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Ravens win AFC North at expense of fading Giants

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Ravens win AFC North at expense of fading Giants

BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Ravens feel as if they've already started the playoffs.

It's a sensation the New York Giants may not experience this year.

In a duel between two slumping teams desperate for a victory, the Ravens beat the Giants 33-14 on Sunday to win the AFC North for the second straight season.

``The difference was, for us, I just think we had a little bit more sense of urgency because we knew what was at stake,'' Baltimore running back Ray Rice said. ``This was a championship game for us. Solidify the home playoff game, back-to-back division champs. That's huge around here.''

The Ravens (10-5) were already assured a fifth straight trip to the playoffs, but by winning the division crown, they are guaranteed to open the playoffs at home during the first weekend in January.

``I am as proud of this team right now as ever,'' coach John Harbaugh said.

The defending champion Giants, meanwhile, are simply hard to figure out. This game was more important to them than it was to the Ravens because New York (8-7) had not secured a playoff berth. Now, after their second straight lopsided loss, the Giants need a win over Philadelphia next week and a whole lot of help to get back into the postseason.

``I just don't have any answers,'' defensive tackle Chris Canty said. ``I just don't know. It's been tough. We just haven't been consistent, and it shows in our play and where we are at right now.''

Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Ravens, who led 24-7 at halftime and cruised to the finish behind a short-handed defense that harassed quarterback Eli Manning and limited New York to 186 yards.

Playing its second game with Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator, Baltimore scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and amassed a season-high 533 yards - including 289 in the first half alone.

``It's about execution, man. It's a simple word, but it's a very tough task to do,'' said Rice, who ran for 107 yards and caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.

``We know what's at stake. We want the AFC championship and it starts tonight,'' safety James Ihedigbo said. ``Playoffs started for us. We're not looking at regular season. Playoffs started for us and we're going to keep on playing.''

The Giants, on the other hand, have lost five of seven and were coming off a 34-0 loss to Atlanta. This one was just as ugly.

``You saw the scoreboard,'' Manning said. ``It wasn't real pretty, but that's what can happen in football.''

Flacco rebounded from a stretch in which he committed two turnovers in each of Baltimore's three straight defeats. He completed 25 of 36 passes, ran for a score and did not throw an interception or lose a fumble.

He repeatedly picked on New York cornerback Corey Webster, who simply couldn't contain Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin. Smith caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Boldin finished with seven receptions for 93 yards.

Bernard Pierce ran for 123 yards as part of a running attack that generated 224 yards.

The Giants struggled on offense and were just as shaky on defense, a horrible combination for a team looking to stay tied atop the NFC East.

``What has happened over the course of the last couple of weeks is very difficult to explain,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. We just don't look like a well-oiled machine offensively at all.''

Said Manning: ``We knew we had to play our best football at the end of the season to get into the playoffs and we haven't done that. When you're not playing your best, teams can come out and embarrass you.''

Baltimore scored on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead, upped the margin to 17 points at halftime and kept the Giants at bay throughout the final 30 minutes. The Ravens held the ball for 39 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 20:39 for New York.

Unless they get very lucky, the Giants will wrap up a disappointing season next Sunday. Some of the players, however, already seem to be thinking about next year.

``We have to fight. There are jobs at stake and there is pride at stake,'' linebacker Chase Blackburn said. ``Nine-and-seven versus 8-8 is a big difference. Hopefully we have enough pride ... to come out and give our best effort.''

NOTES: Flacco has thrown for a career-high 3,783 yards this season. ... New York defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Canty both left with knee injuries. ... Boldin hurt his shoulder in the third quarter and did not return. ... Baltimore has won 10 straight regular-season home finales and has 13 consecutive home victories over NFC foes. ... It was only the fifth time in 47 games that New York did not force a turnover.

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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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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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