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Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

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Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.

The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Baltimore Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.

Still, Birk knew the Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.

``At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you,'' Birk said. ``I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team.''

Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3.

``It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``To be able to be involved with that as a leader is a huge thing. It makes you feel really good, and now you try to make the most of it.''

Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.

Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL's biggest game.

``It's great, obviously,'' he said. ``That's the goal. That's your dream. That's why you play.''

Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through over his first 14 years. But Birk exudes no such feeling of entitlement.

``Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn't matter how long you play,'' he said. ``To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been through my four years here - every year getting close and getting close - to finally break through, it's pretty special.''

Reed, 34, has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has long been recognized as one of the finest free safeties in the game. But he never got into the Super Bowl until now, and to make it even sweeter, his first appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana.

``It's been a long time coming, but it takes time,'' Reed said. ``We've built up to this point.''

Teammate Jacoby Jones, who grew up in New Orleans, will be making his Super Bowl debut in his sixth season. After the Ravens beat New England 28-13 in the AFC championship game, Reed prepared for a trip to familiar territory with Jones in tow.

``I really don't have any words for it,'' Reed said. ``I rushed into the locker room to call my mom, because I know that my family has been going through some things, so I'm just thankful to be going home and for the whole of New Orleans to see some hometown guys. Jacoby, we talked about it. We haven't been there since (Hurricane) Katrina. We're just grateful.''

The Ravens failed to win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking through.

``For everything we've been through since coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build something and to create this moment,'' Reed said. ``We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand each other and understand the process together.''

Williams, a backup on the line, played for Philadelphia and Cincinnati before getting into the Super Bowl in his 13th NFL season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th season) and former Houston Texans stars Vonta Leach (ninth) and Bernard Pollard (seventh) signed as free agents with Baltimore for the chance to perform on the sport's grandest stage.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who needed only five years to get it done, takes delight in seeing some of his older teammates finally heading to the Super Bowl.

``No doubt about it, I am excited for everybody that has been in the league as long as those guys have been,'' he said. ``To have this opportunity is pretty cool.''

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Hot day of joint practice between Ravens and Eagles cut short

Hot day of joint practice between Ravens and Eagles cut short

PHILADELPHIA — On a day with the heat index at 100 degrees, the Ravens first joint practice in Philadelphia against one of the favorites to come out of the NFC ended about 45 minutes short.

This week is the Ravens' second joint practice of August, the first of which came when the Jaguars came to Baltimore for two days of practice before the preseason opener. 

“The best thing is I think the tempo ramps up a little bit,” coach John Harbaugh said on joint practices. “You get different guys, different schemes. I do think it notches up one or two clicks, which is good for you. This is a really talented football team, the Eagles, so we get a chance to see some really good players.”

Even with some positive feelings from the practice, there were, and still are, a few question marks about the Ravens and their available bodies. 

Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards, and Miles Boykin were notable absences from practice from the start. Left guard Jermaine Eluemanor left practice early, and Ronnie Stanley and Mark Ingram didn’t take reps towards the end of practice.

With the heat beating down, it’s unclear if they were related to the weather. Harbaugh had no updates after practice, for players that missed the entirety, or players that left early.

The practice was ruled by defense, though, as the Ravens offense had trouble scoring in the red zone most of the afternoon. One of the biggest highlights, however, was a diving catch by Mark Andrews in the back of the end zone. 

“The red zone is tough, the red zone is faster, coverage is tighter,” Harbaugh said. “Things have to be executed more quickly, more decisively. The windows are going to be closing quicker, they’re going to be smaller. Timing is really important, execution is everything. For a young quarterback, it’s a fast game as it is.”

Defensively, the Ravens secondary held its own against a talented Eagles offense. 

Notably, however, Earl Thomas was beaten on a deep route by Alshon Jeffery on a pass from Carson Wentz.

“What I’ve drawn from the last two joint practices is the competitive juices you get from going against a new team,” Thomas said. “Carson Wentz is not a pushover, it’s good to go against him. It’s good to go against that offense. Tight ends are pretty good, receivers are pretty good.”

The Ravens will practice with the Eagles once again tomorrow before a day off on Wednesday. The two will play, officially, on Thursday in the team’s third preseason game. 

Until then, they’ll just focus on getting better against a team that’s one of the league’s best.

“You see different routes, you see different combinations in the passing game, you see different quarterbacks,” Thomas said. “All of that is great.”

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Ravens Roundup: Team not changing much ahead of week three vs Eagles

Ravens Roundup: Team not changing much ahead of week three vs Eagles

Player News:

Lamar Jackson is going to once again play around 20 snaps in week three, as he has throughout August. Normally, this is the week in which the starters get the most reps, but the Ravens don't want to change things up with Jackson.

Cyrus Jones is preparing for a big opportunity as the Ravens' new top slot cornerback after the neck injury to Tavon Young.

Justice Hill continues to jump off the screen this preseason after rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against the Packers in week two.

Looking Ahead:

Preseason Week 3: Thursday, August 22 at Philadelphia Eagles

Preseason Week 4: Thursday, August 29 at Washington Redskins

Week 1: Sunday, September 8 at Miami Dolphins, 1 PM

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