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Cruz: Meeting Pinto family was "toughest by far"

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Cruz: Meeting Pinto family was "toughest by far"

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) For much of his hour-long visit with the family of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Connecticut school shootings, Victor Cruz talked about football, life and young Jack, the child who idolized him.

Tears were shed. Feelings were shared. Cleats and gloves worn by Cruz to honor Jack Pinto at Sunday's game against Atlanta were given to his family.

The New York Giants wide receiver somberly recounted Wednesday his meeting with Pinto's parents and brother in Newtown, Conn.

He struggled in his retelling only when asked about the family's decision to bury the child in the receiver's No. 80 Giants jersey. The father of an infant girl, Cruz stopped for a moment, and his eyes became watery.

``You never go through some circumstances like this and circumstances where a kid faces or a family faces something of this magnitude at their school,'' Cruz said. ``This definitely was the toughest by far.''

Jack Pinto was buried on Monday and Cruz telephoned the family to ask whether he could visit them Tuesday.

The family disclosed after Friday's massacre that Cruz was Jack's favorite player. The boy was one of 20 first-graders and six adults killed in the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Cruz drove to Newtown with his girlfriend, Elaina Watley, and their daughter, Kennedy.

``I had no expectations. I was a little nervous,'' Cruz said. ``I just didn't know how I was going to be received. You never know when they are going through something like that. You never know how it is going to go down.''

Seeing the family outside the home along with some local children made Cruz feel better.

``They were still pretty emotional, crying and stuff like that,'' Cruz said. ``I saw how affected they were by just my presence alone. I got out and gave them the cleats and the gloves and they appreciated it. The older brother (Ben) was still emotional, so I gave them to him.''

Cruz had written ``Jack Pinto, My Hero'' and ``R.I.P. Jack Pinto'' on his cleats before the Giants' loss to the Falcons Sunday in Atlanta.

The 26-year-old player best known for his salsa dances after touchdowns, signed autographs for the children before heading inside.

``I didn't want to go in there and make a speech,'' Cruz said. ``I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fans they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.''

Cruz spent that part of the visit sitting in the chair where Jack's father, Dean, sat when he watched the Giants' Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in February.

It was a day Jack got to see his favorite team win a championship.

``It was just an emotional time,'' Cruz said. ``I spent a little bit of time with them. We got to smile a little bit, which was good for them. It was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in the tunnel where it can really be negative, so it was a good time. They are a great family and they're really united at this time and it was good to see.''

Cruz said it was strange thinking about a child being buried in his jersey. He did not know how to react. Should he thank the family?

``It leaves you kind of blank,'' Cruz said. ``I am definitely honored by it. I am definitely humbled by it, and it's definitely an unfortunate but humbling experience for me.''

The visit also gave Cruz time to reflect, especially looking at his daughter.

``Ever since it happened I've kind of been spending more time with her, just cherishing the little moments, the little time you get with her because you never know when that can be taken from you,'' he said.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he was incredibly proud of Cruz for visiting with the Pinto family.

``Hopefully some of their grief might at least temporarily be suspended in being able to embrace Victor Cruz,'' Coughlin said, adding what he did speaking volumes of what he has inside.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice said what Cruz did took heart.

``You've got to be able to put yourself in that family's situation to understand at least what they're going through,'' Rice said in a conference call with the New York media about Sunday's game against the Giants. ``That's what it's about. That's something that you don't just say, `I'm going to do it.' You do it from the heart, from within and what he did was amazing.''

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Ravens vs. Texans Week 11: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens vs. Texans Week 11: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Potentially the hottest team in the NFL, the Ravens enter Week 11 on a five game winning streak while sitting at 7-2. On top of the AFC North and in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Baltimore has picked up impressive wins over the Seahwaks and Patriots in recent weeks, and is coming off of a dominating win in Cincinnati.

A lot of the success can be attributed to the play of Lamar Jackson. Baltimore's quarterback has been phenomenal as of late attacking teams through the air and on the ground with show-stopping plays. Jackson's 2019 campaign has thrust him to the front of the MVP conversation and has plenty of analysts backtracking on old takes.

The Ravens defense has come to play as of late as well. The acquisition of Marcus Peters looks to be exactly what Baltimore needed, as the cornerback's pick-6 on Sunday was his second in only three games as a member of the secondary. As of now, everything is clicking for the Ravens.

But, Sunday will provide another big test when Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans come to town. While Houston will be without start defensive end J.J. Watt, Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and company present a formidable challenge in what could be a potential postseason battle. Here's everything you need to know about the Week 11 matchup:

Ravens vs. Texans: How to watch

What: Week 11 of the NFL regular season

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD

When: Sunday, Nov. 17, at 1:00 p.m.

