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Ravens, 49ers bring big-hitting 'D' to Super Bowl

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Ravens, 49ers bring big-hitting 'D' to Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It was as if linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens' defense set out to provide a quarter-by-quarter demonstration of how they do business.

About 11 minutes into the AFC championship game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Lewis drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit that pushed tight end Aaron Hernandez's chin strap up near his nose.

Then, in the second quarter, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe gave New England another free 15 yards by hitting an offensive lineman in the face mask in response to an after-the-play shove.

Fast-forward to early in the third, and Pollard was flagged for his team's third personal foul of the day, thanks to a leaping hit against the helmet of receiver Wes Welker. Two plays later, Welker dropped a third-down pass.

And finally, a couple of minutes into the fourth, Pollard struck again. No penalty was called this time, but his helmet-to-helmet hit on Stevan Ridley resulted in a fumble and left the running back on his back, looking limp and helpless. Ridley left the game with a head injury, while the Ravens recovered the football and were on their way to next Sunday's Super Bowl against the equally aggressive San Francisco 49ers.

In an age of high-powered offenses in the NFL - this season's games featured 45.5 points, the highest average since 1965 - and increasingly safety-conscious officials, a pair of hard-hitting, oft-penalized defenses are meeting for the championship. Those second-half shutouts of the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in the conference title games were only the latest reminder from the 49ers and Ravens that defense still matters.

Sometimes it isn't about some sort of newfangled, complicated Xs-and-Os defense, either. It's about players pushing it to the limit - and, sometimes, perhaps beyond - in a league that has been taking steps to rein in certain kinds of hits.

``Being physical? That's vital, man. That's what we live by,'' Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams said. ``That's something that Ray Lewis established here back in `96, and we're going to continue to do that. It's been, I guess, in our bloodline. It's in our DNA. We don't bring in guys that's timid. We don't bring in guys that's not going to hit anybody.''

What about San Francisco's defense?

``They're just as physical as we are,'' Williams replied, offering what in his mind is probably the highest compliment he could pay another team's players.

San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith deflected a question about whether his defense is as good as Baltimore's, replying: ``I mean, we're just trying to win a ring.''

Actually, that's probably better asked about the Ravens: Are they as good as the 49ers?

Opposing offenses scored 15.5 points per game against the 49ers, which ranked third in the 32-team NFL in the regular season. The Ravens gave up 20 per game, 11th-best.

The 49ers allowed only two touchdown passes of 20-plus yards, the lowest total in the league. Baltimore allowed six.

During the regular season, the Ravens were whistled for an NFL-high 19 personal fouls. Their team also was penalized more yards overall than anyone else.

The 49ers, for their part, tied for fourth with 15 personal fouls and ranked fifth in penalty yardage.

``When you go against a team that has that kind of reputation, and you can watch it on film, it definitely gets in your mindset and you know you have to deal with it,'' Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger said. ``I'm not sitting here saying that we're intimidating everybody or anything like that. But you know we're coming to hit you, for sure.''

Pollard put things a little more starkly.

This is a guy who has developed a knack for leaving injured opponents in his wake. It was his Week 1 hit on Brady in 2008, for example, that cost the star QB the rest of that season.

``For everybody, for fans, people who don't understand - they want to say, well, I'm being a dirty player. Well, no, I'm not being a dirty player. I'm just playing defense,'' said Pollard, a seventh-year veteran out of Purdue. ``And I ask you the question: If I came into your house, with your door locked, and I just kicked it down, and came to try to steal stuff, you're going to defend your house, am I correct? So that's the stand I take. We've got grass behind us. We've got the end zone that we have to defend, we've got to protect.''

If his is a way of thinking about the game that, as Williams noted, Lewis brought to Baltimore, the 49ers' current group - featuring players such as safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Patrick Willis - can trace its lineage back to Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.

He, for one, enjoys watching these two teams do what they do when opponents have the ball.

``There is a Steel Curtain or Chicago Bears type mentality with both of these defenses. Both of them bring a kind of edge to how they play,'' Lott said in a telephone interview. ``They both swarm to the ball, get a lot of people to the ball. It won't be just one guy hitting you. There will be a number of guys.''

Lott spoke admiringly about how well the 49ers and Ravens do what should come more naturally than it seems to in the NFL nowadays: tackle.

Only eight teams allowed an average of 5 yards or fewer after a catch this season, and two are meeting to decide who gets to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

``In a game like this where you have guys who are explosive guys, like (Frank) Gore, like (Ray) Rice, like (Colin) Kaepernick, like (Anquan) Boldin, you have to tackle,'' Lott said. ``And you have to tackle properly. These teams do.''

Seven of the 46 previous Super Bowls ended with MVP awards going to defensive players. That includes 2001, when Baltimore's Lewis was honored; it hasn't happened since 2003, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson.

