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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (AP) While a blimp hovers not too far in the distance, circling over tens of thousands of Super Bowl revelers, Christopher Weaver looks around at the neighborhood where he was born and raised and almost died.

He loves this place, probably more now than he did back in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina tried to wash it all away.

But it's not much to look at, that's for sure.

``You can see it for yourself,'' Weaver moaned to a reporter, staring Friday at all the vacant lots, overrun with weeds that are taller than he is, at all the abandoned shells of former homes, many of them still marked with the spray-painted ``X'' that became the grim symbol of a great American city nearly wiped off the map.

``I'm going to be honest with you,'' he went on. ``It sucks here. Just look across the street. Nothing. Look over there. Nothing.''

In many ways, New Orleans has come back stronger than ever since Katrina. The restaurant scene is thriving. The hotels are packed. The Superdome has received a glamorous makeover. The French Quarter rocks into the wee hours night after night.

But, as the Big Easy prepares to host the party-slash-national holiday it does like no other, Super Bowl Sunday, it's worth remembering that life has not yet returned to normal for everyone here.

Not even close.

``It's like a tale of two cities,'' said Mike Miller, who works with the homeless group Unity of Greater New Orleans. ``It's hard to believe that seven years later, it still looks like this.''

Just a short ride from the French Quarter, in historic neighborhoods such as Treme and the Ninth Ward, it's not hard to find a virtual time capsule from the days when Katrina roared ashore. On block after block, there are structures that look pretty much the same as they did after the water receded.

There are the telltale markings that show just how high it climbed when the levees cracked - 3 feet on this crumbling house, 5 feet on those remains of a shopping mall, 7 feet on that ghostly apartment complex. Those Xs still mark the date many of them were searched, who did the searching and how many bodies, if any, were found inside.

Where kids once played and neighbors used to hang out together, now all that remains could easily pass for a former war zone.

``It's just hard to believe that every abandoned house, every abandoned apartment, represents a family that never came back,'' Miller said, shaking his head.

Even after all these years, it all looks so familiar to anyone who remembers those horrific images of people clinging to rooftops and huddled on bridges, waiting desperately for help to arrive.

``You can still see,'' said Travers Kurr, also with Unity of Greater New Orleans, pointing toward the roof of a boarded-up house, ``where people busted out of their attics so they could be rescued.''

Weaver was one of those who barely got out alive.

When Katrina struck, he was looking out a window toward the levee about a block away, the one that was supposed to keep him safe. Instead, he watched it tear apart right before his eyes - and the water come rushing through.

He tried to escape the conventional way, but the pressure from winds howling at well over 100 mph prevented him from opening the door. He busted a window and climbed out, only to get pinned against the wall of his house by the rapidly rising waters. Finally, he went under, sure he was going to die. He held his breath and remembered what his grandmother told him, to always pray to God to forgive his sins.

``Suddenly, something shot me away from that house,'' Weaver said, convinced beyond any doubt that he's still alive today only because of a higher power.

A neighbor pulled him to safety using a strand of Christmas lights. After 2 1/2 days on a rooftop, they were finally rescued. Weaver still has a nasty scar of his right leg from a cut he got while being tossed about in the turbulent waters.

Despite the unthinkable carnage in the Lower Ninth Ward, Weaver never had any doubt he would return and rebuild, even if it's now clear that so many of his former neighbors and fellow survivors won't be following his lead.

``I was born and raised right here,'' he said. ``If Katrina comes back again, I'm still not leaving.''

Miller estimates there are more than 10,000 - and maybe as many as 15,000 - abandoned structures in the New Orleans metro area. Many of them have been commandeered by the city's large homeless population, who slip away in the light of day but leave behind evidence of their existence - dirty clothes scattered about, a bedroll where they slept, empty cans and plastic foam containers from what passed for a meal.

As he drives around the areas that won't be found in any tourism brochures, another member of his team, New Orleans native Clarence White, rattles off what used to be here, what used to be there.

``That was a popular bar room over there,'' White said, turning to his left. ``There used to be a drug store over there,'' he said, shifting his gaze to the right.

