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Ray Lewis: 1 last ride for a man with many sides

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Ray Lewis: 1 last ride for a man with many sides

NEW ORLEANS (AP) In the final week of his career, we got to see the many sides of Ray Lewis.

There was Reverend Ray - reciting Bible verses and recalling singing in the church choir as a child, talking passionately about his relationship with God, the voice rising like a revival-tent preacher as he warned everyone that ``the trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That's what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you're trying to do.''

There was Revered Ray - one of the fiercest linebackers in NFL history, universally praised by teammates and opponents alike for his emotion on the field, his leadership in the locker room, for being an example of how the game should be played.

``I will probably be most proud of the impact I've had on so many men's lives,'' Lewis said. ``The game will fade one day, numbers will fall, accolades will wash away, but there is nothing better than changing someone's life.

Some even wondered if there was a Roided-Up Ray - taking some sort of strange wildlife byproduct containing a banned substance. (Lewis quickly shot down Antlergate as a ``joke,'' and it must be noted, he's never tested positive for anything illegal.)

And, of course, there's Ragin' Ray.

That one comes out for the last time Sunday, when Lewis' last ride ends on the biggest stage of all.

The Super Bowl.

The Baltimore Ravens linebacker gets a shot to go out a champion in the title game against the San Francisco 49ers. A few greats players have managed to do it this way- John Elway, Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan come to mind - but it rarely happens in football or any sport.

``I'm jealous,'' Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said. ``Ask any player, `How do you want to end your career?' You want to tell your team, `This is it.' You want to play in a Super Bowl and have a chance to win it. Very few guys get to leave the game with a storybook ending.''

It didn't go quite as planned.

The report that the 37-year-old Lewis had purchased deer-antler spray from a quirky company in Alabama to help recover from a triceps injury - it supposedly contains a naturally occurring substance on the banned list - revived doubts about the character of the man. Some of these doubts had lingered since he was accused of covering up a double slaying in Atlanta the night after the 2000 Super Bowl.

In a way, Super Bowl week revealed there are so many Rays, it's impossible to wrap him up in a tidy package.

Even Lewis will admit that the guy he professes to be most of the time - deeply religious, a caring mentor, a humble leader - is not the one you see when he puts on his helmet and pads. The one who dances out of the tunnel before home games, swaying this way and that, as if pleading to the whole world: ``Look at me!'' The one who plays with fury and arrogance, fully intent on breaking lesser men and lording it over them.

``I turn into a different person on the field,'' Lewis said. ``I am a totally different person off the field. But on the field, I'm driven to do whatever it takes for my teammates. There are so many of my teammates here today who I've honored and told them that I would do anything in my power so we can feel that confetti drop together, because that is the ultimate. For me being a leader of this team, I owe that to them.''

No one can questions Lewis' contributions to the game as a player - a two-time defensive player of the year, a seven-time All-Pro, a 13-time Pro Bowler, a linebacker who defined the very essence of his position with his barely controlled fury.

Yet he spent a great deal of time in the days leading up his final game talking about the role of faith in his life. He described himself as non-denominational - again, someone who can't be defined in cut-and-dried terms - but made it clear he relies heavily on a power beyond this world.

``God has always been a part of my life,'' he said. ``Faith is accepting things unseen. It's hard to believe in sometimes, to listen to what man says. We can be tricky with words. We all can. We hear, `You're too small. You can't do this. You can't do that.' You don't have too many more people to believe in than your faith. So my relationship with God is the ultimate. I don't claim a religion. I claim there is a higher power. There is a higher power I go to. And I'm emotional when I go to him. It's the ultimate conversation. There are no bad conversations with him.''

Talk like that can make some people skeptical. Those who lost loved ones in Atlanta 13 years ago likely would question his sincerity. Just hours after the end of a Super Bowl where Lewis was merely a spectator, he and several companions were involved in an altercation with another group outside a nightclub. Two men were stabbed to death. Lewis was accused, at the very least, of covering up the role of others and ditching a white suit he was wearing (it has never been found). He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against two others. They were acquitted, while Lewis received probation and a $250,000 fine from the NFL.

The following year, when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl and Lewis was designated MVP, Disney broke from its tradition and asked quarterback Trent Dilfer to proclaim, ``I'm going to Disney World.''

