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Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

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Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

Aaron Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and an MVP award. Joe Flacco has been to the playoffs in all five of his pro seasons.

They will be the rarities this weekend when three rookie quarterbacks, two in their second NFL seasons, and one veteran who has yet to appear in the postseason will lead the other teams in the wild-card round.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is a fan of the trend toward younger quarterbacks.

``I think it's really exciting and the guys have done great,'' Carroll said. ``They really have against all of the odds and history and stuff they've just been amazing to take their teams into the playoffs.

``It's a very exciting time for the league knowing there are other guys out there who are going to come up in the next couple of years, and there are stars in the making in the college ranks, and you don't have to wait years and years for those guys to show up and be a factor. `'

Indeed, those days of letting young quarterbacks watch from the sideline before getting their chance has gone the way of the single wing. Rodgers was the last premier passer to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship, under Brett Favre in Green Bay.

On Saturday night, he leads the Packers against division rival Minnesota and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. Earlier in the day, Cincinnati and its own second-year signal caller, Andy Dalton, is at Houston. The Texans' Matt Schaub is in his ninth pro season, but this will be his first playoff game.

On Sunday, the inexperience is even more pronounced. Three rookies who have completely belied any rawness - Andrew Luck for Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III for Washington, Russell Wilson for Carroll's Seahawks - will guide their teams in wild-card games.

``You know there's going to be a lot of people talking about playoff football and how it's ratcheted up a notch, which may be true,'' said Flacco, who will become the first quarterback to start a playoff game in his first five NFL seasons in the Super Bowl era. He's also won at least one postseason game each year. ``But the bottom line is, my advice would be go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It's obviously gotten you to the point that you're in the playoffs and playing to get to another week. If it got you that far, then you're obviously doing something right, so you should try to continue that. You shouldn't try anything crazy just because it's playoff time.''

Getting to the playoffs with rookie QBs was a crazy idea for decades. That changed permanently when Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record in 2004, losing in the AFC title game.

Carroll points to even more recent times: 2008.

``I always go back to Flacco and Matt Ryan, those guys, when they jumped in and did really well as rookies, I think that was the start of the big turn,'' he said.

Still, there's never been anything like this season, when Luck, Griffin and Wilson combined for 31 wins, eight more than the previous record total for all rookie QBs in one season, which happened in 2011.

Some credit should go to the coaches who turned over their teams to the kids. Of course, when the Colts grabbed Luck atop the draft and the Redskins traded up to take RG3 at the second spot, it was presumed they would move directly into the lineup.

It took plenty of foresight and not a little courage for Carroll to go with Wilson, particularly after Seattle signed free agent Matt Flynn to a huge deal. But he saw something special in the third-round pick from Wisconsin by way of North Carolina State. And he sees that in all the rookie QBs.

``Maybe this is just the class of classes, too,'' he said. ``Maybe this isn't as much of a trend, but it looks like it's kind of turning. ``

It's not just the rookies who are making their playoff debuts, either. Schaub was injured when the Texans made their first trip to the postseason a year ago and T.J. Yates - yes, a rookie - led them to a victory over Dalton and the Bengals. Houston then lost to Flacco and the Ravens.

``I'm definitely looking forward to it,'' said Schaub, whose Texans have sputtered into the playoffs, dropping three of four to lose a bye. ``But the thing that's going to help us win the game are the same whenever you're playing, wherever you're playing. That's playing smart, clean, good football.''

That's exactly what the youngsters have done in key situations, even Ponder, who at times has looked overwhelmed. But he was solid the last two weeks when the Vikings beat Houston and Green Bay to secure their place in the Super Bowl chase.

``Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that's something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up,'' Ponder said. ``I think that's the biggest difference for me. `'

No matter how they fare this weekend, it's been a successful two years for young quarterbacks. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan expects it to continue because of the emphasis on passing in college.

``They're throwing the football a little bit more now than they have in the past,'' Shanahan said. ``I think that gives them a big advantage. I think they have the ability to come in and go through OTAs and really learn the system in the offseason. I know 20 years ago, you never had an opportunity like that. Going through a system again, you have a lot of hours in the classroom as a quarterback that you never had 10 years ago, a chance to learn the system. And a lot of these guys are coming out ready to go.''

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Howard Fendrich in Washington, and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

Twenty-four-year-old Kaare Vedvik didn't watch his first football game until seven years ago, and now he's fighting for a spot on the Ravens' special teams roster.

Raised in Norway, Vedvik got his first glance at the game when the Super Bowl was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time. 

"It seemed like a really, really interesting sport," Vedvik said via The Baltimore Sun. "It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun."

Fun enough to get the competitive soccer player to be an exchange student in the United States during his junior year of high school to test out the game of football. Vedvik returned to Norway for his senior year but impressed college recruiters enough at a Kohl's Kicking Camp in Texas that he was eventually recruited to play at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Staying in Norway would have meant giving up on sports entirely as school becomes more difficult and sports are no longer offered. Vedvik wasn't ready for that.

