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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The music blared in the Baltimore Ravens locker room Saturday as the players threw their football gear into black duffel bags lying in front of their cubicles.

Next stop, New Orleans.

After one final practice at their own training facility, the Super Bowl-bound Ravens will take Sunday off before heading for the Big Easy on Monday afternoon in anticipation of their matchup on Feb. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

``We're right where we want to be,'' wide receiver Torrey Smith said. ``Now we have an opportunity to play in the big one. But at the end of the day, we're still getting ready for a football game.''

Coach John Harbaugh conducted practice from Thursday through Saturday as if it was a normal work week. They went hard on Thursday and Friday and eased up Saturday.

``We've had a great week. We had an excellent practice,'' Harbaugh said after the closed two-hour session. ``The guys are very sharp and they're excited. We'll have to go down there and do just as well (or) do better.''

The next time the Ravens hit the practice field, it will be in New Orleans. This week, at least, there were no distractions.

``I think it's always important to have a good practice no matter what,'' Harbaugh said. ``You've got to practice well to play well. You pretty much play the way you practice. That's something that we learned when we were kids and that's not going to change.''

It was final practice at the team's training complex for Ray Lewis, who intends to retire after the Super Bowl. Center Matt Birk has made no such announcement, but there is a possibility the 36-year-old is also preparing for his last game.

``I don't think like that,'' Birk said. ``I just try to live in the moment. That's just kind of my mindset. I don't think about the future or if this could be it. It drives my wife nuts, but that's just not how I operate.''

Now in his 15th NFL season - the fourth with Baltimore - Birk's knees are scarred from several operations and he had surgery during the offseason to repair varicose veins in his legs. But he played in all 16 games during the regular season and remained solid in the middle of the offensive line during the postseason.

``I'm not sure about Matt's plans,'' Harbaugh said. ``If he decides to come back next year that would be awesome. He's smart, he's tough. To my eye, he's playing the best football that he's played since he's been here, right now. To have that be true at the end of a (long) season is very impressive. We would not be where we are without Matt Birk.''

Looking ahead to the challenge next Sunday, Harbaugh called the 49ers ``a very well-coached football team.'' He said it with a grin, because San Francisco is coached by his little brother, Jim.

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson set the tone for Sunday’s game on the Ravens' first drive of the afternoon. 

He rushed just twice, one of which went for a touchdown, but had 57 yards on the game-tying opening drive. 

Jackson finished with 152 yards on the ground — a career high — to carry the Ravens to a 23-17 win over the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“I take advantage, like I said before, and I’m trying to win at the end of the day,” Jackson said after the game. “If I’ve got to run, I’ve got to do it and today that’s what it was. Sometimes I had to pass. Sometimes I had to run.”

He did throw for 236 yards and completed 21 of 33 passes, too. But the story was his legs, which kept the Bengals off-balance all day.

“Lamar was able to get out and run because of the way they were playing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were playing kind of spill defense. They really didn’t want us to run the ball up inside with our running backs, and that opened up some other things."

Jackson now has 460 rushing yards on the season and is on pace for over 1,200. He’s also on pace for just over 4,000 passing yards.

His dual-threat ability has flummoxed nearly every team the Ravens have played this season. Jackson has had over 300 scrimmage yards in all but one (last week in against the Steelers) of the Ravens' games. 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. We’ve played a couple of good athletes. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

Cincinnati sold out to stop the interior run, and Jackson and the rest of the Baltimore running attack burned the Bengals on the outside. 

Jackson’s elusiveness was never more evident than on the Ravens' last full drive of the game. The Ravens received the ball with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter and a 20-10 lead. They didn’t give the ball back to the Bengals until there was just over three minutes to play.

“I catch myself on the sideline stretching because, you know, they’ll be holding the ball for a minute and we’ve got to stay warm,” Matthew Judon said. “He picks us up in crucial times and keeps getting first downs. It’s hard, man. You can’t cover everybody and keep a spy on him [at] all times.”

The nine minute, 46 second drive, highlighted by a 16-yard Jackson scramble on 3rd and 14, put away any realistic chance the Bengals had of pulling off an upset.

It capped off a historic day for Jackson and his place in the NFL record books. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards and register at least 200 yards passing in a regular season game.

The Bengals sold out to stop interior rushes and mostly took away big passing plays from the Ravens. Jackson just made the Bengals pick their poison when it came to choosing what to stop. 

And Jackson made Cincinnati realized that whatever it chose was still poison.

“He was cutting it back, throwing outside and running around,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He was just having fun on us, and that’s what you never want to have done.”

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Mark Andrews fails to hurdle defender, turns ball over instead

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Mark Andrews fails to hurdle defender, turns ball over instead

In any NFL game, there are plenty of obstacles to hurdle. Ravens tight ends have taken that literally this season, to mixed effect.

On occasion, the Ravens’ trio of tight ends have managed to add a few extra yards after the catch by hurdling a would-be tackler. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as well.

It’s always scary seeing huge NFL athletes high up in the air. What goes up must come down, and the potential for injury is rarely more pronounced than during an attempted hurdle.

Ball security is typically a lesser concern, but it certainly was an issue for Andrews on this play. This was the second consecutive week the Ravens have turned the ball over in their own territory late in the first half.

The defense managed to hold Cincinnati to a field goal, but against a less talented team, turnovers are a good way to make games closer than they should be. 

In an offense with a lot of unproven talent at wide receiver, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have turned to their tight ends more often than usual. In fact, Jackson has targeted a tight end on a higher percentage of passes than any other quarterback in football.

This has given Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst more opportunities to leap over defenders, even though the reward is minimal and the risk is major.

Maybe Andrews’ fumble will give the unit pause the next time they’re face to face with an oncoming defender.

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