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: Stream on FuboTV 

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Weather: 46 degrees, partly cloudy

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. (W, 30-16)

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m. (W, 37-20)

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 49-13)

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson set to square off in ‘new era’ of quarterbacks

Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson set to square off in ‘new era’ of quarterbacks

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Don Martindale isn’t looking at Sunday’s matchup between the Ravens and Texans as a single game, but rather a game in a historical context. 

With two MVP candidates at quarterback on each side in Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson, the game isn’t just one that could be a playoff preview or a matchup between two of the NFL’s best, but rather a showcase of where the NFL is headed as a league.

The NFL is moving toward quarterbacks of the dual-threat variety, signal-callers that can beat teams in both the air and on the ground. Jackson and Watson are two of the NFL’s best in that department.

“It’s not just these two quarterbacks, but it’s the new era of quarterback,” Martindale said. “The lazy question is ‘Does practicing against Lamar help you for this?’ We’re preparing for more mobile quarterbacks this year than the old school, stay-in-the-pocket-and-play quarterback from the pocket.”

Jackson and Watson both entered the league with questions aplenty about whether the two quarterbacks, who relied so much on their legs, could be successful in the NFL. As of Week 10 of the 2019 season, those questions have been squashed. 

Jackson has totaled 2,738 yards and 21 touchdowns through nine games and is on-pace for nearly 4,900 yards from scrimmage and 37 touchdowns. Watson has totaled 2,711 yards and 23 touchdowns through nine games, and is on-pace for 4,819 yards and 40 touchdowns.

If there are examples of the way the NFL game is headed, two of the best will be on the field on Sunday.

“I'd rather play against a quarterback that's going to stand there,” Earl Thomas said. “These quarterbacks coming now, they're able to run. They're able to throw it deep. They have the schemes. They have all the misdirection stuff. So I'm not enjoying these young quarterbacks that are coming into the league and doing all this spectacular stuff that they're doing. But, it's just the way the league is going now.”

The ability to both run and pass has left defenses flummoxed as to how to slow down the high-powered attacks, led by quarterbacks that can win with both their arm and their legs.

Last season, Jackson led all quarterbacks in rushing with 695 yards. Watson was in third with 551 yards.

“I know it's hard on defenses, because when you feel you have the offense figured out and you guys are covering everyone, the quarterback gets out, gets the first down, keeps the drive going,” Jackson said. “So, the defensive guys are on the field even longer. We're just doing our thing.”

But one of the storylines that makes Jackson and Watson’s stories so unique are the doubts they endured before taking over as quarterback.

Questions of durability, passing ability and most everything else followed both quarterbacks around from the time they were drafted to even today, where questions still persist about the viability of the running quarterback in the NFL.

“I guess I would question the questioners,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “When we evaluated Deshaun, we felt, obviously, very strongly about his ability to come in here and be a winner and develop into an excellent pro quarterback, which is what he's done. I definitely evaluated Lamar and met Lamar pre-draft, and he's a great player.”

To those in Houston and Baltimore, however, the idea that both Watson and Jackson couldn’t ever be successful seems wrong.

“So, 'wave of the future,' all those different things ... I think these guys are winners,” O’Brien continued. “They were winners in college. They were winners in high school, and they're winners now.”

While both Watson and Jackson — and other mobile quarterbacks around the NFL — may not have yet reached the top of the NFL passing charts, the added dimension of what they can do on the ground has made life incredibly difficult for defenders. 

“Peyton Manning was extremely hard to defend, Tom Brady was extremely hard to defend” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “But, neither one of them could run a 4.3 (40-yard dash), so you don’t have to worry about tackling them on any given play.”

Smith added that when a quarterback breaks the pocket and gets loose for a first down, it can be incredibly demoralizing for a defense that thinks it has forced a stop. 

That can be tough to prepare for, as opponents of the Ravens have noted routinely this season, when you can’t simulate the speed and movement of the opposing quarterback.

“What happens in the game where you’re playing a mobile quarterback is, when you’re practicing, you see a guy go by and say, ‘I got him,’” Martindale said. “In game, they don’t got him. So I think that’s the biggest thing, is just adjusting to the speed of it, of the mobile quarterback.”

Still, while it’s easy to draw comparisons to quarterbacks that can run and pass, and seemingly are the future of the NFL, Jackson doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Every mobile quarterback is unique, which makes them so difficult to contain.

“I play Lamar Jackson ball,” Jackson said. “I don't play nobody else’s ball.”

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