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Ravens embrace underdog role in AFC title game

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Ravens embrace underdog role in AFC title game

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Ravens have another opportunity to embrace the underdog role, this time in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

Playing at home - where they've won seven of nine this season - the Patriots have been installed as 9 1/2-point favorites Sunday to beat Baltimore and advance to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens have already defeated New England this season and are coming off a stunning upset on the road against top-seeded Denver. Yet, it appears they're still not getting any respect.

And the Ravens are just fine with it.

``It's just what everyone else thinks,'' defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said Monday. ``In here, on our team, we believe in ourselves. Whatever anyone else thinks, that their thoughts. We'll just have to go back out there and prove people wrong again.''

After eliminating the Broncos 38-35 in double-overtime Saturday, the Ravens (12-6) watched New England (13-4) defeat Houston on Sunday. Baltimore might have had an easier time against the Texans, but many of the Ravens longed for a rematch of last year's AFC title game, won by the Patriots 23-20.

``I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,'' Ngata said. ``If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough.''

The Ravens were also 9 1/2-point underdogs against Denver, which came in with an 11-game winning streak and as the odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Yet, Baltimore is still in the hunt and the Broncos are done for the season.

``It will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history,'' linebacker Ray Lewis declared afterward. ``It's partly because of the way everything was stacked up against us coming in. ... For us to come in here and win, 9- to 10-point underdogs, that's the beautiful part about sports. That's the thing that, if I'll probably miss anything about my career, it will be to listen to what people say you can't do, and then to go do it.''

The 37-year-old Lewis, who has been with the Ravens since their first game in 1996, plans to retire of Baltimore's current playoff run. If the Ravens go all the way, he will no doubt recall they were underdogs this season from September through the first weekend in February.

It always seems to be that way for Baltimore, at least in Lewis' mind.

``My Super Bowl year in 2000, we were never picked one time the entire season to win a game. Not one time,'' Lewis recalled. ``But at the end of the day, we held the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champs. That alone taught me a valuable lesson - that no one outside dictates how we play on the inside.''

OK, so the Ravens weren't underdogs in every game and were 3-point favorites over New York in the Super Bowl. But, with the aid of some revisionist history, Lewis made a valid point.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith echoed that sentiment Monday after someone asked him if he reads media reports before the game.

``They are irrelevant,'' he said. ``None of you all thought we were going to be right here this week anyway.''

For one year now, the Ravens have been striving to be in this position - back in the AFC title game. Ever since Lee Evans had the potential game-winning catch poked from his grasp and Billy Cundiff followed by hooking a 32-yard field goal attempt, Baltimore has been eager for another chance to play for a shot at a Super Bowl berth.

``The feeling we had in the locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC championship,'' Ngata said. ``Hopefully we can get it done this time.''

Underdogs or not, the Ravens are playing the Patriots for the conference crown. Again.

``It's been a long road getting back to this point, and the way we left it last year didn't sit well with us,'' tight end Dennis Pitta said. ``So we're excited to be in this position against and give it another shot.''

Because the Patriots and Ravens are usually among the top teams in the AFC, they have met quite often in recent years. Baltimore's 31-30 win in September was the fifth matchup between the teams since the start of the 2009 season. New England is 3-2, including 1-1 in the playoffs.

``It's definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say. I don't know how they feel about that,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``But we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots. ... They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition. It's always a huge challenge for us, but it's one we're excited about and look forward to.''

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Ravens cancel Saturday's open practice at M&T Bank Stadium

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USA Today Sports

Ravens cancel Saturday's open practice at M&T Bank Stadium

The Baltimore Ravens cancelled Saturday night's free open practice at M&T Bank Stadium due to a forecast that calls for heavy rain and inclement weather.

There is no official word from the team on whether this practice will be resheduled, but it seems like Sunday may be an option, even though there's rain in the forecast then too.

Ravens fans who were looking to see first-round draft pick and potential future starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will have to wait for another day. His presence at training camp, an inevitable competition with the incumbent, Joe Flacco, and potential two-quarterback packages involving both of them are set to be some of the biggest storylines of Ravens camp this summer.

As a Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson was one of the most dynamic players in college football during his time at Louisville. If he can replicate that kind of performance in the NFL, he will be at plenty more training camp sessions for Ravens fans to watch.

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

This time last year, running back Alex Collins wasn't a part of the Baltimore Ravens.

After being released by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2017 preseason, the Ravens placed the 23-year-old on their practice squad, and by Week 2, Collins was already making plays.

As the season progressed, Collins found himself as the Ravens' top running back. He finished 2017 as the team's leading rusher with 973 yards while Javorius "Buck" Allen followed behind him with 591 yards.

If the 2018 NFL season began today, Collins would likely be the Ravens' starter, which is quite ironic considering the fate of his 2017 preseason.

"I always go back to where I started and where I am now, and I use that as my motivation," Collins said after Thursday's training camp practice.

"No matter the day, no matter how tired I am, I think to myself, at this time last year, I didn’t know my position, where I was, where I’d end up. So just having that security behind it is definitely my motivation to keep it this way and keep pushing forward and keep trying to get better instead of being complacent.”

Over the course of 15 games, Collins proved he had the strength and speed to make an impact on the team after Danny Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury on the first drive of the Ravens' Week 1 game and Kenneth Dixon sat out the entire season with a torn meniscus. 

While job security is something we all strive for, Collins isn't getting too comfortable with the hierarchy. 

“I don’t want to say necessarily ‘comfortable,’ because when I use that word, it makes me feel like I’m too relaxed and lackadaisical," Collins said.

"I’m more focused. I don’t want to get comfortable. I don’t want the team or our group to get comfortable, because we just want to get better every day. So, in the position I am, it’s a great feeling, but I’m always pushing myself to be better.”

While Collins has set personal goals for himself – like a 1,000-yard season – he is equally as focused on making the Ravens backfield one of the best groups in the National Football League. 

“I expect that," Collins said on being the Ravens' starter.

"I would hope that all the other running backs expect [to be the starter] as well, and that’s what kind of drives our group – when we all know that we have that capability to be the No. 1 guy, and we’re out competing and push each other and try to be the best. No matter who’s out there during the game, you’ll see a productive play out of that person. So, I have that mindset. I want to be the guy. I have that fire in me, and I hope [that is] as well as the other running backs, as I encouraged them as well.”

Collins noted that he's coming into training camp a bit heavier. He added five pounds to his 200-pound frame "just to see how that feels," but is still maintaining the stamina and strength he's always had. 

Collins – who was one of several veterans released from practice early as the team begins to adjust their way into the extended preseason – finished his media availability with a friendly warning to fantasy football owners: "Draft me now before it’s too late, guys."

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