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Ravens crave rematch with Pats

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Ravens crave rematch with Pats

The Ravens were there first. They'd clinched a berth in the AFC championship game a day earlier.

They waited until Sunday night to find out they’d have a rematch with the New England Patriots, who defeated them 23-20 in last year’s title match to advance to the Super Bowl.

While no player admitted they had a preference of opponent after their 38-35 upset victory at the Denver Broncos on Saturday, deep down they did.

“I think we kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said of watching the Patriots beat the Houston Texans. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. ... Hopefully, we can get it done this time."

Tight end Dennis Pitta started out well. He had a major lull near mid-season that lasted until recently. He 3 catches for 55 yards in the divisional playoff win in Denver, but no catch he has had all season may be bigger than his one in the first overtime.

With the Ravens facing 3rd-and-13 from their own 6 and in danger of punting the ball back to the Broncos and giving Peyton Manning the ball around midfield, Pitta rose up and snatched a 24-yard reception as he crashed to the ground.

Even though the drive later stalled, it allowed the Ravens to get out of that jam. Sam Koch had a 52-yard punt that buried the Broncos at their own 7.  Corey Graham then would intercept Manning and set the stage for the Ravens to win on a field goal in double-overtime. 

Pitta had 5 catches for 41 yards, including a 6-yard TD pass that tied the score at 10 in last year's AFC title game. He had 5 catches for 40 yards and 1 TD in the Ravens' 31-30 comeback victory vs. the Patriots in Week 3 this season. Pitta hurdled Steve Gregory en route to a 20-yard TD in that game. 

At one point, it didn't appear the Ravens could get back to the AFC title game. They'd lost Ray Lewis (triceps), Terrell Suggs (biceps), Marshal Yanda (ankle), Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) and Ngata (knee/shoulder) at various points. They limped into the playoffs at 10-6, losing four of their last five games, but have gotten healthy again just in time. 

"It's been a little longer road for us. We've had to play two games already, and last year we had the bye and got a little more rest," said Pitta, noting the Ravens finished two games better at 12-4 and had a first-round bye in last year's playoffs. "But we really feel good about the road that we've taken, and we're sitting here as a confident football team and excited for this game."

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The Future is Bright: How the Ravens' 2018 draft class performed

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The Future is Bright: How the Ravens' 2018 draft class performed

Just like that, they're all grown up.

Ozzie Newsome put a bow on top of his 22-year career as general manager of the Ravens when he drafted 11 rookies in the 2018 NFL Draft.

He found the franchise a new quarterback, a couple tight ends and help along the offensive line.

Now that their rookie seasons are over, let's look at how the 2018 draft class performed.

Hayden Hurst

The 25th overall pick missed the first four games of the season after getting surgery on his broken foot during the preseason, and in 12 games never hit his full potential.

Hurst finished the 2018 season with 13 receptions for 163 yards, averaging 12.54 yards per reception and one touchdown. With Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams both free agents, Hurst's 2019 could be huge.

"I really don’t think I was at my best," Hurst said on if fans have seen his potential . "The surgery set me back a good ways. But like I said, the offseason will be huge for me. I’ll be able to get healthy, get stronger and come back ready next year.”

Lamar Jackson

We all know how the 32nd overall pick's season went.

Completing 99 of 170 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 on top of 695 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, Jackson will enter the 2019 season as the Ravens' quarterback of the future. En route to leading the team to their first postseason appearance in three seasons, the QB finished the 2018 season with a 84,5 QB rating.

The Ravens have begun shaping their offense around Jackson's run-heavy style of play, while they'll look to improve his ball security and accuracy.

Orlando Brown Jr.

Brown Jr.  ended up becoming a vital piece of the Ravens' O-line. 

Appearing in all 16 regular season games and starting 10 for an injured James Hurst, the third-round pick didn't allow a single sack in those starts and helped the offense rank second in the league in rushing at 152.6 yards per game. 

