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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens can only hope the performance they received from their offensive line last weekend is an indication of what lies ahead for a unit that relies on an unexpected mixture of experience and youth.

Baltimore amassed a season-high 533 yards Sunday in a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Joe Flacco had enough time in the pocket to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs and Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each topped 100 yards rushing.

Flacco, Rice and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are the big names on Baltimore's offense, but success in the playoffs could depend on what happens up front.

``The offensive line continues to improve,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``It's a young group, so that's something that we really expect to have happen.''

Rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele and second-year left guard Jah Reid have played well enough to force longtime NFL veterans Bryant McKinnie and Bobbie Williams to the sideline. Coming into the season, McKinnie and Williams had a combined 277 starts and compared to zero for Osemele and Reid.

So perhaps the line could be forgiven for its inconsistent performance in the weeks leading up to Sunday's masterpiece - a dominating performance that provided the Ravens with their second straight AFC North title.

``It's just a matter of having confidence in our guys,'' guard Marshal Yanda said. ``There's no magical formula. We didn't reinvent the wheel. It's just football.''

The offensive line yielded 34 sacks in the first 14 games before holding New York without one Sunday. Flacco, who had six turnovers in the previous three games, was flawless against the Giants.

``Anytime you pass protect the way that we did against a team that can rush the passer like the New York Giants, that's a big plus,'' Harbaugh said. ``The run blocking was good. We rushed for a lot of yards, and it's because those guys were very physical up front.''

Baltimore (10-5) hopes to ride the momentum into Sunday's regular-season finale against Cincinnati (9-6) before heading into the playoffs.

Yanda, Reid, Osemele, 36-year-old center Matt Birk and fourth-year left tackle Michael Oher make up an offensive front that has endured a bit of shuffling since September.

Ramon Harewood began the season at left guard after spending his first two NFL seasons in injured reserve. Harewood took a seat on the bench after five weeks and was replaced by Williams, who stayed there until Reid made his first NFL start on Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh.

When Yanda missed the Dec. 16 game against Denver, Williams took his place.

Now, finally, the unit appears set. Plus, Harbaugh has the luxury of summoning rookie center Gino Gradkowski or two solid veterans in case of emergency.

``We probably have more depth in the offensive line than we have had in quite a while,'' the coach said. ``We have some veterans that can step in and play. Bobbie has done a real nice job when he's been in there. And of course, Bryant McKinnie hasn't had a chance, because the tackles have been so healthy, but Bryant's a guy that is going to be very valuable for us here down the stretch if something happens. That's definitely a blessing for us.''

Rice is exceptional once he gets past the line of scrimmage, and while fullback Vonta Leach has proven to be an exceptional escort through the hole, nothing happens if the line can't create a void in the defense.

``Those guys, they work very hard. They are the hardest working group in the building,'' Rice said. ``They meet, they work, they just work and work. One thing I like about our line is that we're athletic, and we've got guys that can do multiple things. You don't see tackles moving as fast as our tackles. Then we've got our inside guys who are big and physical guys, along with the leadership of Matt Birk. Those guys really got the job done.''

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

This was one of the most interesting weeks the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in a very long time.

Coming off three-straight losses and preparing to face division rivals with their season on the line, their starting quarterback was likely out with an injury, their backup spent an afternoon in the hospital with a stomach illness and job security was the buzz around town. 

But when the clock read one at M&T Bank Stadium and it was do-or-die, two rookies took their team and carried them to a win, literally and figuratively. 

In his NFL start, first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson was 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts.

All afternoon long we were in awe of his speed, and probably at times nervous, by just how confident the rookie was in taking the game into his own hands.

"I thought he played spectacular," head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "I thought he played winning football. It's tough being a quarterback in this league."

"For a first-time-out rookie in an environment like that...All those operation things, I think, speak to his intelligence, his studiousness, and just his ability to run the show. And that's everything. The playmaking — that comes from God. He made use of that, too. Very proud of that."

Jackson hasn't been one to put his feelings into many words, and in the week leading up to his NFL start, the Heisman Trophy winner continuously remained humble.

When asked how it felt to lead the Ravens to a 24-21 win over the Bengals, Jackson said, "I don't know. Come out with a win. It was pretty good, I guess."

On the Ravens' opening drive, Jackson rushed five times for 46 yards while converting two third downs that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins. The QB is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

Plus, his 27 carries were the most by a quarterback in an NFL game since Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Geri's in 1950. 

"I think he brings a different dynamic to the game. As you can tell, our offense looks totally different, obviously from when Joe [Flacco] is in. It's hard for defenses to game plan for Lamar. And I think that shows with Gus [Edwards] having 100 yards as well. It's good to see, and it's a great win."

That brings us to our next rookie speedster; Gus Edwards.

The undrafted free agent out of Rutgers put up 115 rushing yards on 17 attempts averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry and one touchdown.

"I've got a great coaching staff," Edwards said on getting his big chance and playing well. "I've got a great group of veteran running backs [that] told me to always be prepared, from day one when I came in here, they told me what it was going to be like. This game, a lot of things played into it, and you;you've always got to be ready."

The last time the Ravens had two 100+ rushers in a single game was December 23, 2012 against the New York Giants when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for 107 and 123 yards respectively. Today also marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and running back each surpass 100 rushing yards in a game, per Elias Sports Bureau.

For a team that had many daunting questions surrounding them just a week ago, two young bloods came out and managed to change the aura in the city of Baltimore, at least for now. 

"It's just a confidence builder to be honest," Willie Snead said on having a quarterback like Jackson. "When we were running the ball how we were, it just gives us so much momentum and a lot of flexibility to do what we want. It was awesome to see that today, and [we] look forward to keep doing it."

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What a rush: Lamar Jackson ran for 117 yards in win

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What a rush: Lamar Jackson ran for 117 yards in win

The opening drive set the tone.

Stepping on the field for the first time as a starting quarterback in the NFL, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown to get the team out to an early 7-0 lead over the Bengals.

In that drive, the rookie from Louisville did not attempt one pass. His legs did the work as he rushed for 46 yard on five carries. 

That was the type of day it was for Jackson. While his passing numbers (13-19, 150 yards, 1 INT) were pedestrian, the 117 yards rushing are what left the Ravens fans and the Bengals defense with their heads on a swivel.

Showing the lighting quickness that help make a name for himself in college and made him such an intriguing prospect coming into this year’s draft, Jackson was the team’s leading rusher in the much-needed, come-from-behind 24-21 win over the Bengals.

It was clear head coach John Harbaugh and his staff came into the game with a run-first game plan. Jackson’s 117 yards, along with Gus Edwards’ 115 yards led the way for Baltimore’s 265 yards rushing on the day. 

Jackson got the start in place of Joe Flacco who was sidelined due to a hip injury.

While Jackson has seen time on the field in various offensive packages this season, his first start and win as an NFL quarterback came at a crucial time for the Ravens as the playoff race is heating up. 

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