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Ray Lewis ends brilliant career with championship

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Ray Lewis ends brilliant career with championship

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Before he could bask in a shower of confetti, before he could put his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy and before he could head into retirement as a champion, Ray Lewis had one final task: stop the San Francisco 49ers on three plays 5 yards from the end zone.

After two passes went awry, Lewis charged up the middle on a blitz. The Ravens stellar linebacker never made it to Colin Kaepernick, but after the quarterback's pass flew out of bounds, Lewis and Baltimore could begin to celebrate.

``How could it end any other way than that?'' Lewis said. ``And now I get to ride into the sunset with my second ring.''

The 13-time Pro Bowl star began his final night on the football field with a motivational speech to his teammates. He ended it looking upward into a waterfall of silver streamers and purple confetti after the Ravens beat San Francisco 34-31 Sunday night to win the Super Bowl.

``It's simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?'' Lewis said, clutching the Lombardi Trophy. ``It's no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates. And you looked around this stadium and ... Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!''

Standing tall in the middle of a defense that survived a frenzied comeback by Kaepernick and the 49ers, Lewis put a lovely bow on his 17th NFL season by earning another Super Bowl ring to go with the one he received 12 years earlier.

When Lewis first led Baltimore to Super Bowl glory, he was a 25-year-old at the height of his game. A terror on the best defense in the league, Lewis was voted MVP after the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 to earn their first championship.

On Sunday night, Lewis and his defense played a supporting role to Joe Flacco and the offense.

The 37-year-old Lewis finished with seven tackles and sometimes struggled to cover receivers venturing into his area. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught a 19-yarder on San Francisco's second series, and tight end Vernon Davis eluded Lewis twice before making second-quarter catches.

Lewis did, however, make two tackles during the 49ers' final drive.

``The final series of Ray Lewis' career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``It was not perfect. It was not pretty. But it was us. That is who we are.''

After amassing a team-high 44 tackles in Baltimore's first three playoff wins, Lewis was anything but exceptional against the 49ers. But the Ravens played like champions around him, and now Lewis can saunter into the sunset after again holding the Lombardi Trophy high.

``I told him I love him,'' Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ``What better way to show your gratitude to your leader for 17 years? He's mentored me, not just in football, but in life.''

While working his way back from a torn right triceps that had kept him sidelined since Oct. 14, Lewis told high-ranking team officials that he was going to retire after this season. He shared the news with his teammates and the media on Jan. 2, saying Baltimore's postseason run would be his ``last ride.''

And what a journey it was.

After defeating Indianapolis at home to open the playoffs, the Ravens beat top-seeded Denver on the road and knocked off second-seeded New England. Then, underdogs again in the Super Bowl, Baltimore blew most of a 22-point lead in the second half before mounting one final defensive stop.

``To me, that was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I've ever been a part of in my career,'' Lewis said. ``What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage?''

The Ravens didn't necessarily win for Lewis, but they sure felt good about sending him into retirement with a world championship.

``It's pretty cool,'' said Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who threw for three touchdowns. ``Ray's a great person and everyone knows he's an unbelievable player, but he's the best teammate. It's unbelievable to send him out like this.''

Lewis' old buddy, 34-year-old Ed Reed, contributed a first-half interception. Jacoby Jones scored two touchdowns, and after the second - a 108-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter - he saluted his retiring teammate with a rendition of the ``squirrel'' dance Lewis made famous.

Days earlier, Lewis was confronted about his use of deer antler spray in his effort to return from the triceps injury. He vehemently denied trying the banned substance, and that sideshow fizzled out quickly enough so that it was not a distraction on Sunday.

The Ravens will have another middle linebacker next season, but they will never have another Ray Lewis. Harbaugh was asked why the team responded so passionately to him and his effort to go out on top.

``If you're going to talk about the Ray thing, you want to ask about it, then the answer's got to be faith,'' Harbaugh said. ``I mean Ray is driven by spirituality and faith and that's what he draws on and that's where his strength comes from. So if you really want to know, I mean that's what he's tapping into and that's what makes it so beautiful and so perfect.''

Lewis was the second draft pick in Ravens' history, following Jonathan Ogden in 1996. Ogden, who was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame on Saturday, waved to his former teammate during the pregame coin flip Sunday.

