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Steelers clinch AFC North with tight win over Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Steelers clinch AFC North with tight win over Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker's blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn't make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh's defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore's last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

"We are riding with that guy," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. "He is strong. He is strengthening us."

Looked like it.

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The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn't wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like we can score points whenever we need to."

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen's second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell's winner.

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Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens' final snap.

"This one hurts," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we've got to get over it. Yeah, this one's going to hurt but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there's a good chance we'll be in (the playoffs)."

Shazier, who's been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week's victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions' swag.

"We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight," good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor's hours were probably over, Williams repeated "tonight." Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

"That's the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you've got to keep rolling," Williams said. "So you've got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover."

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As 2018 NFL Draft approaches, Ravens to host QB Lamar Jackson per report

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USA TODAY Sports

As 2018 NFL Draft approaches, Ravens to host QB Lamar Jackson per report

With 10 days until the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback Lamar Jackson is set to visit the Ravens this week, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. 

The former Heisman Trophy winner is a projected first-round pick as he has proven to have success in the air and on the ground. 

While at Louisville, Jackson had 9,043 passing yards and 69 touchdowns. He also rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns. His NFL draft profile compares him to Michael Vick. 

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The Ravens are in search of Joe Flacco's successor, but spending a first-round pick on a quarterback when there are other glaring needs is up in the air. However, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta isn't ruling out the possibility

"I feel like if there is a guy there that we think is really too good to pass up, we're going to take him," DeCosta told the team's website on the chance of drafting a quarterback in the first-round.

At their pre-draft press conference, GM Ozzie Newsome and DeCosta kept reiterating we could be surprised by who they pick at No. 16, if they do at all. 

While Jackson's numbers are impressive, he continues to be considered a late first-round pick as his build isn't up to typical NFL QB standards and scouts are concerned with his accuracy. What he does have in his favor is speed.

While fans are hoping for an offensive weapon, having Jackson learn under Flacco for a year (and maybe RGIII?) could rev up some excitement. 

RELATED: RGIII READY TO MOVE FORWARD AS NEW, GROWN PLAYER

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Heisman Trophy winner turned backup, Robert Griffin III fully embracing new role with Ravens

Heisman Trophy winner turned backup, Robert Griffin III fully embracing new role with Ravens

Robert Griffin III went from Heisman Trophy winner, to second-overall pick, to Offensive Rookie of the Year, to unemployed, to backup quarterback all in the matter of six years.

That's a rollercoaster of a career for a 28-year old, but RGIII is fully embracing the opportunity the Ravens have presented him with.

“I feel like I knew coming into this situation that this is Joe’s [Flacco] team," Griffin said at a press conference Wednesday.

"I understood that when I came in to work out; I understood that when I signed. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn from him. Whatever capacity the coaches ask me to help, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to compete, and I’m here to get better every single day – work hard. I think they saw that from me in the workout and in our general conversations together. I think they realize I’m ready for the opportunity and I’m ready for this role – whatever that role may be.”

RELATED: RGIII READY TO MOVE FORWARD AS NEW, GROWN PLAYER

Finding a backup quarterback that you can put some faith in during a time of desperation in today's league is a hard find, with the exception of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. 

While Griffin hasn't played since January of 2017, he offers legitimate experience that isn't being offered by typical backups. 

 "I feel like I’ve been able to get a better grasp of how to play the game in the NFL, what coaches are looking for. I think that’s a benefit, whereas in 2012 when I came in, it was more so learning everything on the fly and just going out and playing. Now I feel like I have to ability to go out and play and also know what I’m doing, be able to protect myself better, get the ball to the guys that need to get the ball and help a team win – in whatever way that is.”

The Ravens signed RGIII on a one-year contract worth $1 million - we're assuming- with hopes he'll never see the field during the regular season. Griffin made it clear he understands that role, but is looking forward to learning how to lead a team under a ten-year veteran. 

RELATED: RAVENS 2018 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

“Most of my interactions with Joe have been at midfield. I really do look forward to getting in the quarterback room with him. It’s a great opportunity for me. I still feel like I’m a young player. I’m 28, but I feel like I’m 25. He’s been through a lot of things in his career, been to the pinnacle and won a Super Bowl – Super Bowl MVP. I think that’s a great opportunity for me to learn and learn from him, and to just see the way that he attacks the game of football, the way he attacks the meeting room, practice, interacting with teammates – all those types of things – the way he leads." 

The RGIII saga in Baltimore is an open book right now, one that could come with an interesting ending.