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Jim, John Harbaugh ready for rematch at Super Bowl

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Jim, John Harbaugh ready for rematch at Super Bowl

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jim and John Harbaugh have exchanged a handful of text messages, and plan to leave it at that. No phone conversations necessary while the season's still going. No time for pleasantries, even for the friendly siblings.

There is work to be done to prepare for the Super Bowl, prepare for each other, prepare for a history-making day already being widely hyped as ``Harbowl'' or ``Superbaugh'' depending which nickname you prefer.

``It doesn't matter who the coach is, what relationship you have with the person on the other side,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said so matter-of-factly Monday afternoon.

Their parents sure aren't picking sides for the Feb. 3 matchup in New Orleans.

These days, the Harbaughs' longtime coaching father, Jack, stays away from game-planning chatter or strategy sessions with his Super Bowl-bound coaching sons. Baltimore's John Harbaugh and little brother Jim have been doing this long enough now to no longer need dad's input.

Yet, they still regularly seek it. And, their father does offer one basic mantra: ``Get ahead, stay ahead.''

``Probably the greatest advice that I've ever been given and the only advice that I've ever found to be true in all of coaching, I think we mentioned it to both John and Jim ... the coaching advice is, `Get ahead, stay ahead,''' Jack Harbaugh said.

``If I'm called upon, I'll repeat that same message.''

His boys still call home regularly to check in with the man who turned both on to the coaching profession years ago, and the mother who has handled everything behind the scenes for decades in a highly competitive, sports-crazed family - with all the routine sports cliches to show for it.

The Harbaugh brothers will become the first siblings to square off from opposite sidelines when their teams play for the NFL championship at the Superdome.

Not that they're too keen on playing up the storyline that has no chance of going away as hard as they try.

``Well, I think it's a blessing and a curse,'' Jim Harbaugh said Monday. ``A blessing because that is my brother's team. And, also, personally I played for the Ravens. Great respect for their organization. ... The curse part would be the talk of two brothers playing in the Super Bowl and what that takes away from the players that are in the game. Every moment that you're talking about myself or John, that's less time that the players are going to be talked about.''

Both men love history, just not the kind with them making it.

``I like reading a lot of history ... I guess it's pretty neat,'' John Harbaugh offered Monday. ``But is it really going to be written about? It's not exactly like Churchill and Roosevelt or anything. It's pretty cool, but that's as far as it goes.''

Nice try, guys.

John watched the end of Jim's game from the field in Foxborough, Mass., as Baltimore warmed up for the AFC championship game. Jim called his sister's family from the team plane before takeoff after a win at Atlanta and asked how his big brother's team was doing against New England.

The improbable Super Bowl features a set of brothers known around the NFL as fierce competitors unafraid to make a bold move during the season. Unafraid to upset anyone who stands in their way.

In fact, each one made a major change midseason to get this far - John fired his offensive coordinator, while Jim boosted his offense with a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.

Leading up to Sunday's games, parents Jack and Jackie said they would wait to decide whether to travel to New Orleans if both teams advanced or stick to what has been working so well - watching from the comfort of their couch in Mequon, Wis.

``We enjoy it very much. We get down in our basement, turn on the television and just have a fantastic day watching outstanding football,'' Jack said last week. ``We share our misery with no one but ourselves. Not only the misery, but the ups and downs, the ins and outs of an outstanding professional game.''

And, no, the Harbaughs weren't looking ahead to a potential big trip to the Big Easy.

Jack insists his wife is quick to pull out that old sports cliche: ``It's one game at a time. I think it's very appropriate,'' he said.

Jim figures they won't possibly miss this history-making game.

``I think they'll be there,'' he said with a smile.

The brothers, separated in age by 15 months, have taken different paths to football's biggest stage - years after their intense games of knee football at the family home. They tried to beat each other at cards, or whatever other game it was at the time. Sometimes, they tried to beat each other up. Sister, Joani Crean, often got in on the fun, too.

The 49-year-old Jim never reached a Super Bowl, falling a last-gasp pass short during a 15-year NFL career as a quarterback. The 50-year-old John never played in the NFL.

Still, both will tell you, ``Who's got it better than us? No-body!'' - one catchphrase they got from their dad.

``We can't put into words what it means to see John and Jim achieve this incredible milestone,'' their brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, said on Twitter. ``We talked to Jim (before) his team plane left. All he wanted to know was how was John doing? How were they playing? One incredible family who puts the care, well-being and love for each other at the forefront like most families do. Again, we are very proud of them. Going to be exciting to watch it unfold.''

John worked his way up from the bottom of the coaching ranks, while Jim was the star college quarterback at Michigan, a first-round draft pick and eventual Pro Bowler who made coaching his career once he retired.