Perhaps one day, Ogden will extend the same greeting to Lewis in Canton, Ohio.

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Ravens' John Harbaugh credits early offensive success to Joe Flacco

Ravens' John Harbaugh credits early offensive success to Joe Flacco

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- John Harbaugh has seen Joe Flacco play in more than 170 games for the Ravens, including 15 in the postseason with an MVP effort in the Super Bowl.

Though Baltimore's coach is hard-pressed to remember them all, Harbaugh ranks Flacco's performance against Denver on Sunday among the best.

Flacco went 25 for 40 for 277 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in Baltimore's 27-14 victory . He's put up better numbers during his 11-year career, but this outing stood out because of the fashion in which Flacco zipped the ball short, long and in between.

"He's had a lot of good throwing days, right? But definitely ... it's in the top category," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's what you'd like to see Joe do. I just think it's a combination of a lot of things, including confidence in the guys that he's throwing to."

Harbaugh became Baltimore's head coach in 2008, the same year Flacco entered the NFL. The pair has gone through a lot together, most recently three straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

The Ravens (2-1) hope an improved offense will turn things around.

It's been a long time since Flacco has had so many capable receivers to choose from. Offseason acquisitions Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown have been excellent, and Mark Andrews got into the mix Sunday with 59 yards receiving, a Ravens record for a rookie tight end.

"I'm really pleased with all those guys. They're playing really well and they've made big plays," Harbaugh said.

With Flacco leading the way, the Ravens went 8 for 16 on third down against a team that stopped 17 of 22 attempts in its first two games.

"All the receivers have a good chemistry with Joe," Brown said. "It's all about trust, starting with practice and talking with him to see if we're seeing the same thing. That plays a big part of it."

The Ravens have long been known for their defense, and that unit has played well. But, at least for now, the offense is doing its part, too.

After Denver bolted to a 7-0 lead, Baltimore went the distance on a soothing touchdown drive.

"That was the tone setter for us as a team, to have them answer for us and really get us back to even," safety Eric Weddle said. "And, once we settled down, shoot, defense played lights out."

As did the offense -- again. The Ravens are averaging 32 points per game, and Flacco has completed 82 of 129 passes for 889 yards and six TDs with just two interceptions.

Most impressive of all is Baltimore's performance in the red zone: 12 trips, 12 touchdowns, including 3 for 3 against Denver.

"We've had a good mix. I think we've probably thrown the ball in six times and run the ball in six times," Flacco said. "If you can do both of those things, especially when you get down tight inside the 5-yard line, that helps a lot. We've got good playmakers, and we put a lot of pressure on the defense with the guys that we have out there."

Give credit to the receivers, along with the running back tandem of Alex Collins and Javorius Allen, but Harbaugh knows the real reason why Baltimore has been unstoppable inside the 20.

"It probably starts with Joe," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe has done a great job making plays, making throws, trusting his guys and also extending some plays. That's been big."

The Ravens escaped the Denver game without any serious injuries, and Harbaugh hopes middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) can return for an AFC North showdown Sunday night with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Ravens Week 3 Player of the Game: LB Kenny Young

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Ravens Week 3 Player of the Game: LB Kenny Young

What the Ravens have lost in three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley due to injury, they've gained in rookie Kenny Young.

Week 2 against the Bengals, Young stepped in for Mosley and put up five solo tackles and three assists. Then when Week 3 came around and Mosley was still too injured to play, Young got the start and logged 44 snaps. He finished with eight solo tackles, two assists and a critical third-down sack on Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter. Young's stingy performance helped fuel a stellar defensive effort in the Ravens' 27-14 victory.

A fourth-round draft pick out of UCLA, Young has the maturity needed to succeed in this league.

Obsessed with perfection, as noted in a profile done via the Ravens' website, Young is already impressing his coaches and veteran teammates. 

He’s a smart guy, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a mistake,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not scared to make a mistake. He’s willing to play fast even if he does make a mistake. And sometimes, some of the plays you see him making? He might not be perfectly where he’s supposed to be, but that willingness to play fast overcomes it, and you go make a good football play.

While the timetable for Mosely's return is unknown, the Ravens can find solace in knowing their young replacement is a steady hand.

The 23-year-old currently leads the team in tackles (17), followed by Tony Jefferson (12). 

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