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Indy needs playoff newcomers to get past Ravens

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Indy needs playoff newcomers to get past Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The playoffs can't start soon enough for Donnie Avery.

Five years after being the first receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft, he will finally make his postseason debut at Baltimore.

It's about time.

``It's great, it's like starting the season all over again,'' the Colts receiver said Friday with a smile. ``It's got my juices flowing again.''

The veterans who have been there before will explain this is the way the playoffs are - exciting and nerve-racking all the same time.

And this week, at least, Avery isn't the only one in the Colts' locker room going through this experience for the first time. Of the 53 players on this year's roster, 28 have never played in an NFL playoff game.

Perhaps that should be expected from a team that has relied on rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, piled up more combined rushing and receiving yards by rookies than any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and endured the most thorough housecleaning project of any team in the league after last years' 2-14 debacle. More than a half-dozen key players from the Colts' 2009 Super Bowl team, including Peyton Manning, were let go.

But the truth is only nine rookies are on that first-timer list as the surprising Colts (11-5) visit AFC North champion Baltimore (10-6) in Sunday's wild-card round game.

The other names include linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who had a team-high 203 tackles after arriving from Canada; Cassius Vaughn, who spent the last two seasons in Denver but didn't get to play in either of the Broncos' postseason games last year; and cornerback Vontae Davis, the reigning AFC defensive player of the week who spent his first three years in Miami.

``It's a special moment. I've never been to the playoffs being in Miami. My brother, Vernon Davis of San Francisco, he went to this first playoffs last year. He said it's a great feeling, a great experience,'' Vontae Davis said. ``I asked him for any tips and he just said `play harder.'''

If Davis or the others have additional questions, they won't have to look too far.

Outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Antoine Bethea, kicker Adam Vinatieri and receiver Reggie Wayne all own Super Bowl rings. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and backup running back Mewelde Moore have rings, too. Coach Chuck Pagano and most of those ex-Ravens he brought along have been to the playoffs multiple times as well, and their advice is simple.

``It's another week, we know the stakes are higher,'' Pagano said. ``We know the energy is higher but don't get caught up in all that stuff. Do what you've been doing.''

What the Colts have done best during this remarkable season is find ways to win.

Behind Luck, they have a league-high nine wins in one-possession games. Luck also tied the NFL record by directing seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, and even when the No. 1 overall draft pick hasn't played his best, they've still come up with big plays - Wayne's stretching score to beat Green Bay, Vick Ballard's twisting dive to beat Tennessee, Deji Karim's 101-yard kickoff return to flip last Sunday's game against Houston.

The Colts don't want to change that part of it now.

``I think we've done a lot to get to this point, so I don't think you need to wholesale change things,'' Luck said. ``Obviously, intensity is going to ratchet up, things are going to kick up a notch but trust in the same preparation, in the same process and hopefully that'll pay dividends.''

That won't be the only reward.

Wayne acknowledged Friday he has talked to the playoff newbies about everything from the Colts midnight move to the reaction they can expect when they return to their former hometown to the need to avoid throwing at 2004 defensive player of the year Ed Reed.

It was something else that really go the players attention, though.

``We tell them the more you play in the playoffs, the more checks you get. You see guys' eyes light up,'' Wayne said. ``They say, `Really, there's more money?' The guys I think are very excited. I don't think it will be too big for them, it hasn't been all year.''

Certainly not for Luck, who has been breaking league and franchise records all season.

He heads into this weekend carrying a streak of 105 consecutive passes without an interception, his longest all season. And though things have traditionally not gone well for rookies in the playoffs, Luck is confident his big-game experience at Stanford and his unflappable approach will work in his favor Sunday.

Joe Flacco, who has made the playoffs in all five of his NFL seasons agrees.

``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,'' the Ravens quarterback said. ``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, the Colts intend to follow the same tack they've taken all season and not worry about all those other things that come into play when you're making a playoff debut.

``Sometimes, I think it's better not to know,'' said backup quarterback Drew Stanton, a six-year veteran who has not taken a snap in the postseason but did play in three games on Detroit's 0-16 team. ``I think it (the playoffs) have been kind of infectious around here, there's kind of an obligation to this team and this city to put your best foot forward. That's what we want to do.''

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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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