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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

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Ravens savor long-awaited return to Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) When the Baltimore Ravens last went to the Super Bowl, Art Modell was the owner, Brian Billick served as head coach and Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback.

Now, 12 years later, they're back with owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco and one significant link to both teams: Ray Lewis.

Drawing inspiration from Lewis, their long-time middle linebacker, the Ravens bullied their way past New England 28-13 Sunday night to win the AFC championship and set up a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. The victory ended a lengthy dry spell for a franchise with one Super Bowl appearance in its 17 years of existence.

Lewis was voted Super Bowl MVP after the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 on Jan. 28, 2001. He announced earlier this month that he would step into retirement after Baltimore completes its current playoff run, and his teammates were determined to make sure that didn't happen before the Super Bowl.

``Ray is a guy who's been here since the beginning of this franchise,'' strong safety Bernard Pollard said Monday. ``He's a guy who is The Raven. We respect him when he speaks. Everybody stops and everybody hears him. He's kept this team together, he's kept this organization together in so many ways.''

Lewis knows what it takes to win. He knows about playing in the Super Bowl. Most of all, he knows how to get his teammates ready to play with unyielding intensity.

``Everyone knows what kind of player he is and what he's meant to this team and this organization,'' center Matt Birk said. ``There's probably not another leader like him. There's no one like him, somebody that means as much as he does to this team. Just everything he's been through, being here since Day 1, and the way he plays and the emotion and the passion that he plays with. I've been his teammate for four years, and that's how it's always been.''

Lewis got to the Super Bowl in his fifth season, then had to wait until his 17th to get back. In between, Modell sold majority ownership of the team to Bisciotti in 2004 and Harbaugh replaced Billick, who was fired after the 2007 season.

Harbaugh on Monday paid homage to Modell, who died in September, and voiced praise for the current owner.

``Art Modell is the foundation, the bulwark of this organization,'' Harbaugh said. ``He and Steve come from the same place, kind of how they see things.''

Dilfer, meanwhile, was released within months of his solid performance in the Super Bowl. He was replaced by Elvis Grbac, who played one season before retiring. The Ravens then went through a half-dozen starting quarterbacks, including Anthony Wright, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller and Steve McNair, before drafting Flacco in the first round of the 2008 draft.

Flacco took over as a rookie in the season opener and has started every game since.

One day after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying New England quarterback Tom Brady, Flacco couldn't fully comprehend the enormity of going to the Super Bowl.

``I think we're still on a little bit of a high from the game,'' Flacco said. ``I don't know if anybody quite believes it yet, but it's pretty real.''

Blanking New England 21-0 in the second half? Beating Brady and the second-seed Patriots after knocking off the top-seeded Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning? It was almost as if the Ravens needed to pinch themselves.

``I'm just kind of numb to the whole thing,'' Birk said. ``Slowly, it's coming though. Hopefully, I guess you realize the moment and appreciate it, but then obviously get to work.''

This year's team went 10-6 in the regular season. Not bad, but Baltimore had a better record in 2006 (13-3), 2008 (11-5) and 2010 (12-4) and 2011 (12-4). The Ravens reached the AFC title game in 2008 and 2011 before finally getting it right on Sunday night.

They did it after overcoming the death of Modell, a three-game losing streak and the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Jim Caldwell, who took over for Cameron on Dec. 9, will return in the same position next season, Harbaugh announced Monday.

``I think our guys have done just a tremendous job all year of battling through adversity and overcoming the tough things that really make you into a close football team,'' Harbaugh said. ``That's what (Sunday night) was. It was a team victory. It wasn't one guy, it wasn't about a group of guys, it wasn't about one side of the ball. It was about a football team playing really good football in one of the biggest moments that football has to offer.''

Ever since he first arrived in Baltimore, Flacco imagined playing in the Super Bowl. And now, he's on his way.

``I think every year when you get ready to go, you visualize yourself playing football at this time of year,'' Flacco said. ``It's a tough deal to get to, but we've made it this far and we just got to make the most of it.''

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Breaking down the Jalen Ramsey question and what it could mean for the Ravens secondary

Breaking down the Jalen Ramsey question and what it could mean for the Ravens secondary

If there’s one thing that’s obvious about the Jalen Ramsey situation in Jacksonville, it’s that there are 31 other teams that would like to have him on the team. 

Yes, that includes the Ravens. It’s not breaking news to think every team in the NFL is looking for a former All-Pro cornerback any way they can get him.

Two Ravens players, Matthew Judon and Marquise Brown, already tweeted their desire to bring Ramsey to Baltimore.

The logistics of adding him, however, are a completely separate issue. 

Ramsey, a 2016 first-round pick of the Jaguars, recently requested a trade. He’s reportedly unhappy with his usage in the Jaguars defense and had a spat with his head coach, Doug Marrone, on the sideline last Sunday against the Texans. 

According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, two offers have already been made for Ramsey’s services.

From the Ravens perspective, there’s both pros and cons to what this deal could mean. 

