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Ex-Ravens WR Evans still feels part of team

Ex-Ravens WR Evans still feels part of team

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) While Lee Evans awaits another chance in the NFL, he'll be rooting for the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's AFC championship rematch with New England.

The wide receiver who couldn't hold onto a pass in the end zone a year ago - which likely would have sent the Ravens into the Super Bowl - has no regrets. Except, maybe, that he's not part of the Ravens this time around.

Evans says in an email that he ``wishes he made the touchdown catch, but is thankful for the overall journey. You play the game to win and celebrate the joy with your teammates.''

With 27 seconds to go, Joe Flacco connected with Evans in the deep right corner of the end zone, but defensive back Sterling Moore knocked the ball to the ground.

Soon after, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

Evans says he has not gotten depressed over the play - Moore did make a strong strip after Evans got two hands on the ball.

``Give him credit for the play he made,'' Evans said.

Unfortunately for Evans, he's remembered as much for that incompletion as he is for two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in seven years with the Bills, and 43 touchdown catches.

``My goal is to play in the NFL again,'' said Evans, who was cut in the preseason last summer by Jacksonville, a team not exactly overloaded with receivers. ``And if I am afforded that opportunity, I will be fully prepared and absolutely capable of competing at the highest level.''

Cundiff hooked up with Washington and then San Francisco this season, but was cut by the 49ers on Friday without kicking for them as they stuck with veteran David Akers, who had been struggling.

Evans said he will be in front of his TV on Sunday watching the title games. He likes what he's seen from Baltimore (12-6) and knows the Ravens' recent postseason history; they've won a playoff game in each of the last five seasons and will be in their third AFC championship match in those five years.

But he also knows how tough the Patriots (13-4) are at home, particularly in January.

``It is a chess match between a defense that goes hard after the quarterback and gets after you on every play,'' Evans said, ``and an offense that seeks to exploit their match-ups while always trying to capitalize on a defense's mistakes.''

Evans' only season with the Ravens was marred by injury and he made only four receptions. He did help mentor Torrey Smith, Baltimore's top draft pick in 2011 who came into the league with the same kind of speed and game-breaking ability that made Evans the 13th overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Wisconsin.

He's seen Smith develop into a dangerous weapon for Flacco, and veteran Anquan Boldin has been superb in the playoffs. Kick returner Jacoby Jones got free on the 70-yard TD pass in the final minute of regulation that tied Denver in last weekend's divisional-round win.

``I saw growth in him this year as both a man and a player,'' Evans said of Smith. ``He is a great guy who gets the most out of his abilities. His play really highlighted the improvements he made toward being a more fluid route runner and a sure-handed pass catcher.''

Evans is particularly impressed by Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in his first five pro seasons.

``Joe's record speaks for itself,'' Evans said. ``He does not get the credit he deserves for how important he is to making the Ravens' offense go.''

A part of Evans will share in the Ravens' excitement if they win Sunday ``after fully understanding what it feels like to be on the losing side.''

``Life brings you highs and lows,'' he said, ``and you have to keep that in perspective.''

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.