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Harbaugh won't let Ravens coast into playoffs

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Harbaugh won't let Ravens coast into playoffs

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Now that they've finally wrapped up another AFC North crown, the Baltimore Ravens intend to get healthy, close out the regular season with a win and take some momentum into the playoffs.

Baltimore (10-5) snapped a three-game skid and clinched its second straight division title Sunday with a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No matter what happens in this Sunday's finale against Cincinnati, the Ravens will host a first-round playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6.

But coach John Harbaugh won't let Baltimore coast into the postseason. After watching Baltimore click in all phases against the Giants, he's looking for an encore against the Bengals.

``That's how you improve, that's how you get you better,'' Harbaugh said Monday. ``Momentum, sure it's a good word. What does that mean exactly? It means that we're improving. The idea is we have plenty of things to work on, and we've got to continue to improve to be the best we can in the playoffs. This week is an opportunity to do that.''

If Baltimore wins and New England loses to Miami, the Ravens get a No. 3 seed and open the postseason against Cincinnati. Harbaugh said he knows all the possibilities - and doesn't really care.

``We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board as far as where that could shake out on Sunday,'' he said. ``But there's no way to say for sure what's going to happen, so we'll just have to see how it plays out.''

If the game is blowout, Harbaugh will consider removing some of his starters. But he's not counting on that happening.

``The biggest thing is that you can't play this game at half speed. Our guys are going to play the game full speed to win,'' he said.

The Ravens are 4-3 on the road, so this could serve as a tuneup for potential games at New England, Denver or Houston.

``It's a plus for us, an opportunity to go play on the road like this in a real tough environment,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's a rivalry game, it's in the division. These two teams play it out pretty good every single time. So yeah, it'll help us build up our callouses a little bit for the playoffs.''

Prior to Sunday's win over New York, the Ravens appeared to be regressing after a 9-2 start. Their losing streak began with three-point losses to both Pittsburgh and Washington and ended with a 34-17 embarrassment at home against Denver.

Against the Giants, however, the Ravens scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, led by 17 at halftime and never let New York back into it.

``We've been practicing really well throughout the course of the last four weeks,'' Harbaugh said. ``At some point in time it's going to show itself on the field on game day. It was our best overall performance, I think. It was the best we've done at putting all three phases together and playing well. We blocked, we tackled, our playmakers made plays. We didn't turn the ball over. We didn't do the things that cost us and hurt us like we did in the other three games.''

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who had six turnovers during the losing streak, threw for 309 yards and didn't give the ball away once. If he and the Ravens play like that in the postseason, Baltimore will be dangerous.

``I said last week we're going to see what kind of team we are. We believe we're this kind of team,'' Flacco said after the Ravens' dominating performance. ``We're really going to see if we are. I think that we showed ourselves and we showed people that we are that kind of team. We're here to stay, and we just have to do all we can to get better, to play like this, and even get better than this throughout the remaining weeks.''

One reason for the Ravens to give their all this Sunday is that it's another chance for the offense to get in sync with coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron two weeks ago. The Baltimore attack sputtered against Denver in its first foray under Caldwell, then racked up 533 yards against New York.

``That's the way we can play,'' said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who returned from a concussion.

Baltimore won't have linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) against the Bengals because Harbaugh wants to give the 17-year veteran more time to recover from an injury that has kept him sidelined since Oct. 14.

But the Ravens hope to have back safety Bernard Pollard, who's missed two straight weeks with a chest injury, and receiver Anquan Boldin, who left with a bruised shoulder in the second half against New York.

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

Twenty-four-year-old Kaare Vedvik didn't watch his first football game until seven years ago, and now he's fighting for a spot on the Ravens' special teams roster.

Raised in Norway, Vedvik got his first glance at the game when the Super Bowl was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time. 

"It seemed like a really, really interesting sport," Vedvik said via The Baltimore Sun. "It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun."

Fun enough to get the competitive soccer player to be an exchange student in the United States during his junior year of high school to test out the game of football. Vedvik returned to Norway for his senior year but impressed college recruiters enough at a Kohl's Kicking Camp in Texas that he was eventually recruited to play at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Staying in Norway would have meant giving up on sports entirely as school becomes more difficult and sports are no longer offered. Vedvik wasn't ready for that.

While at Marshall, Vedvik played in 38 games in four years as both a punter and kicker. He punted 59 times for 2,597 yards — averaging 44 yards — with 26 of them inside the 20-yard line. Vedvik once punted a 92-yarder, making it the seventh-longest punt in FBS history and the longest in 45 years. He ranked in the Top 10 for fewest punt return yards and averaged 63.6 yards-per-kickoff. 