But with players such as Lewis and Terrell Suggs on the field, plus Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, Whitner and Pollard, perhaps the MVP of Sunday's game will be someone who prevents points.

``It's just like the old saying,'' Baltimore's Ellerbe said. ``Offense sells tickets; defense wins championships.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Santa Clara, Calif., contributed to this report.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Ravens have four wins already this season, but none stand out as a signature victory.

The Ravens blew the doors of future 0-16 Miami Dolphins, then got past Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by six, three and six points, respectively. The combined record for those three? 4-13-1.

Now, two of those games weren't really as close as the final score made it look. But for a team with designs on contending in the AFC, it's a little concerning that Baltimore's point-differential would be negative-15 if you take out the 59-0 win in Miami that, frankly, shouldn't count.

All that came against a pretty light schedule. The Ravens have only face two non-terrible teams, but they lost to both. Now? Their schedule takes another step up in difficulty, and the first stage comes in Seattle.

The Ravens are traveling across the country to face the 5-1 Seahawks, who are flying high thanks to their quarterback, Russell Wilson. Wilson would be something close to the consensus MVP if the season ended today, thanks to his 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Seahawks own one of the most fearsome home field advantages in football, making this one of the toughest tests of the Ravens' season. 

This battle looks especially important, considering the gauntlet awaiting Baltimore after their Week 8 bye. Five of their next six games beginning in Week 9 are vs. New England, vs. Houston, at Los Angeles (Rams), vs. San Francisco, and at Buffalo. Those teams are a ridiculous 22-6 this season, so the Ravens need to stock up on as many wins as possible during the rest of their schedule.

They'll look to enter their bye with some momentum behind an MVP candidate of their own, albeit not one quite on Wilson's level just yet, in Lamar Jackson.

Jackson continued his own stellar start to the season in Week 6, becoming the first quarterback to ever pass for 200 yards and rush for 150 in a regular season game. He also became the first player in NFL history to earn both the FedEx Air Player of the Week and Ground Player of the Week in the same season.

His dual-threat dominance has keyed a resurgent Ravens offense, forced to carry a surprisingly-struggling defense. The Ravens are hoping their in-season acquisition of cornerback Marcus Peters will provide a jolt to their injured secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, safety Earl Thomas is making his long-anticipated return to Seattle on Sunday, a reunion you don't want to miss.

This is one of the biggest games on the slate in the NFL this weekend, and it's one of the biggest swing games for the Ravens' season. Two franchises defined by their defenses will be carried by their high-octane offenses in what should be a terrific atmosphere.

Here's everything you need to know about the game. 

RAVENS AT SEAHAWKS WEEK 7:

Who: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

What: Week 7 of the regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, 4:25 p.m. ET

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: FOX Sports, FuboTV

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Weather: High of 53 degrees, 5-10 mph winds, strong chance of rain (80 percent)

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m.

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

The Ravens have their toughest individual test of the season on Sunday.

Against MVP favorite Russell Wilson, the Ravens will need their best performance of the year. And if they’re able to get that, they’d be three games over .500 headed into their bye week with the Patriots looming. 

The rest of the division aside, the opportunity is there for the Ravens to pull ahead in the NFC North and the potential playoff race.

“It won’t make or break us, but it will go a long way in setting us up for where we’re headed down the road and what kind of season we’re going to have,” head coach John Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens currently have a two-game lead in the division with the Browns and Steelers on a bye week. With a win, their lead would move to two and a half games ahead of their bye next week. 

After that, the Patriots come to Baltimore for Sunday Night Football.

First, however, the Ravens are focused on the Seahawks, no matter how boring that may sound.

“I’m going to give you the cliché, but it’s the truth,” Harbaugh said bluntly. “We just have to focus on Seattle. So, how the schedule fell or how we fit...It’s better to be 4-2 than 3-3 or 2-4, but not as good as 6-0 or 5-1. That’s my thought on it. And 5-2 would be a lot better than 4-3.”

In order to get to 5-2, the Ravens will need to go through Wilson and his excellent season thus far. He hasn’t thrown an interception, has 17 total touchdowns and is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage. 

“He’s playing at an MVP level, and I agree with that,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will. You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket,’ or you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three.”

Baltimore will get new addition Marcus Peters into the fold to help with a growingly injured secondary. He’s already played Seattle this season, so the Ravens are hoping he’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to face Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense.

But perhaps the biggest story of the secondary is the return of Earl Thomas to the Seattle. 

The last time he was in a Seahawks uniform, he was carted off with a broken leg and flipped off his own sideline. He’ll return to his former team of nine years on Sunday.

“Hopefully they (the fans) respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."

Aside from all of that, the Ravens say they’re not focused on 5-2 or what could come with a win over one of the NFL’s best teams and quarterbacks.

“We need to be 1-0 this week,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play our best football of the year in Seattle to win the game, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. And that’s what we’re going to work for.”

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