But, in fairness to Lewis, he has largely stayed free from controversy since that gruesome night - deer-antler spray notwithstanding - managing to transform his image from renegade to elder statesman. After he announced his retirement, shortly before the Ravens began their surprising run through the playoffs, he even got a big hug from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

``He taught me how to be a pro,'' Baltimore running back Ray Rice said. ``It's a simple saying, but there's a lot that comes with being a pro. He's also taught me how to be a man as well. At the end of the day, when he announced his retirement, he put it into perspective by saying, `There's life outside of football.' The life outside of football is being a man, and that was really special for me because it just meant the world to know that this man took his time, not only to embrace me, but he took me under his wing and showed me how to do this thing.''

No matter which Ray walks off the field for the final time Sunday, Lewis is content with his legacy.

``I get to leave on my terms,'' he said. ``That's the ultimate.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/super-bowl-watch andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked scoring defense clashes with the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked scoring offense in one of the most anticipated games of Week 7.

The Ravens (4-2) are coming off a historic 21-0 shutout win over the Tennessee Titans, while the Saints (4-1) have had a full week of rest after beating up the Redskins in primetime in a dominating 43-19 win.

The Ravens are 5-1 all time against the Saints winning their last three contests and are 3-1 at M&T Bank Stadium. Here are key factors ahead of Sunday's game.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Game Preview

1. Brees can make history vs. Ravens

Drew Brees' road to Hall of Fame enshrinement has not been without obstacles. In Week 7, Brees will face a roadblock he's had issues with in the past. If he can clear it, he will etch his name yet again in the NFL history books.

Since entering the NFL in 2001, Brees is 0-4 against the Ravens, making Baltimore the only NFL team he has never beaten. A win Sunday would make him just the third quarterback to beat all 32 teams,  adding him to the list that features only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it it.  In Week 5 against the Redskins Brees passed both Favre and Manning to become NFL's all-time leading passer.

But the history-making for Brees won't stop there come Sunday. He enters the matchup with 499 career touchdowns and one more against the Ravens will make him the fifth signal caller in league history to throw 500.

The Ravens defense, which is ranked first in points (12.8), first in yards (270.8), second in passing yards (188) and third in rushing yards (82.8), will have to act fast as Brees hasn't thrown an interception in his last six regular-season games and leads the league in completion percentage, interception percentage, passer rating and fourth quarter passer rating. Against the Ravens, he's 116-for-181 for 1,340 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and 10 sacks. 

2. Flacco, Ravens offense needs to capitalize

Drew Brees isn't the only QB in this matchup making history. Joe Flacco became the third different quarterback in NFL history to complete 25 or more passes in nine consecutive games, completing the feat in the Week 6 victory over Tennessee. He also instilled a much needed confidence boost in receiver Michael Crabtree after dropping the ball literally and figuratively Week 5, connecting with him six times and for one touchdown. 

The Saints defense is ranked 26th in points (28.0), 18th in yards (369), 30th in passing yards (297.6) but first in rushing yards (71.4). Those are numbers the Ravens will need to capitalize on.

The Ravens' running game is still searching for its footing, so expect the chemistry between Flacco and the core receivers to strengthen. Flacco also has performed well against the Saints in the past,  finishing with 117.7 passer rating in his last two games against the Saints. The Ravens are averaging 28.7 points per game against New Orleans., lighting the Saints up for at least 30 points in the each past three matchups,

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who exited their Week 5 game early with a concussion, was a full participant during Wednesday and Thursday's practices and will be on John Brown, Willie Snead and Crabtree all day long.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Matchup Preview:

1. Jimmy Smith vs. Michael Thomas: 
Thomas will be keeping Smith preoccupied all afternoon as the wide receiver is ranked fourth in the NFL with 519 yards, averaging 103.8 yards per game with three touchdowns.

2. Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara vs. Ravens defense:
Referred to as 'Lightning and Thunder,' the two have put up 352 yards, are averaging 53 and 59.8 yards per game respectively and have seven touchdowns. 

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Injury Report:

Click here to see the latest Ravens-Saints injury report.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 How to Watch:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints

What: Week 7 regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, 4:05 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock

Weather: 55 degrees, mostly sunny

Ravens 2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9. Ravens vs. Bills. Win, 47-3 (1-0)

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 Ravens at Bengals. Loss, 34-23 (1-1)

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 Ravens vs. Broncos. Win, 27-14 (2-1)

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 Ravens at Steelers. Win, 26-14 (3-1)

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 Ravens at Browns. Loss, 12-9 (3-2)

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 Ravens at Titans. Win, 21-0 (4-2)

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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