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Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

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Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens are playoff bound, and that's about the best thing that can be said about them.

They've lost three in a row and have more than a half-dozen key players sidelined with injuries. Still, Baltimore (9-5) backed into the postseason late Sunday when Pittsburgh lost to Dallas.

The Steelers' loss assured the Ravens of at least wild-card berth, although their excitement over the accomplishment has been blunted by their longest losing streak since 2009 and the knowledge that they must improve to mount a serious postseason run.

The Ravens entered December with a three-game lead in the AFC North. The margin has shrunk to one game (over Cincinnati) with two to play.

``We've got work to do,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ``We're going to fight like crazy to become the team we're capable of becoming. We're not that team yet. It's a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us.''

That Ravens have the longest current run of consecutive playoff appearances in the NFL. They failed to reach the Super Bowl in any of their previous four forays into the postseason, and that unfortunate string will continue if Baltimore plays as it did the past three weeks.

After losing to Pittsburgh at home and at Washington, the Ravens were dominated from the start Sunday in a 34-17 home loss to Denver. After getting off to a fine 9-2 start, Baltimore is backpedaling in very untimely fashion.

``We've owned the last three losses. We also own the nine wins,'' Harbaugh said. ``We are what we are, we are what our record says we are and we're in contention. We're proud of that. But we know we have to get better and we have to get healthy.''

The injury list is expanding rather than shrinking. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right biceps) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) returned Sunday, but Ray Lewis remains sidelined with a torn right triceps and Harbaugh said Monday that inside linebacker Jameel McClain will miss the remainder of the season with a bruised spinal cord.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has missed three straight games with a sprained ankle, and Harbaugh acknowledged that the team ``might need to see who's available'' outside the organization.

The Ravens finished Sunday's game without wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce, both of whom had concussions. Their status, along with that of guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), safety Bernard Pollard (chest) and tight end Ed Dickson (knee), remains uncertain heading into Sunday's home game against the New York Giants (8-6).

Injuries are only part of the problem. The Ravens simply haven't played well this month, and although they remain in control of the division their uneven play has created a genuine cause for concern.

``Right now I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have,'' safety Ed Reed said. ``...It hits you in your heart when you lose three straight and you had an opportunity to close out your division the last three weeks. It's terrible.''

Asked to assess the frustration level of the team, cornerback Corey Graham replied, ``"It's at a max. I don't know about everybody else, but I know I'm frustrated. I know we've got to get better, I know we've got to make plays, and we've got to find a way to finish and get it done. We're not doing that as a team, and when you're not doing that you're not going to win games.''

Harbaugh attempted to shake things up last week by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handing the job to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, the offense was miserable against the Broncos. Baltimore failed to get a first down until deep into the second quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco had two turnovers by halftime and the Ravens scored their only touchdowns after Denver built a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead.

Ray Rice was limited to 38 yards on 12 carries and Pierce gained 20 yards on five tries before leaving. In all, Baltimore could muster only 56 yards on the ground.

``We'd like to run the ball better than we did. I was a little disappointed in that,'' Harbaugh conceded. ``We tried to get that going and there just wasn't much happening there. We need to sustain. We need to be a little more consistent, make a few more plays and get first downs.

``It's really been the same issue all year and we understand that. We're struggling with inconsistency and that's something we have to find between now and when the playoffs start. We're going to work hard to do that. I don't think we're that far away.''

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Lamar Jackson to host 'Funday with LJ' in Florida despite coronavirus pandemic

Lamar Jackson to host 'Funday with LJ' in Florida despite coronavirus pandemic

Though the coronavirus pandemic has seen a recent surge in the state of Florida, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is planning to hold his third annual "Funday with LJ" event.

Set for July 11 and 12, the outside activities are a way for the quarterback to give back to his community in Pompano Beach, Florida. Jackson recently shared a flyer for the event on Instagram. 

