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49ers go outside for second Super Bowl practice

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49ers go outside for second Super Bowl practice

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The San Francisco 49ers practiced outside Thursday for the first time in the Big Easy, and the Baltimore Ravens were briefly right nearby.

A day after their Super Bowl preparations were moved indoors because of high winds, coach Jim Harbaugh's NFC champions shared the Saints facility with big brother John's Baltimore team after it moved from Tulane University.

Jim Harbaugh called the 100-minute session a ``photo copy'' of the outstanding practice Wednesday, which safety Donte Whitner considered the best all year.

San Francisco overlapped for 10 minutes with the Ravens, with drapes from local merchants used to separate the practices and ensure privacy. Jim Harbaugh credited the collaborative effort to ``cooperating spirits.''

Linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks were limited in practice for the second day with shoulder injuries.

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After experiencing misery in each of the past two Decembers, the Baltimore Ravens are looking to rewrite the script in their quest to end a three-year playoff drought.

In 2016, a loss to Pittsburgh on Christmas night ended Baltimore's bid to reach the postseason. Last year, a defeat at home against Cincinnati on New Year's Eve sent the Ravens home.

Now, with three games left, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position. Baltimore (7-6) has a shot to reach the playoffs as either AFC North champions or as a wild-card team, and there's really only one can't-miss way to make it happen.

"The way we look at it, we need to win three games in a row," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We've been here before. Let's do it. But all we need to think about right now is Tampa Bay, our upcoming opponent."

There's a good chance the Ravens will have quarterback Joe Flacco available for the first time since Nov. 4 when they face the fading Buccaneers (5-8) at home on Sunday. Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP and veteran of 15 playoff games, appears ready to return from a right hip injury that sidelined him for four straight games.

Fortunately for the Ravens, rookie Lamar Jackson has done a credible job in his first stint as a starter. Subbing for the injured Flacco, the former Louisville star and first-round draft pick guided Baltimore through three straight wins before Sunday's 27-24 loss in Kansas City on Sunday.

Jackson hurt his ankle in overtime against the Chiefs, but the injury evidently was not serious.

"Should be fine. Looks like it's OK," Harbaugh said.

If both quarterbacks are ready to go, Harbaugh must decide who to start and how to play them. Perhaps he already has.

"I'll just have to let you know -- if we want. It could entail anything right now," the coach said. "I know what we want to do. I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we'll decide as the week goes on."

The plan likely involves using both quarterbacks, just as the Ravens did before Flacco's injury. The difference now is that Jackson has more experience, and the Ravens have played exceptionally well with him at the helm.

"I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with all the parties involved, but I think it stands to reason that if Joe's ready to go, he'll be part of the game plan," Harbaugh said. "He's too good a player not to be. We'll just figure that out as we go this week, to what degree and how it works. Everybody will know going in, except perhaps everybody outside."

Baltimore currently sits a half-game behind Pittsburgh within the division, thanks to the Steelers' surprising loss in Oakland on Sunday. Harbaugh learned of the defeat shortly before the team charter touched down on its trip from Kansas City.

"I was happy. Very happy," he said.

The Ravens have Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) and Cleveland (5-7-1) left on the schedule. Pittsburgh (7-5-1) has New England (9-4), New Orleans (11-2) and Cincinnati (5-8).

Baltimore is also the sixth and final wild-card team in the AFC, so if the Steelers don't falter, the Ravens can still reach the postseason for the first time since 2014.

"It helps, sure," Harbaugh said of having multiple routes to the playoffs. "We just need to win games and let all that take care of itself."

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

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Another week, another question mark at quarterback for the Ravens

Lamar Jackson has gone 3-1 since taking over for an injured Joe Flacco as the Ravens starting quarterback, with the lone loss coming in overtime against Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs.

The offense has been unstoppable on the ground and very hit-or-miss through the air (with more misses than hits). The defense has looked revitalized. The Ravens have dominated time of possession stats, even with Jackson’s fumbling issues.

On the surface it would seem like the Joe Flacco Era is over in Baltimore, as his month-long injury has given way to a new style of football in Baltimore.

That may not be the case, however.

CBS mentioned early in the broadcast Sunday that Flacco had been cleared this past week, and John Harbaugh confirmed it postgame. The only reason Flacco wasn’t active this week was a lack of preparation time; medically, he’s ready to return.

But are the Ravens ready to return to him?

Most fans are probably fully on board with Jackson moving forward. Winning three games and taking an elite team to overtime on the road in the fourth game have a tendency to win over observers. Harbaugh isn’t just a casual observer, however. He has to make the ultimate decision of what will give his team the best chance to keep winning in the next three weeks and make the postseason.

We don't expect much clarity early in the week. Harbaugh has played it close to the vest throughout the last four weeks. In the days leading up to each matchup, fans have speculated that Jackson will remain the starter, and in each scenario, the Ravens head coach has gone out of his way to avoid naming a starter until as late as possible.

On Monday, Harbaugh added some fuel to the fire behind Flacco potentially reutrning to the starting role.

It’s a smart ploy from Harbaugh, as Flacco and Jackson play such contrasting styles that keeping it a surprise is detrimental to the opposing defense.

Anecdotally, it seems like the Ravens employing a rush-heavy attack (they finished two yards shy of a fourth-straight 200-yard game on Sunday) has kept the defense rested into the 4th quarter of each game, which has helped them finish strong prior to the Chiefs game. And the offense, while not scoring as many points as it did under Flacco, isn’t too far behind and has managed to at least sustain drives at a much better rate.

Jackson has played well for an unproven rookie who was assumed to need plenty of development to be an impact quarterback, but that’s still a lot of qualifiers. Even against poor defenses, Jackson hasn’t exactly exploded. The Chiefs game was clearly his best passing performance, and still he was under 150 passing yards, though he did finally have a multi-TD outing.

It’s a unique scenario in which the option that gives the team a better chance to score (possibly Flacco) may not be the option that gives them a better chance to win. Not to mention the fact that Jackson is clearly the future of the Ravens, and playing against quality teams in the midst of a postseason stretch run can only aid his long-term development.

It’s a question without an answer, at least for the next week. But it’s definitely one on the minds of Ravens fans, players, and coaches alike as the franchise enters one of the most significant three-game stretches under John Harbaugh. If he comes up with the right answer, it will mean celebrating in Charm City and Harbaugh solidifying his future with the team. If not, then the Ravens may just barely miss out on yet another postseason, and every option will be on the table for owner Steve Bisciotti.

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