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Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

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Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It's the time of year when Ray Rice usually begins to feel the effects of being the Baltimore Ravens' go-to guy on offense.

This season, however, has been different. Rice had a combined 318 carries and catches over the 16-game schedule, the lowest total since his rookie year in 2008.

Part of the reason is that the Ravens (11-6) relied heavily on quarterback Joe Flacco, who set a career high in yards passing. In addition, rookie Bernard Pierce logged 108 carries as Rice's backup.

Rice isn't complaining, because he's neither tired or bruised as the Ravens prepare for their 18th game of the season, on Saturday in Denver against the top-seeded Broncos (13-3).

``I'm fresh in the playoffs. I'm healthy,'' the 5-foot-8 Rice said. ``This is the best I've ever felt, but obviously, that's because I've had a guy come in, and when he gets in there, and we don't lose a step.''

Pierce will get his share of carries against the Broncos, but the Ravens will be counting heavily on Rice to help establish ball control and, in the process, keep Denver quarterback Peyton Manning off the field.

``He's a great back and can obviously turn a little play into a 50-yard gain,'' Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda said. ``It's exciting to block for guys like that. You want guys like that on your team - playmakers. He's been doing that for us for five years. We know what he's about and how important he is to our offense.''

Rice had his fourth straight 1,000-yard rushing season and earned his third invitation to the Pro Bowl. His numbers during the regular season are usually impressive, but in the playoffs he's topped the 70-yard mark on the ground only once - a 159-yard effort against New England in January 2010.

``Obviously, I want to be a guy that's remembered by his playoff play,'' Rice said. ``It's time to step it up another level.''

Sometimes, though, his presence in the backfield is all it takes to help Baltimore win.

``There might be times where in the pass game I took out two defenders so one guy can get open,'' Rice said. ``There are times where there's a fake where Joe Flacco can fake it to me, and there's an over route coming across the middle. If it's being a decoy, that's sometimes what you have to be. I like having the target on my back.''

That bulls-eye is being shared by Pierce, who ran for 103 yards last week in Baltimore's 24-9 win over Indianapolis. Although Rice should get the majority of the carries Saturday, Pierce will see playing time, too.

``The fact that the altitude is probably going to be a factor as far as guys who are carrying the ball getting gassed, those two guys are going to take care of each other,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``That's something we've been building on.''

But Rice remains the focal part of the offense.

``Ray Rice is extremely important to this team,'' guard Kelechi Osemele said. ``If you don't have a running game you won't have a passing game. Guys will just pin their ears back and rush. Ray is also a great blocker and can slip out of the backfield and make some plays in open space, too. You can't really replace a player like that.''

During the regular season Rice fumbled only one time, and Baltimore recovered the loose ball. Against the Colts, he lost two fumbles. He accepted blame for the miscues, but vows it won't happen again. Ever.

``As a runner, there's a certain time where you have to be smart, and going to the playoffs, I have to be smart,'' he said. ``As a runner, you learn from it. It's not something that I'm used to doing, obviously. I'm used to scoring touchdowns and making plays. I will continue to try to make plays, but I'll be smarter.''

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Report: NFL to cut preseason in half, taking away Ravens first and fourth preseason games against the Bills and Redskins

Report: NFL to cut preseason in half, taking away Ravens first and fourth preseason games against the Bills and Redskins

According to a report from ProFootballTalk, the NFL has scrapped its first and fourth preseason games this season and cut the preseason in half. 

The Ravens were scheduled to play the Bills at home on Aug. 14 to open the season, then end the preseason on Sept. 3 against the Redskins. 

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Now, the Ravens’ tentative preseason schedule will have one road game, at the Cowboys on Aug. 22, and home against the Panthers on Aug. 30. 

According to the report, the move was spurred on by two factors: Firstly, that road teams would have trouble moving that many bodies and risk spreading COVID-19. Secondly, that no team has had on-field workouts this summer. Now, with training camps scheduled to start on July 28, teams will have more time to prepare for the season. 

The move came with coronavirus cases continually rising in the United States a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci said new cases could reach 100,000 per day if more preventative measures were not taken. On June 30, the U.S. had 46,042 new cases, the second-highest total since the pandemic began.

Baltimore is still set to report to camp at the end of the month, as is the rest of the NFL. With the new preseason schedule, they’ll have about three weeks to prepare for the first on-field game action of the season. 

The Ravens haven’t lost in the preseason since Sept. 3, 2015, when they lost 20-19 to the Falcons. 

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What if Ravens beat the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship Game?

What if Ravens beat the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship Game?

It’s not a stretch to say the 2012 AFC Championship Game was one of the most painful losses in Baltimore sports history.

The Ravens went to New England off a 20-13 win in the divisional round and were a game away from the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008. 

And one of their biggest rivals stood in the way of the Ravens and their second Super Bowl appearance in history. 

Baltimore and New England went back and forth for the entire game, before a one-yard Tom Brady plunge on 4th and goal gave the Patriots a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. 

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Despite a Joe Flacco interception midway through the fourth quarter, the Ravens held the Patriots out of the end zone and gave the ball back to their offense with under two minutes to play. 

Then, the Ravens marched into Patriots territory and found themselves at the 14-yard line with 27 seconds left. 

On second down, Flacco fired a pass to wide receiver Lee Evans in the right corner of the end zone. Evans had it in his hands — then he dropped it. A Patriots defender came in late to knock the ball out of his hands, a catch that would’ve assuredly lifted the Ravens to the Super Bowl. 

Evans never played a regular season game again. 

"It was an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl," he said after the game. "And I let it go."

Two plays after Evans’ drop, kicker Billy Cundiff trotted onto the field to attempt a game-tying 32-yard field goal. The kick hooked badly to the left, and the Ravens lost 23-20 just a few plays short of the Super Bowl.

Cundiff, who had made the Pro Bowl with the Ravens in 2010 and signed a five-year contract extension in January of 2011, suffered the lowest moment of his professional career 364 days after he put pen to paper. He was released in August.

But if the Ravens had won that game, whether through Evans’ touchdown or another play in overtime, it’s reasonable to assume things wouldn’t have turned out as well long-term for the team. 

The Patriots lost the Super Bowl two weeks later to the Giants, 21-17, as the Ravens regrouped and made additions. 

One of those additions was Justin Tucker, who signed as an undrafted free agent and beat Cundiff out for the job in training camp. Tucker is currently the most accurate kicker in NFL history. 

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The next season, the Ravens finished the regular season 10-6 and though they had to play in the Wild Card round, found themselves in Foxboro once again for the AFC Championship Game. They dominated the Patriots 28-13 and went on to win the Super Bowl two weeks later. 

So while Evans’ drop, and Cundiff’s miss, might’ve been painful in the moment, that game led to a Super Bowl victory a year later, as well as one of the best special teams players the league has ever seen.

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