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Crabtree caps career year with Super Bowl berth

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Crabtree caps career year with Super Bowl berth

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Michael Crabtree refused to remove the black 49ers beanie and reveal his hair. Nope, not going to do it.

Crabtree is trying to maintain every possible element of surprise he might still have left heading into his first Super Bowl - and will certainly take any advantage he can get this week.

Not that his `do has much to do with it. But this is Crabtree, quirky and superstitious, a guy still trying to shed that diva label he picked up as a college star at Texas Tech. It's something his San Francisco teammates are quick to dismiss, insisting that's not the case.

The dynamic, play-making wide receiver will be a primary focus for the Baltimore Ravens' secondary come Sunday at the Superdome. Crabtree is as dangerous after the catch as he is dodging defensive backs to make acrobatic catches or finding ways to keep both feet inbounds while tiptoeing the sideline.

``A lot of coaches can coach a route and how you catch the ball, but after the catch it's really all you,'' he said. ``That's what makes you special.''

No matter his catches or number of chances this weekend, Crabtree cares about only one thing: capping his career season with a championship ring. The fanfare and media frenzy, he'll take it or leave it (his voice was hoarse Wednesday from all the talking). He is still coming to terms with being a public figure, and the constant scrutiny that goes along with it.

Just last week, Crabtree learned he wouldn't face charges for an alleged sexual assault in a hotel after the 49ers beat Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs on Jan. 12. The San Francisco district attorney announced Friday there would be no charges ``at this time.'' The wideout was never arrested or detained, and police said he cooperated with the investigation.

``I was disappointed in the allegations,'' Crabtree said Wednesday morning, before heading off to practice at Saints headquarters. ``It's over now.''

Crabtree still carries a chip on his shoulder and is out to prove he should have been drafted higher. He held out for 71 days as a rookie before signing in October 2009 and becoming a starter less than three weeks later. He wouldn't change much about how things have gone so early in his NFL career.

After all, had he gone to the Oakland Raiders with the seventh overall pick that year - they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey instead - Crabtree would be watching after yet another losing season in the East Bay. The Niners grabbed him three spots later at No. 10.

``I watched him as a youngster, I watched him in college,'' Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones said. ``When he came out and he held out, I was interested to see what he was going to do. He came in and I was like, `This kid can play.' I like his game. He's got great hands, great route runner.''

Colin Kaepernick sure thinks so. Crabtree quickly became the second-year quarterback's top target after he took over the starting job under center midseason.

Kaepernick's passes come so fast they require extra concentration and ``you've just got to focus at all times on his ball.''

``He does a lot of things well and he's a very physical receiver,'' Kaepernick said. ``He wants to get in the end zone every time he touches the ball. As a quarterback, that's something you love.''

Crabtree receives guidance from a couple of other characters who have dazzled at his position - teammate Randy Moss and former 49ers star Terrell Owens. Moss tells Crabtree like it is, on the field and off, while T.O. offers advice from time to time via text messages.

They've got a few things in common, too.

In the season finale against Arizona on Dec. 30, Crabtree caught two touchdowns and finished with a career-high 172 yards on eight receptions. It was the best outing by a 49ers receiver since Owens' 166-yard performance in November 2002. Crabtree, finally healthy for a full season after a series of injuries in his first three seasons, also became San Francisco's first 1,000-yard receiver since T.O. in `03.

If he and Kaepernick can keep their good thing going, Crabtree certainly has a chance at a championship.

``He's a great runner and he has great ability to make people miss,'' Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said. ``He's elusive. He's a guy that can put his foot in the ground and move and get to a different direction. He's having a great year and he's done some great things for that team. We look forward to the challenge out there of going against him.''

Crabtree keeps defenders guessing on every down with his big-play potential all over the field.

He finished with career highs of nine touchdowns, 85 catches and 1,105 yards this season. That included five TDs and 30 catches on third-down plays - both stats among the top five in the NFL.

Teammate Frank Gore describes his recent play as the ``Texas Tech Crabtree.''

Crabtree took it personally when the 49ers failed to reach last year's Super Bowl after a 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual champion New York Giants. San Francisco's receiving corps managed one catch for 3 yards that game. It was his reception, but hardly enough.

``I can't really pinpoint the things that Crabtree has picked up,'' Moss said. ``I just told him when I first came I really wanted to work, I just wanted to be out there with him to make plays for him. Michael Crabtree hasn't let me down, he really hasn't. Everybody has little stumbles in the road. It's great to see a person to overcome so many things. His whole 49ers career he's had some stumbles and hasn't been able to complete a whole season, but to go out there and make the plays he's made this year, my hat's off to him.''

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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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