The NFL, as it now does in all Super Bowl cities, has set aside Saturday as a day of service, in which volunteers will take part in the renovation of five local playgrounds and their surrounding communities. That gesture will surely be more poignant in New Orleans than any other place where the championship game is held.

But Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, a native of nearby St. Rose, is keenly aware that it will take far more than a few hours to get this city - this entire city - back on its feet.

``When I get home, I drive around the city, go to some of my old spots, just hang out with people,'' he said. ``You see the city is rebuilding, but we've still got a long way to go. It's just different, man. You have so many people that were lost. The spirit was kind of broken for a second. But New Orleans people, we've been through a lot. We love our city, man. We love to have a good time. We love for people to come have a great time with us.''

Even amid the lingering devastation, there are hopeful signs of progress. In the Lower Ninth Ward, for instance, construction workers were on the scene Friday at several odd-shaped, energy-efficient homes going up with funding from a group led by actor Brad Pitt.

``I appreciate everything he's doing,'' Weaver said, though he quickly added that the remnants of Katrina are far, far more prevalent in this part of New Orleans.

Through all the hardship, Weaver doesn't seem the least bit bitter about his plight. He's proud the Super Bowl has returned to his hometown for the first time since Katrina, and he'll be pulling hard for the Ravens to beat the San Francisco 49ers. This being New Orleans, the occasion will be marked with adult beverages and plenty of food - gumbo, red beans and rice, a big pot of crawfish.

But, for all those Super Bowl revelers who might think everything has returned to normal in the Big Easy, Weaver has this message:

``Come on over here where I'm at.''

It's not far away at all.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/super-bowl-watch andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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What Trace McSorley’s shining performance vs. Philadelphia means for the Ravens roster battle

What Trace McSorley’s shining performance vs. Philadelphia means for the Ravens roster battle

PHILADELPHIA — Trace McSorley knew something was brewing when he saw he had missed two phone calls: One from his quarterback's coach, James Urban, and the other from his head coach, John Harbaugh. 

McSorley received word early Thursday morning that he would make his NFL starting debut later in the evening against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field with starter Lamar Jackson not suited up.

And with the biggest opportunity he’s had all preseason, McSorley delivered his best performance as a Raven. He finished 19-of-28 with 203 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to lead the Ravens to a 26-15, lightning-shortened win. 

It was McSorley’s first performance where he didn’t come off the bench this preseason.

“You’re really coming into it, if you’re not starting you kind of come in and you know when you’re going to be up so you’re getting the juices flowing, getting yourself ready,” McSorley said. “Tonight, as a team, we were able to come in and play really good offensively.”

His best performance of his pro career might have clinched him a spot on the 53-man roster, too. At the very least, it moved him closer to earning a spot when the rosters shrink on Aug. 31.

“I thought he played really well,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he was really poised, he made a lot of plays on the move, extended some plays and made them. He played really well.”

With normal backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sidelined with a right thumb injury, McSorley has been the team’s backup all preseason long. 

In that role, he’s gotten reps he typically wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Thursday, he showed it’s paying off.

“Just being able to get in and really see things, really be there live, it’s a big difference than watching the film or sitting back and getting the mental reps,” McSorley said. “Once you get in there, see it live, it’s different. It’s been extremely beneficial getting all these reps.”

Aided by the return of Marquise Brown, the Ravens offense scored 23 points in the second quarter — with three touchdowns from McSorley — to pull ahead for a 26-0 lead.

McSorley’s best play came when he rainbowed the left sideline and found Michael Floyd in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass that found the wide receiver right on the money. That followed his toughest effort of the night, a four-yard scramble where he found a way to get his right arm, and the football, over the goal line for a touchdown.

His other touchdown came on a seven-yard fade route to Jaleel Scott to put the Ravens up four possessions.

Still, despite his strong performance, he deflected individual praise and was more focused on how the offense ran as a whole. 

“I think so far, I think this is probably… we made some progress from the first couple games,” McSorley said. “That’s just kind of been the goal from week one to week two, from week two to week three. I think that’s something that coach Harbaugh talks about, I think we were able to do that as an offense again tonight.”

