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Colts' Luck wants to make most of 1st playoff game

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Colts' Luck wants to make most of 1st playoff game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck spent his rookie season dealing with the harsh realities of the NFL.

The hand-picked successor to Peyton Manning took the hard knocks with a smile, dusted himself off and emerged as the tough, talented competitor Indianapolis coaches and scouts expected when they drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick.

``We know how tough he is from a mental perspective. He's going to study. He's going to prepare. We know that,'' coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday. ``He's unflappable, nothing bothers him.''

Not the 41 sacks, not the late hits, not the dropped balls, not even the 18 interceptions. Luck has adjusted.

Despite completing less than 50 percent of his passes over the past three weeks, he has avoided throwing an interception in any of those games. He heads into his playoff debut with five wins in his last six games and a season-long streak of 105 consecutive passes without a pick - the kind of numbers Luck has been striving for all season.

``I guess it was a sore spot for the offense,'' Luck said. ``I know a lot of games, I felt like those interceptions, fumbles really killed any momentum we had or killed our chance to win. It's something you focus on as a quarterback, limiting turnovers. I wish maybe it could have come a little sooner but glad to stay away from the interceptions the last few weeks.''

If Luck had cut down the turnovers in October or November, perhaps the Colts (11-5) would have taken the AFC South title and had a first-round bye instead of a wild-card round date in Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday.

But Indy can't quibble with what has been one of the league's most remarkable rookie seasons.

Luck won more games than any quarterback taken No. 1 in football's modern draft era. He tied an NFL record by leading Indianapolis to seven fourth-quarter wins. He presided over a nine-game turnaround from 2011 on a team that many expected to be the league's worst, finished with the league's best record (9-1) in one-possession games and broke the franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (five).

He also threw more passes (627) and for more yards (4,374) than any first-year quarterback in league history while breaking the single-game rookie record for yards passing (433) and falling 15 completions short of Sam Bradford's rookie mark for completions (354 to 339). Luck finished third all-time among rookies in TD passes (23), trailing only Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson (each with 26), and had a better quarterback rating (76.5) than Manning (71.2) or John Unitas (74.0) in their rookie seasons.

And Luck did all that with six receivers who had never lined up with the Colts until September, despite the pressure of replacing Manning and during a season in which his offensive coordinator spent 12 weeks as the interim head coach before returning last week.

Luck never allowed any of that stuff to sidetrack him.

``Ever since the first day I saw him, he's been a leader. He doesn't really get razzled or get nervous or anxious or stuff like that,'' right tackle Winston Justice said. ``Did he grow some? Maybe, but I didn't really see it. He's been a good player since the first day he got here.''

Still, Luck's completion percentage is just 54.1, largely because the Colts have taken so many chances down the field. He threw the third-most interceptions in the league (18) and lost five fumbles, too, mistakes Luck took personally.

But if quarterbacks are judged simply by wins and losses, Luck is already among the league's best.

Only four quarterbacks - Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub - won more games than the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up this season. Only two others, Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, matched Luck's win total. Luck has beaten three playoff teams (Minnesota, Green Bay and Houston) and like Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and T.J. Yates over the last several years, will try to prove Sunday that rookie quarterbacks can win on the road in the playoffs.

``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,'' Flacco told a group of Indy reporters during a conference call Wednesday. ``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.''

Instead, Luck would rather show the football world he's grown up in his first NFL season and emerged as the steady leader of the league's biggest surprise team.

``He's playing right now like he's been in the league three or four years. This won't faze him one bit,'' Pagano said. ``He gets his blinders on, he gets locked in and he's as focused as anybody in preparation and at practice.''

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Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

The Ravens running back room has suddenly become a tad more crowded.

Baltimore has reportedly signed seven-year veteran Kenjon Barner, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The addition of Barner likely has little to do with Baltimore's plan on offense, as Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins are expected to carry the bulk of the Ravens' rushing attack.

Barner, a former star at the University of Oregon, spent the past year with the Atlanta Falcons as the team's primary returner. For Baltimore, bringing in a guy like Barner makes sense, as one of the team's primary return men from a year ago, De'Anthony Thomas, decided to opt-out of the 2020 season.

The signing of Barner is a low-risk, high-reward one for Baltimore. Rookie James Proche is also expected to be in the mix in the return game.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t been shy on his feelings about the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. He said in June, and repeated Friday, they’re impossible to follow to a T. 

But he’s also very confident in the ability of NFL teams to create a safe and productive environment during a global pandemic. 

Harbaugh said that compared to the rest of the country, most players are safer at facilities with their teams than at their homes.

“I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now, an NBA basketball bubble,” Harbaugh said. “We’re pretty darn safe. If you want to rank them, we’re all in the top five across the country. We’re right up there with anybody. We get tested every day and we are wearing masks everywhere.”

The Ravens, by all accounts, have done well making sure their facility in Owings Mills is not only following protocols for players and coaches, but also making sure it’s as easy a transition as possible. 

Rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said last week that players are constantly being reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands and keep distance from one another.

“All you can do is the best you can do and mitigate it to a great extent,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far, there are no guarantees going forward. We’ve got to stay vigilant like we’ve done.”

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The Ravens have had just two players opt out of the upcoming season — wide receiver/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and tackle Andre Smith — but it was certainly a conversation for a lot of players in the locker room. 

Most notably, defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

“I definitely considered (opting out). You have to,” Campbell said. “You can’t play football with this going on and not think about the risk you’re going to put on yourself and your family. Going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and other things we have to do to keep each other safe, I felt like the risks were mitigated the best we can.”

Campbell, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a trade in March, is set to turn 34-years-old on Sept. 1 and has asthma. 

The five-time Pro Bowl selection would have been one of the most notable names in the league to voluntarily opt out of the 2020 season. But with the protocols in place, he felt safer about his participation. 

One topic of discussion for the Ravens and their protocols, too, has been the option of quarantining a specific group of players to prevent a spread. 

Likely, those players would be at positions of extreme value — like quarterback — or players where backups aren’t readily available — like kicker. It just so happens that the Ravens have two of the league’s best players at those positions in Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. 

But as Harbaugh said, each move comes with a consequence, and that includes the “safer” option of quarantining the entire league.

“For instance, if you were going to quarantine the NFL for six months, yeah, if you were a doctor, you’d say, ‘Yeah, we want the best chance to keep everyone safe and healthy,’” Harbaugh said. “That would be great, but I kind of want to see my wife at some point in time in the next six months, and she doesn’t have coronavirus. So you’ve got to live with a certain amount of risk in order to live your life. We don’t want to forfeit all these guys' lives and they’re not willing to do it.”

Which means, for now, the players at the facility have assumed a level of risk for the upcoming season.

With the Ravens’ protocols in place, however, it’s all about minimizing those risks as much as possible.

“I put a lot of thought into it on my own, too, with my own underlying issues,” Campbell said. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to follow the rules.”

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