Starting with the positives, it’s clear: Ramsey is one of, if not the game’s best cornerbacks. Adding him to a secondary already with Marlon Humphrey on the opposite side of the field, and Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson at safety, would clearly give the Ravens the best secondary in the NFL — if they didn’t have it already. 

Without slot cornerback Tavon Young for the season and Jimmy Smith for a few weeks, the Ravens have been pressed deeper than they thought they might have to go with those two absent. Ramsey would come in and immediately fill a hole left behind from injuries. 

Ramsey is still under his rookie contract for this and next season, where he’ll carry a cap hit of 7.429 million dollars this season according to Spotrac. Next year, his final year, he’ll have a cap hit of 13.7 million dollars.

The Ravens have 9.625 million dollars in cap space this season, also according to Spotrac. Meaning, they’d be able to fit him in, should they so desire. Next season, they’re projected to have the ninth-most cap space available in the NFL at 68.127 million dollars. 

With 10 projected draft picks next year, including two-third round picks and three-fourth round picks, the Ravens will have the ammunition necessary to acquire a player like Ramsey. And in a conference with the Chiefs, Patriots and Browns, all of whom boast outstanding offensive weapons, building out the defensive side of the ball could push the Ravens over the edge. 

Baltimore has free agents to take care of at season’s end, like Michael Pierce, Willie Snead, Patrick Onwuasor, Matthew Judon, Patrick Ricard and Jimmy Smith. 

None of those names, however, will command top-dollar in the open market. And with Lamar Jackson still on his rookie deal for this season and potentially three more after this, the time to strike for the Ravens could be now. 

But, like all trade scenarios, there’s another side to Ramsey’s potential acquisition. 

Ramsey has stated his desire to be a lockdown, No. 1 cornerback responsible for shutting down opposing team’s top receivers. The Ravens already have a bonafide top corner in Humphrey, and if the team uses its fifth-year option on him, he won’t have to be re-signed until 2021.

Ronnie Stanley is the biggest fish that the Ravens have to sign, and he’s due after the 2020 season — the same season as Ramsey. Locking up Stanley and Ramsey could prove to be tough, especially considering the fact that both would be at or near the top of the pay-grade for their respective position groups. 

And, for better or worse, Ramsey has been known to be vocal about what he sees on the field and in the organization. 

That could mean a proclamation about how well the defense is playing as a way of being a leader, or it could mean lashing out when things go poorly. Like he showed last week against the Texans, he’s not shy about telling the man in charge about how he feels. Could that be pent up frustration boiling over? Absolutely. But the Ravens will have to be careful with what they decide, considering that past.

They’ve had boisterous personalities before in Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, so the franchise isn’t foreign to what those players bring. 

Even if the Ravens view Ramsey as their top option and would like to make a deal, the Jaguars need to be pleased with the compensation they receive. The Ravens might not be willing to go that far. 

Jacksonville has reportedly been asking for a first-round pick, plus more. The Ravens do have a 2020 first-round pick, but might not be willing to sell off what could end up being another second or third-round pick, or even their 2021 first-round pick. 

Even if the Ravens offer their 2020 first-round pick, at 2-0 already, there’s a decent shot the Ravens pick 20th or higher in the first round. The Jaguars could accept a trade from another team, who they view as having a better chance of picking towards the top of the first round in the next few years. 

So what does all that mean? It means to remain level-headed, whether or not the move gets done. 

Should the Ravens pull the trigger on one of the biggest moves of the 2019 season, or should they sit on the sidelines and keep their picks, there are pros and cons to each decision. The trade, or lack thereof, doesn’t mean the Ravens will win the AFC or mean they’re doomed.

It just means they’ll either have Jalen Ramsey, or they won’t.

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Hollywood Brown tweets at Jalen Ramsey in support of Jaguars CB joining Ravens

Hollywood Brown tweets at Jalen Ramsey in support of Jaguars CB joining Ravens

Marquise Brown has made it clear what he thinks of Jalen Ramsey's reported trade request out of Jacksonville. 

On Tuesday morning, Brown tweeted at Ramsey in support of the All-Pro cornerback joining the Ravens.

Ramsey, a 2016 first-round in Jacksonville, quickly established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league and was named All-Pro in just his second season. 

Reportedly, the Jaguars are looking for at least one first round pick in return for Ramsey. And after the Steelers traded a first round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, there's good reason to think the Jaguars wouldn't settle for less than that. 

Things are ramping up so quickly, as he had an incident on the sideline last Sunday while the team was in Houston. Video caught Ramsey and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone exchanging words on the sideline, and both had to be separated. 

Whether or not the trade would fit for the Ravens and their organization remains to be seen, as does if the compensation required for Ramsey is worth it. 

On the Ravens side, the need is there. Slot cornerback Tavon Young is out for the season with a neck injury and Jimmy Smith is out for a few weeks with an MCL sprain.

Either way, there's already at least one Ravens player with bringing Ramsey along.

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