With Jackson and Griffin not expected to play next week in Washington for the team’s fourth and final preseason game, the spotlight will once again be on McSorley, as he’ll make his final case to be on the roster. 

Even though he looks like a safe bet to make the team now, especially with the special teams reps he’s received in practice, nothing is confirmed for the former Penn State quarterback.

But Thursday’s performance, one where he played the best football of his professional career, will go a long way toward ensuring he’s on the 53-man roster when the regular season begins.

“He did amazing,” running back Justice Hill said. “He got, what, three touchdowns? That’s crazy. And he only played a half.”

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Stock up, stock down: Justice Hill, Mother Nature's stock down in Ravens win

Stock up, stock down: Justice Hill, Mother Nature's stock down in Ravens win

PHILADELPHIA — In the team’s 16th straight preseason win, the Ravens jumped out to a 26-0 lead over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field and were able to hold on for a 26-15 win on Thursday. 

Here are a few players who stood out for the Ravens:

Stock up: Michael Floyd

With Floyd seemingly on the outside looking in to the Ravens roster bubble, he certainly made his case loud and clear. 

Floyd finished with three catches for 54 yards and a score. He caught a beautiful route down the sideline from quarterback Trace McSorley on an over-the-shoulder grab for the score. 

He’s still fighting for a roster spot, but Floyd registered his first catches of the preseason. If nothing else, he performed well to potentially get a look from another team, should he be released by the Ravens.

"Yeah, he's really had a good couple weeks," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he got his legs kind of going the first week and he plays kind of angry. He does, and I say it in a good way. He plays with aggressiveness and tempo and physicality. He had some big catches for us today and he's done a great job."

Stock up: Trace McSorley

McSorley had an excellent first half and carried that the rest of the way for a 19-of-28 performance. He threw for 203 yards yards, had two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

WIth McSorley still fighting for his spot on the roster, his showing at quarterback moved him that much closer to a spot on the 53-man roster. 

He’s expected to play special teams this year, which will boost his chances of being on the 53-man roster, and the 45-man active roster each week. 

Still, his start against the Eagles was his best performance as a professional. 

Stock down: Justice Hill

Hill didn’t have many opportunities to make a special play, but he had a pedestrian game after his excellent showing against the Packers a week ago. He had just eight yards on seven carries.

With Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon out of the lineup, Hill got his fair share of touches but struggled to make much of them. He made a key block on a 44-yard pass to Miles Boykin, but the rest of his night was largely forgettable.

In a crowded backfield, Hill has to stand out each and every week to earn his touches. Thursday was a step in the wrong direction.

It is noteworthy, however, that the entire team only had 40 yards put together. While it wasn't just Hill who struggled on the ground, he's one that is fighting for playing time.

Stock up: Miles Boykin

Boykin had just one catch, but he made it count as he took the pass for 44-yards for the Ravens longest gain of the evening.

Expected to see significant reps this season, Boykin has been a big, athletic target for Ravens quarterbacks to throw to all preseason long. As his experience grows, the Ravens offense should evolve with him.

Stock up: Marquise Brown

Marquise Brown's stock isn't up because he played. It's how he played. 

He had three catches for 17 yards and a rush, but suffered no setback and said he felt good with how he played postgame. 

"I think it was very emotional during the pregame," Brown said. "Just knowing that I'm finally able to play. So once I got there, it was just back to football."

Stock down: Mother Nature

With 11:43 left in the fourth quarter, Mother Nature intervened. 

The game was called after multiple lightning strikes, ending the game early. 

That’s not good news for some of the Ravens on the roster bubble, who were looking for any reps they could get. The team has just one more preseason game, and just over a week, before the rosters are cut to 53.

"I mean, (Eagles coach) Doug (Pederson) and I had the exact same feeling and all the players on both sides felt that way. ALl the coaches felt that way. To send the guys out there after sitting in the air conditioning for, it was going to be a long time, would've just been crazy."

This post has been updated with quotes.

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