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Aiken a bright spot in an otherwise dark Ravens season

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Aiken a bright spot in an otherwise dark Ravens season

BALTIMORE – Ravens receiver Kamar Aiken topped the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career on Sunday against Kansas City, and his emergence continues to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lost season for the Ravens.

Aiken figured to be a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver this year for the Ravens, but he has become the team’s No. 1 option with Steve Smith (torn Achilles) out for the year and first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman sidelined all year by a knee injury.

Aiken had eight catches for 128 yards – both career highs – and a touchdown in the Ravens’ 34-14 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. His touchdown came on a 48-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half when he grabbed the ball at the 5-yard line and avoided tacklers to reach the end zone.

“I was just gauging where they were and where the ball was, and I noticed it was going to come up a little short,” Aiken said. “Their DBs were still backpedaling, so I said it was my play to make.”

Aiken, who was targeted a game-high 12 times, also had a couple of other contested catches, including a tough 30-yarder along the sideline that set up the Ravens first touchdown.

“When the ball’s thrown his way, he’s catching it and taking it out of the air and making plays,” quarterback Jimmy Clausen said.

Guard Marshal Yanda said of Aiken: “He is just fighting his tail off every single play. No matter if we are down or up or we are 14-0 or 0-14, you’re going to get consistent play from him.”

Aiken, who bounced around on four practice squads in his first three years in the league before he ever caught a pass, now has an outside chance to record a 1,000-yard season. With two games left, Aiken has 802 receiving yards, and leads the team in catches (62), receiving yards and touchdown catches (5).

He has caught at least five passes in seven straight games, one shy of the longest such streak in team history (Derrick Mason, 2007).

Still, he said all the personal accolades ring somewhat hollow in a 4-10 season.

“I’d rather win the game,” he said. “I’d rather have 10 yards and have a W than have 100-some yards with a loss.”

With word surfacing that Steve Smith might return next season after previously announcing his retirement, with Perriman expected to be 100 percent, and with some fringe players in danger of losing their jobs, the Ravens receiver corps might look decidedly different next season. But Aiken has made a strong case for a significant role.

“I’m very confident in myself and my abilities,” Aiken said. “Jimmy (Clausen) gave me a lot of chances today to make plays and it just worked out in my favor today. I’ve been putting in the work, week in and week, since offseason, throughout the season. It’s not going to stop.”

RELATED: Chiefs cruise past Ravens: 5 things we learned

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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Baltimore Ravens Week 6 awards after shutout win over Titans

Baltimore Ravens Week 6 awards after shutout win over Titans

The Baltimore Ravens went into the Tennessee Titans' home and completely robbed them in a 21-0 shutout win.

Here are the players and plays that stood out from the afternoon.

PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME: Ravens Defense

The Ravens defense had a historic afternoon recording a franchise-record 11 sacks. Yup, you read that right. 11 sacks.

Za'Darius Smith led the way with three, followed by Patrick Onwuasor with two and Matthew Judon, Terrell Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Kenny Young, Anthony Levine Sr. and Chris Wormley with one apiece. The 11 sacks tied for the second most by a team in league history and the most in a game since 2012.  It was so historic, the Ravens changed their Twitter name to included 11 S's. 

But that wasn't the only impressive part of the Ravens' afternoon. Marcus Mariota was limited to 10 completions and the defense allowed just 51 passing yards  —  the fewest in franchise history  — and 55 rushing yards. The Titans finished the afternoon 1-for-10 on third down as well.

With the shutout, the Ravens defense cemented its place as one of the NFL's most elite units in 2018. A win that must have been extra sweet after a 12-9 overtime loss to the Browns the week prior and with former defensive coordinator Dean Pees staring back from the opposite sideline. The Ravens remain the only NFL team to not allow a second-half touchdown this season. 

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE GAME: Michael Crabtree

After dropping what would have been the game-winning touchdown Week 5 against the Browns, Michael Crabtree said his priority this week was to get back into the lab and correct his mistakes. Out the gate, the veteran receiver stayed true to his word finishing the Ravens' first drive catching three passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. Earlier in the week, Joe Flacco had faith his receiver would get over the hump of six drops in five games and was willing to stand by him until it happened.

"Besides just trying to give him the confidence that, you know, I'm still going his way when he calls for it and I still believe that it's going to be the difference...it's something that he'll definitely get over," Flacco said.

The patience worked as Crabtree finished the day with six receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown leading all Ravens receivers.

But more importantly, the relationship between Crabtree and Flacco continues to grow.

"That’s trust. That’s what you need in football, you know," Crabtree said postgame. "Quarterback, receiver relationship. It’s only going to get better. It’s all about how much time you put in, how much work you put in. I’m new; this is my first year here so I got to do what I got to do."

STAT OF THE GAME: Flacco makes his way into the history books

With 25 completions Sunday against the Titans, Flacco became the third different quarterback in NFL history to complete 25 or more passes in nine consecutive games, per the NFL's communication department. Drew Brees sits atop the list with 11 and 10 consecutive games followed by Peyton Manning with nine. Flacco finished the 21-0 win 25-for-37 with 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

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