While at Marshall, Vedvik played in 38 games in four years as both a punter and kicker. He punted 59 times for 2,597 yards — averaging 44 yards — with 26 of them inside the 20-yard line. Vedvik once punted a 92-yarder, making it the seventh-longest punt in FBS history and the longest in 45 years. He ranked in the Top 10 for fewest punt return yards and averaged 63.6 yards-per-kickoff. 

After a private workout with Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, Vedvik became one of 14 Ravens undrafted free agents and has impressed thus far hitting 70 and 67-yard field goals in training camp practices. And in Thursday's preseason game vs. the Rams, Vedvik hit a 56-yard field goal.

"Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball," Vedcik said. "That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender."

While Vedvik's chances of dethroning the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and 12-year veteran punter Sam Koch are slim, he could very well make an impact elsewhere. 

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Norwegian. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

“When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg," Koch added. "You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

The Ravens returned to M&T Bank Stadium for their second game on the 2018 NFL preseason schedule and gave us a lot of reasons to be excited.

Joe Flacco and his new core of receivers only needed one drive to show off, Lamar Jackson put his speed on display and Robert Griffin III gave Breshad Perriman a much-needed confidence boost.

Here's what we learned from their 33-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams. 

1. First teamers make it count

It took Joe Flacco and the first-team offense all of 4 minutes and 46 seconds to get themselves on the board. During the 10-play, 70-yard drive, Flacco connected with rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, Javorius Allen, John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and finally, Patrick Ricard for a six-yard touchdown. During the impressive drive, Flacco showed his own mobility by getting out of the pocket for a three-yard gain and a classic Flacco slide. 

Flacco connecting with three of his newest receivers is what we've been waiting to see all offseason. Even though it was just one preseason drive, it's a step in the right direction after the Ravens' 2017 offense ranked 29th in the league in passing. 

"Listen, our guys are really showing up," Flacco said at halftime. "We've had a great camp, and it was good to come out here and see it carry over into a game."

"I think once the regular season starts, this isn't going to mean anything," said Flacco postgame. "But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season."

2. A lot of room to grow for Lamar Jackson

Jackson followed up the Ravens' successful first drive with one of his own. The rookie hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard gain before putting his footwork on display faking out several Rams defenders en route to a 9-yard touchdown run. 

While he made improvements from his Hall of Fame Game appearance, Jackson showed he still has a lot to learn, finishing the night 7-18 for 119 yards. With two preseason games under his belt, Jackson received high praise from his head coach John Harbaugh and Flacco on which he carries himself. 

"He does seem poised for a rookie," coach John Harbaugh said. "Even on the sideline, he may not know everything ... but he comes off the field and knows exactly what he did. I think he's really going to continue to blossom for that reason. He handles situations very well."

Flacco followed up on Harbaugh's comments by calling his touchdown run "pretty impressive" and said it's been good getting to talk to him on the sideline and that "he's a confident young kid... [that's been] handling himself really well."


3. A much-needed confidence boost for Perriman

The Ravens showed their former first-round pick they still have faith in him after picking up his $649K roster bonus included in the final year of his rookie contract earlier this offseason.

During last week's Hall of Fame Game, Perriman dropped a pass from RGIII that turned into an interception. However, the duo redeemed themselves against the Rams when Griffin III threw a 32-yard bomb to the back left corner of the end zone to Perriman. 

A smiling Perriman could be found in the Ravens' locker room after the win saying the play was "definitely a confidence boost" and is just thankful to finally be healthy during the preseason for pretty much the first time in his career. 

He will have to continue to fight for his spot on the 53-man roster with the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. 

4. Williams continues to be a threat

The 2017 third-round pick followed up his strong performance at the Hall of Fame Game – where he had a total of 41 pass-rushing snaps resulting in six hurries, one QB hit and a pass rush productivity of 17.1 according to Pro Football Focus – with another stellar performance.

During Thursday's matchup, the edge rusher out of Alabama had multiple hurries and a strip sack in the third for the first sack of the preseason.

Williams was following in the footsteps of the Ravens' first-team defense who finished their opening drive with a sack from Matthew Judon on third down to force the punt and an interception in the second from Maurice Canady. 

Ravens vs. Rams Notes

— The competition at right tackle between James Hurst and Orlando Brown Jr. is heating up. Brown Jr. played into the third quarter Thursday after getting in 60 snaps during the Hall of Fame Game. Quarterback Joe Flacco praised the third-round pick saying, "You can't ignore the fact that he's got the ability. He's just so big. He swallows people up. He has the natural ability to play that position and be a really good football player, so it's just exciting to see." 

— The Ravens got two W's last night when John Harbaugh quoted THE Michael Scott when asked about avoiding the injury bug during the preseason. Harbaugh said, "I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious." Classic. 

— While the preseason record does not matter whatsoever, the Ravens haven't lost a preseason game since Sept. 3, 2015. They now have ten days until they head to Indianapolis to face the Colts. 

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