A 6-hour outdoor extravaganza that features go-karts, rock climbing, flag football, water slides and more, "Funday with LJ" is open to the public. 

RELATED: HOW MAHOMES' EXTENSION IMPACTS JACKSON

With the pandemic still being a major risk, Jackson has set up some precautions that include requiring adults to wear masks and restricting autographs as a way to limit close contact. Children will also have to sign a waiver before participating in any games or activities.

Though the measures are important, the event does come with some risk. Broward County, where the two days of activities will take place, has reported over 21,000 positive COVID-19 cases. Additionally, the area currently is not allowing groups of more than 10 people to be together at once, the city's website says.

With NFL training camp just weeks away, Jackson's gesture for his community is a kind one. However, it won't come without some obvious health risks.

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How does Patrick Mahomes' mega-extension impact the Ravens and Lamar Jackson?

How does Patrick Mahomes' mega-extension impact the Ravens and Lamar Jackson?

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has agreed to a massive 10-year mega-extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, a deal that ESPN's Adam Schefter has classified as the "richest in NFL history."

In Kansas City, fans rejoiced. The best quarterback in the NFL is under contract for their favorite team for the next 12 seasons.

But in Baltimore? Ravens fans likely immediately thought about Lamar Jackson and the potential deal he could command next offseason.

Jackson is entering his third NFL season and currently is in a similar position to where Mahomes was just a year prior. While they have different playing styles, the career arc through each of their first two seasons has plenty of similarities.

Both quarterbacks sat for the majority of their rookie seasons before becoming their respective team's starter the following year. In each of their first full seasons as the starting quarterback, Mahomes and Jackson led their respective squads to the No. 1 seed in the AFC while earning NFL MVP honors along the way. Both of them even graced the cover of Madden following their MVP seasons, too.

What Jackson does as a curtain call for his incredible 2019 campaign will certainly impact his future contract. Mahomes parlayed his MVP season in 2018 to a Super Bowl title and MVP last year, which confirmed Kansas City's belief in the need to invest in the QB long-term.

Baltimore is expected to be one of the NFL's best teams once again this fall, and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has publicly stated he expects Jackson to make a leap as a passer in 2020.

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As far as how much Jackson will make, it's unjust to put him in the same ballpark as Mahomes at this time -- the Chiefs passer has had arguably the best two years to begin his career as a starter than any quarterback in NFL history.

But, if the Ravens quarterback follows up his incredible 2019 season with an even better 2020, Jackson certainly could have an argument to command a deal similar to the Chiefs' QB just agreed to.

Entering the NFL, much of the knack on Jackson had to do with his arm. Well, the Ravens quarterback led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes a season ago, while also breaking the single-season rushing yards record by a quarterback. Sure, Jackson may not have the arm talent that Mahomes has, but there are also things the Ravens QB can do that the Chiefs passer simply cannot.

For Jackson, next offseason is likely the time the quarterback will sign an extension, similarly to how Mahomes did on Monday. In recent years, we've seen Jared Goff and Carson Wentz also sign lucrative extensions following their third professional season.

But as the salary cap continues to change, and now with Mahomes' record deal, the reality is that Jackson's future contract numbers are a guessing game.

Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson and Dallas Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott are both due for extensions, and each could happen before Jackson signs a new deal. Those future deals will likely only increase what Jackson, who has an already more impressive resume than both of them, can command.

What Jackson does as an encore to his MVP season will be crucial in contract negotiations next summer. If Jackson regresses slightly but still turns in a solid season, a deal like Goff's (four years, $110 million) or Wentz's (four-years, $107 million) could be two baselines to follow. Yet, if he improves upon his great 2019 year, Mahomes has set the bar for what the Ravens QB can ask for.

Regardless, Jackson's future deal in Baltimore won't be cheap. But, as the quarterback has proven thus far in his career, it will be worth it. Remember, good quarterbacks win Super Bowls, not cheap ones.

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