John already has the one-up, while Jim's team is the early favorite. John's Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving night 2011, in Jim's rookie season as an NFL coach - though both know that means nothing now.

``I just want everybody to know, that was a four-day deal and every story has been told,'' John said. ``We're not that interesting. There's nothing more to learn. The tape across the middle of the room story, OK, you got it? It's OK. It was just like any other family, really. I really hope the focus is not so much on that. We get it, it's really cool and it's exciting and all that.''

Said Jim, ``Completely new business.''

In spite of his efforts to avoid the topic, Jim did take the opportunity to express how proud he is of John.

``He's a great football coach, a real grasp of all phases - offense, defense, special teams. I think he could coordinate at least two of those phases and do it as well as anyone in the league,'' Jim said. ``I've got half the amount of coaching experience he does. Again, it's not about us. I keep coming back to that. I'm really proud of my brother. I love him. That's the blessing part, that this is happening to him.''

And, fittingly for the big brother, John feels the exact same way.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this story.

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked scoring defense clashes with the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked scoring offense in one of the most anticipated games of Week 7.

The Ravens (4-2) are coming off a historic 21-0 shutout win over the Tennessee Titans, while the Saints (4-1) have had a full week of rest after beating up the Redskins in primetime in a dominating 43-19 win.

The Ravens are 5-1 all time against the Saints winning their last three contests and are 3-1 at M&T Bank Stadium. Here are key factors ahead of Sunday's game.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Game Preview

1. Brees can make history vs. Ravens

Drew Brees' road to Hall of Fame enshrinement has not been without obstacles. In Week 7, Brees will face a roadblock he's had issues with in the past. If he can clear it, he will etch his name yet again in the NFL history books.

Since entering the NFL in 2001, Brees is 0-4 against the Ravens, making Baltimore the only NFL team he has never beaten. A win Sunday would make him just the third quarterback to beat all 32 teams,  adding him to the list that features only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it it.  In Week 5 against the Redskins Brees passed both Favre and Manning to become NFL's all-time leading passer.

But the history-making for Brees won't stop there come Sunday. He enters the matchup with 499 career touchdowns and one more against the Ravens will make him the fifth signal caller in league history to throw 500.

The Ravens defense, which is ranked first in points (12.8), first in yards (270.8), second in passing yards (188) and third in rushing yards (82.8), will have to act fast as Brees hasn't thrown an interception in his last six regular-season games and leads the league in completion percentage, interception percentage, passer rating and fourth quarter passer rating. Against the Ravens, he's 116-for-181 for 1,340 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and 10 sacks. 

2. Flacco, Ravens offense needs to capitalize

Drew Brees isn't the only QB in this matchup making history. Joe Flacco became the third different quarterback in NFL history to complete 25 or more passes in nine consecutive games, completing the feat in the Week 6 victory over Tennessee. He also instilled a much needed confidence boost in receiver Michael Crabtree after dropping the ball literally and figuratively Week 5, connecting with him six times and for one touchdown. 

The Saints defense is ranked 26th in points (28.0), 18th in yards (369), 30th in passing yards (297.6) but first in rushing yards (71.4). Those are numbers the Ravens will need to capitalize on.

The Ravens' running game is still searching for its footing, so expect the chemistry between Flacco and the core receivers to strengthen. Flacco also has performed well against the Saints in the past,  finishing with 117.7 passer rating in his last two games against the Saints. The Ravens are averaging 28.7 points per game against New Orleans., lighting the Saints up for at least 30 points in the each past three matchups,

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who exited their Week 5 game early with a concussion, was a full participant during Wednesday and Thursday's practices and will be on John Brown, Willie Snead and Crabtree all day long.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Matchup Preview:

1. Jimmy Smith vs. Michael Thomas: 
Thomas will be keeping Smith preoccupied all afternoon as the wide receiver is ranked fourth in the NFL with 519 yards, averaging 103.8 yards per game with three touchdowns.

2. Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara vs. Ravens defense:
Referred to as 'Lightning and Thunder,' the two have put up 352 yards, are averaging 53 and 59.8 yards per game respectively and have seven touchdowns. 

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Injury Report:

Click here to see the latest Ravens-Saints injury report.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 How to Watch:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints

What: Week 7 regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, 4:05 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock

Weather: 55 degrees, mostly sunny

Ravens 2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9. Ravens vs. Bills. Win, 47-3 (1-0)

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 Ravens at Bengals. Loss, 34-23 (1-1)

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 Ravens vs. Broncos. Win, 27-14 (2-1)

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 Ravens at Steelers. Win, 26-14 (3-1)

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 Ravens at Browns. Loss, 12-9 (3-2)

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 Ravens at Titans. Win, 21-0 (4-2)

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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