 “It’s really been hard-fought," Brown Jr. said on his rookie season performance. "I played against a lot of great players. I think I played well for a rookie, not for a sophomore. I want to be one of the greats in this league. It’s going to take a lot of work to get where I want to be – obviously, that’s All-Pro and being as consistent as I can be for as long as I can be.”

Mark Andrews

Andrews ended up being the tight end to make the biggest impact for the Ravens this season.

Finishing 2018 with 34 receptions for 552 yards, averaging 16.24 yards per carry and three touchdowns, Andrews' 68-yard touchdown Week 16 against the Chargers was the teams longest offensive score of the season. The rookie out of Oklahoma also finished the season ranked as Pro Football Focus' 13th overall tight end in the league.

Anthony Averett

The cornerback out of Alabama served as a backup in 11 games this season, finishing with five tackles.

If the Ravens decide to move on from veterans Jimmy Smith or Brandon Carr in the offseason, Averett could find a more prominent role in 2019.

Kenny Young

The rookie made his presence known early in the season after filling in for an injured C.J. Mosley during the Ravens' Weeks 2 and 3 matchups. 

Young played in all 16 games in 2018, finishing the season with 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. If the Ravens part ways with Mosley, their future still looks bright with Young on the come up. 

Jaleel Scott

The fourth-round pick was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season after suffering a hamstring injury.

Jordan Lasley

The fifth-round pick was a gameday inactive since Week 1.

DeShon Elliott

The sixth-round pick was placed on injured reserve at the start of the season with a fractured forearm suffered in the Ravens' preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. 

Greg Senat

The sixth-round pick was also placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season with a foot injury.

Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman proved his value as a backup offensive lineman appearing in 14 games for the Ravens, including their Wild Card playoff loss.

Zach Sieler

Newsome's final draft pick appeared in two games for the Ravens this season. Inactive most gamedays, Sieler posted a tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. 

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Ravens' Lamar Jackson aspiring to become the Tom Brady of Baltimore

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Ravens' Lamar Jackson aspiring to become the Tom Brady of Baltimore

It only took Lamar Jackson seven weeks to get the city of Baltimore behind him. 

Since becoming the Ravens' starter in Week 11, Jackson pulled his team out of a three-game losing streak, going 6-1 down the stretch, and earned the franchise their first playoff appearance in three season.

That's quite impressive for a rookie, but the 22-year-old wants his time in Baltimore to resemble arguably the greatest to ever do it. 

"Ain't no ceiling," Jackson said on his limitations in an interview with Ray Lewis for Showtime's 'Inside the NFL.' "I already said it, when I got drafted, I want to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore, so I'm going to try to bring as much as I can. I want to bring a Super Bowl here. I want to be the Brady. Bring multiple if I could."

Through 19 seasons, Tom Brady has brought five Lombardi Trophy's to the city of Boston and is currently in the race for a sixth. It's a feat that may never be repeated, but Jackson sure wants to try.

The young quarterback's speed is something that separates him from the 41-year-old veteran. In just seven games, Jackson rushed for more yards (695) than every other quarterback in 2018, and his 119 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals was the most ever by a QB in their starting debut. 

“Probably when, like, I'm playing football with my older cousins,” Jackson told Lewis on when he realized he was the fastest kid on the block. “I used to play with all the older guys. I never played with, really, my age group when I was younger. ... There would be a new kid come on the block, and they'd be like, 'Oh, this kid, he's good,' this and that. So I get jealous, because I'm like, 'Man, I'm the best kid over here,' so I'm going to outperform him.”

His speed is such a threat that the Ravens have already begun shaping their future around it, while accuracy and ball security remain a work in progress. Jackson finished his rookie campaign completing 99 of 170 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns. 

While reaching Brady-type success will be an uphill battle, the good news is he's got 18 or more seasons to hit his goal. Jackson will get his first taste of Brady in 2019 when the Ravens host the Patriots. 

You can watch Jackson and Lewis' full interview Tuesday at 9 p.m..

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