After a private workout with Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, Vedvik became one of 14 Ravens undrafted free agents and has impressed thus far hitting 70 and 67-yard field goals in training camp practices. And in Thursday's preseason game vs. the Rams, Vedvik hit a 56-yard field goal.

"Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball," Vedcik said. "That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender."

While Vedvik's chances of dethroning the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and 12-year veteran punter Sam Koch are slim, he could very well make an impact elsewhere. 

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Norwegian. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

“When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg," Koch added. "You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

The Ravens returned to M&T Bank Stadium for their second game on the 2018 NFL preseason schedule and gave us a lot of reasons to be excited.

Joe Flacco and his new core of receivers only needed one drive to show off, Lamar Jackson put his speed on display and Robert Griffin III gave Breshad Perriman a much-needed confidence boost.

Here's what we learned from their 33-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams. 

1. First teamers make it count

It took Joe Flacco and the first-team offense all of 4 minutes and 46 seconds to get themselves on the board. During the 10-play, 70-yard drive, Flacco connected with rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, Javorius Allen, John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and finally, Patrick Ricard for a six-yard touchdown. During the impressive drive, Flacco showed his own mobility by getting out of the pocket for a three-yard gain and a classic Flacco slide. 

Flacco connecting with three of his newest receivers is what we've been waiting to see all offseason. Even though it was just one preseason drive, it's a step in the right direction after the Ravens' 2017 offense ranked 29th in the league in passing. 

"Listen, our guys are really showing up," Flacco said at halftime. "We've had a great camp, and it was good to come out here and see it carry over into a game."

"I think once the regular season starts, this isn't going to mean anything," said Flacco postgame. "But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season."

2. A lot of room to grow for Lamar Jackson

Jackson followed up the Ravens' successful first drive with one of his own. The rookie hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard gain before putting his footwork on display faking out several Rams defenders en route to a 9-yard touchdown run. 

While he made improvements from his Hall of Fame Game appearance, Jackson showed he still has a lot to learn, finishing the night 7-18 for 119 yards. With two preseason games under his belt, Jackson received high praise from his head coach John Harbaugh and Flacco on which he carries himself. 

"He does seem poised for a rookie," coach John Harbaugh said. "Even on the sideline, he may not know everything ... but he comes off the field and knows exactly what he did. I think he's really going to continue to blossom for that reason. He handles situations very well."

Flacco followed up on Harbaugh's comments by calling his touchdown run "pretty impressive" and said it's been good getting to talk to him on the sideline and that "he's a confident young kid... [that's been] handling himself really well."


3. A much-needed confidence boost for Perriman

The Ravens showed their former first-round pick they still have faith in him after picking up his $649K roster bonus included in the final year of his rookie contract earlier this offseason.

During last week's Hall of Fame Game, Perriman dropped a pass from RGIII that turned into an interception. However, the duo redeemed themselves against the Rams when Griffin III threw a 32-yard bomb to the back left corner of the end zone to Perriman. 

A smiling Perriman could be found in the Ravens' locker room after the win saying the play was "definitely a confidence boost" and is just thankful to finally be healthy during the preseason for pretty much the first time in his career. 

He will have to continue to fight for his spot on the 53-man roster with the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. 

4. Williams continues to be a threat

The 2017 third-round pick followed up his strong performance at the Hall of Fame Game – where he had a total of 41 pass-rushing snaps resulting in six hurries, one QB hit and a pass rush productivity of 17.1 according to Pro Football Focus – with another stellar performance.

During Thursday's matchup, the edge rusher out of Alabama had multiple hurries and a strip sack in the third for the first sack of the preseason.

Williams was following in the footsteps of the Ravens' first-team defense who finished their opening drive with a sack from Matthew Judon on third down to force the punt and an interception in the second from Maurice Canady. 

Ravens vs. Rams Notes

— The competition at right tackle between James Hurst and Orlando Brown Jr. is heating up. Brown Jr. played into the third quarter Thursday after getting in 60 snaps during the Hall of Fame Game. Quarterback Joe Flacco praised the third-round pick saying, "You can't ignore the fact that he's got the ability. He's just so big. He swallows people up. He has the natural ability to play that position and be a really good football player, so it's just exciting to see." 

— The Ravens got two W's last night when John Harbaugh quoted THE Michael Scott when asked about avoiding the injury bug during the preseason. Harbaugh said, "I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious." Classic. 

— While the preseason record does not matter whatsoever, the Ravens haven't lost a preseason game since Sept. 3, 2015. They now have ten days until they head to Indianapolis to face the Colts. 

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