

“We received confirmation a few hours ago we lost one of the girls, Cara Loughran. Two other girls saw and experienced unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to these girls, all their families and their teacher Chrissy.”

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Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

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USA Today Sports

Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will launch the NFL's 99th season by playing in the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2.

The Ravens' first appearance in the Hall of Fame game, which launches the league's 2018 Enshrinement Week. Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is among the inductees, along with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, and Urlacher, who played all of his 13 seasons with Chicago, both were elected on the first ballot.

Lewis joins Jonathan Ogden as the only Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Both were selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 draft.

The other members of the Class of 2018 include Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 4.

This will be the record-tying fifth time that the Bears will play in the Hall of Fame game. They won the previous four, most recently 27-24 over Miami in 2005.

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