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Ravens faced obstacles in return to AFC title game

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Ravens faced obstacles in return to AFC title game

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens overcame an assortment of injuries and obstacles to return to the AFC championship game, one victory from reaching the Super Bowl.

Their usually stout defense was besieged by a season-long string of setbacks.

Thirteen players with starting experience were sidelined during the regular season, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb and tackle Haloti Ngata. Two dozen different defensive players received at least one start, but only two - safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams - started all 16 games.

The offense had its issues, too.

Frustrated with the unit's struggle during a December swoon, coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handed the reins to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.

Baltimore secured its second straight AFC North crown despite losing four of its last five regular-season games. Unlike last year, however, there was no first-round bye. Yet the Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the playoff opener before eliminating the top-seeded Denver Broncos last weekend to earn another shot at New England in the AFC title game Sunday night.

``I don't think a lot of people expected us to be here,'' Ngata said. ``For us to overcome a lot of things, everything that has happened with our team, I think we all just understand that we're a family here, and we can lean on each other and depend on each other.''

Not long after their season-ending 23-20 loss to New England last January, the Ravens began to realize this team would be radically different. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano accepted the job as head coach at Indianapolis, and three key starters left as free agents: linebacker Jarret Johnson, guard Ben Grubbs and defensive end Cory Redding.

Soon after that, the troubling offseason continued with another devastating blow: Suggs, the 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year, tore his right Achilles tendon in early May.

In spite of it all, the Ravens won five of their first six games. But in a 31-29 victory over Dallas on Oct. 14, Lewis tore his right triceps and Webb ripped the ACL in his left knee and was placed on injured reserve.

Suggs made his season debut the following week, but the five-time Pro Bowl star missed two games in December with a torn right biceps and is still seeking to regain the form he displayed last year. Guard Marshal Yanda also sat out two games with a sprained ankle and safety Bernard Pollard was sidelined for three straight weeks with a chest injury.

And still, the Ravens pressed on.

``I think that we are battled-tested,'' Yanda said. ``We went through a lot of injuries. We went through line shuffles. We went through losses. We went through losing streaks, and every team goes through that during the year. It's all about just battling through it and trying to get hot and trying to play your best football at the end of the year. I think we're doing that. We are just going to have to do a lot of things to continue to do that come'' Sunday.

Judging by their performance in last Saturday's 38-35 double-overtime win over the Broncos, the Ravens appear to be hitting peak form. Lewis returned from a 10-game absence to lead the team in tackles against both the Colts and Broncos, and his teammates appear to have drawn strength from the ups and downs they've encountered over the past five months.

``A lot of teams go through a lot of things,'' Harbaugh said. ``There are challenges that get you to the point that you are at as a football team and make you who you are - even as a person. And, our guys have handled all those things extremely well. Individually and collectively, a lot of our guys have come out of it stronger and better men, and we're a stronger and better team.''

Tight end Dennis Pitta broke his right hand in practice in late July and received a concussion in November. But Pitta hasn't missed a game yet, and now he and the Ravens are eager to keep the season going with a win in New England.

``It's not easy being back in this position,'' Pitta said. ``We've had a lot of highs and lows this season. We had a three-game losing streak when nobody thought we would win another game. We've battled and we've been through a lot, and I think it's better prepared us for this point now. We're excited to be in this game and to be able to get a rematch with these guys.''

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Ravens offense continues to be haunted by injuries in loss to Vikings

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Ravens offense continues to be haunted by injuries in loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even though he was signed to help the Vikings replace Adrian Peterson, Latavius Murray has been behind nearly from the day he stepped foot in Minnesota.

Plowing through the Baltimore Ravens as he did on Sunday should help him catch up in a hurry.

Murray rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown and Kai Forbath kicked six field goals to lift the Vikings to a 24-16 victory over the Ravens.

After making the decision to move on from the face of the franchise, the Vikings signed Murray away from the Oakland Raiders to help fill the void. But ankle surgery kept him out of the entire offseason program, all of training camp and most of the preseason and buried him on the depth chart behind Dalvin Cook, who was lost for the season with a knee injury on Oct. 1, and Jerick McKinnon.

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"I just think it was a matter of me just trying to find my rhythm, try to get a groove going," Murray said after averaging 6.3 yards per carry. "I said eventually I know I would have some success. I knew I had to continue to keep doing what I do and continue to keep working, and hopefully like today, those big runs will pop."

Forbath made kicks of 52, 51, 43, 43, 34 and 32 yards to back another suffocating effort from the defense for the Vikings (5-2).

Minnesota sacked Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 208 yards. Everson Griffen had two sacks and has nine for the season.

Justin Tucker kicked three field goals for the Ravens (3-4), including a 57-yarder in the first half. Flacco completed 26 of 38 passes for 186 yards and a 13-yard touchdown to Chris Moore as time expired.

"Those clich?s like `worn down' and `gap control,' it's just all meaningless chatter," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after his team gave up 169 yards rushing. "We've got to do a better job against the run and get them stopped. They did a good job and we didn't."

The nine combined field goals tied an NFL record for most made field goals in a game.

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Murray was off to a slow start this season with just 97 yards rushing through the first six games. But he burst through a big hole in the third quarter, made one cut and surged to the end zone to give the Vikings an 18-6 lead.

"It's good to see him going," coach Mike Zimmer said. "It adds a dimension on the offense with a guy like Jerick and a guy like him."

Case Keenum had an erratic afternoon, completing 20 of 31 passes for 188 yards and one interception for the Vikings.

Flacco, who entered the day with a 66.1 rating that was good for 31st in the league, was stuck under 100 yards passing until well into the fourth quarter.

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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.

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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.