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Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

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Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

Aaron Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and an MVP award. Joe Flacco has been to the playoffs in all five of his pro seasons.

They will be the rarities this weekend when three rookie quarterbacks, two in their second NFL seasons, and one veteran who has yet to appear in the postseason will lead the other teams in the wild-card round.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is a fan of the trend toward younger quarterbacks.

``I think it's really exciting and the guys have done great,'' Carroll said. ``They really have against all of the odds and history and stuff they've just been amazing to take their teams into the playoffs.

``It's a very exciting time for the league knowing there are other guys out there who are going to come up in the next couple of years, and there are stars in the making in the college ranks, and you don't have to wait years and years for those guys to show up and be a factor. `'

Indeed, those days of letting young quarterbacks watch from the sideline before getting their chance has gone the way of the single wing. Rodgers was the last premier passer to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship, under Brett Favre in Green Bay.

On Saturday night, he leads the Packers against division rival Minnesota and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. Earlier in the day, Cincinnati and its own second-year signal caller, Andy Dalton, is at Houston. The Texans' Matt Schaub is in his ninth pro season, but this will be his first playoff game.

On Sunday, the inexperience is even more pronounced. Three rookies who have completely belied any rawness - Andrew Luck for Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III for Washington, Russell Wilson for Carroll's Seahawks - will guide their teams in wild-card games.

``You know there's going to be a lot of people talking about playoff football and how it's ratcheted up a notch, which may be true,'' said Flacco, who will become the first quarterback to start a playoff game in his first five NFL seasons in the Super Bowl era. He's also won at least one postseason game each year. ``But the bottom line is, my advice would be go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It's obviously gotten you to the point that you're in the playoffs and playing to get to another week. If it got you that far, then you're obviously doing something right, so you should try to continue that. You shouldn't try anything crazy just because it's playoff time.''

Getting to the playoffs with rookie QBs was a crazy idea for decades. That changed permanently when Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record in 2004, losing in the AFC title game.

Carroll points to even more recent times: 2008.

``I always go back to Flacco and Matt Ryan, those guys, when they jumped in and did really well as rookies, I think that was the start of the big turn,'' he said.

Still, there's never been anything like this season, when Luck, Griffin and Wilson combined for 31 wins, eight more than the previous record total for all rookie QBs in one season, which happened in 2011.

Some credit should go to the coaches who turned over their teams to the kids. Of course, when the Colts grabbed Luck atop the draft and the Redskins traded up to take RG3 at the second spot, it was presumed they would move directly into the lineup.

It took plenty of foresight and not a little courage for Carroll to go with Wilson, particularly after Seattle signed free agent Matt Flynn to a huge deal. But he saw something special in the third-round pick from Wisconsin by way of North Carolina State. And he sees that in all the rookie QBs.

``Maybe this is just the class of classes, too,'' he said. ``Maybe this isn't as much of a trend, but it looks like it's kind of turning. ``

It's not just the rookies who are making their playoff debuts, either. Schaub was injured when the Texans made their first trip to the postseason a year ago and T.J. Yates - yes, a rookie - led them to a victory over Dalton and the Bengals. Houston then lost to Flacco and the Ravens.

``I'm definitely looking forward to it,'' said Schaub, whose Texans have sputtered into the playoffs, dropping three of four to lose a bye. ``But the thing that's going to help us win the game are the same whenever you're playing, wherever you're playing. That's playing smart, clean, good football.''

That's exactly what the youngsters have done in key situations, even Ponder, who at times has looked overwhelmed. But he was solid the last two weeks when the Vikings beat Houston and Green Bay to secure their place in the Super Bowl chase.

``Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that's something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up,'' Ponder said. ``I think that's the biggest difference for me. `'

No matter how they fare this weekend, it's been a successful two years for young quarterbacks. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan expects it to continue because of the emphasis on passing in college.

``They're throwing the football a little bit more now than they have in the past,'' Shanahan said. ``I think that gives them a big advantage. I think they have the ability to come in and go through OTAs and really learn the system in the offseason. I know 20 years ago, you never had an opportunity like that. Going through a system again, you have a lot of hours in the classroom as a quarterback that you never had 10 years ago, a chance to learn the system. And a lot of these guys are coming out ready to go.''

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Howard Fendrich in Washington, and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.

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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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