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Gore & Rice: Contrasting styles, mutual respect

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Gore & Rice: Contrasting styles, mutual respect

NEW ORLEANS (AP) One guy is a bruiser of a back, just as comfortable running through defenders as around them.

The other is more of a slasher, darting this way and that to make people miss, requiring only the slightest opening to bust off a big gain.

They may be different in style - Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens - but the featured runners at this Super Bowl have at least one thing in common.

Plenty of respect for the other guy.

``He's like a bull,'' Rice said Monday evening, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens arrived in the Big Easy. ``If you watch Frank Gore, he doesn't take the hits. He actually delivers them because of his low center of gravity.''

Gore was just as effusive with the praise when talking about his counterpart.

``He does it all. I love to watch him,'' Gore said. ``He doesn't have to hesitate to make moves, to make people miss. He can cut and go, cut and go. If you can cut and go, you can be pretty good in this league.''

They sure took different paths to get here.

The 29-year-old Gore has endured plenty of defeats, personal heartache (losing his mother to kidney failure) and a startling string of injuries that might have broken a lesser person. He tore up both knees in college at the University of Miami, prompting him to wonder if ``football wasn't for me.'' Shaking off the doubts, he was drafted by the 49ers, but needed major surgery on both shoulders after his rookie campaign. Later, he lost part of another season to a hip injury.

``To battle through what he's been through? He's a warrior,'' Rice said. ``Hats off to my man Frank.''

Gore started his pro career with a series of bad teams. Really bad teams. During his first six years in the league, the 49ers failed to post a winning record - which was especially galling for someone who was brought up on a win-or-bust mentality with the Hurricanes.

``It was tough, real tough,'' Gore said. ``I would see some guys - who are not here anymore - after we lost, and they would just be like, `Whatever.' I was not used to that. If we lost one game at Miami, it was like our season was over.''

One of his teammates, 49ers fullback Bruce Miller, has noticed the determination in Gore's eyes as the team prepares to face the Ravens in the title game Sunday.

``It means a lot to him,'' Miller said. ``In meetings and at practice, you can see how intense and focused he is. He's worked hard for it.''

For Rice, the road has been much smoother.

Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the AFC championship game. But it ended there. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

``It's been a great journey for me,'' Rice said. ``I just have a lot in my life.''

He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, also getting more than 60 receptions each of those seasons. Describing himself, he uses terms like ``complete player'' and ``all-purpose guy,'' both of which are right on the mark.

In a November game at San Diego, Rice provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing fourth-and-29, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

As for Gore, his numbers are equally impressive - more than 1,000 yards on the ground six of the last seven seasons, as well as becoming San Francisco's career leader in rushing touchdowns.

``We always credit Frank with the tough yards,'' Miller said. ``He doesn't get the easy runs. It's up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That's why we're here.''

Even so, both running backs are a bit overlooked heading into the title game.

In San Francisco, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense are all the rage. For Baltimore, much of the attention is focused on retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who has finally escaped his playoff demons.

``When you look at the criticism that Flacco has been through, and you see what a young quarterback like Kaepernick is doing, I would make them the headlines, too,'' Rice said. ``I'm just being honest.''

But, chances are, Rice and Gore will have a significant impact on the outcome Sunday, especially since their rookie backups - LaMichael James in San Francisco, Bernard Pierce in Baltimore - emerged as major threats late in the season and playoffs, taking some of the load off the two starters.

``It keeps me fresh,'' Gore said. ``Early in my career, I probably wouldn't have liked it. Now, it gets me ready for the fourth quarter. When the defense is wearing down, that's when I get going.''

No matter who's hoisting the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

``We don't have to hit each other,'' Rice quipped. ``I'd like to win on Sunday. I don't want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I'm happy for him.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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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. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

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. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

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.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

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.