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Title games feature Ravens-Pats, 49ers-Falcons

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Title games feature Ravens-Pats, 49ers-Falcons

One game is a rematch. The other might feel like one - at least to one of the teams.

For the second straight year in the AFC, the New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

In the NFC, it will be San Francisco traveling to Atlanta, with the Falcons defense trying to stop a versatile, running quarterback for the second straight week.

``Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are mobile quarterbacks who throw the ball at extremely accurate levels,'' Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``We can use this game as a cheat sheet to prepare for next week.''

On Sunday, the Falcons barely got past Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, who overcame a 20-point deficit to take a one-point lead, but gave it up after Matt Ryan drove Atlanta into field goal range and Matt Bryant made a 49-yard kick with 8 seconds left.

Atlanta is the only team not making a repeat appearance in the NFL's final four. Last year, it was the Giants playing, and beating, the 49ers for the NFC title.

On Saturday, Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and rushed for 181 - a playoff record for a quarterback - to defeat Green Bay 45-31.

``We're one step closer to where we want to be,'' said Kaepernick. San Francisco hasn't been to the Super Bowl since 1995, when Steve Young led the 49ers to their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

Though the Niners must travel cross country for the game, they opened as 3-point favorites in a meeting of teams that played twice a year until 2003, when Atlanta was moved from the NFC West to the NFC South. Their only previous playoff meeting was a 20-18 win for the Falcons in the 1998 divisional playoffs. Atlanta won at Minnesota the next week to make its only Super Bowl.

San Francisco's 20-17 overtime loss last year to the Giants was part of a tense day of football that began with New England's 23-20 victory over the Ravens in the AFC title game.

In that game, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 11 seconds left.

This season, Justin Tucker beat out Cundiff for the kicker's job. Tucker hit a 47-yarder against Denver on Saturday to lift the Ravens to a 38-35 win in double overtime, extending Ray Lewis' career for at least one more week and putting the 17-year veteran one win away from his second Super Bowl.

``We fought hard to get back to this point and we're definitely proud of being here,'' Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. ``We feel like it's going to take a lot for somebody to come and kick us off that field come the AFC championship game.''

Lewis and the Ravens will have to stop the NFL's most potent offense. The Patriots put up 457 yards in a 41-28 victory over Houston, which left them one win away from their sixth Super Bowl in the 2000s.

``I think the two best teams are in the final,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ``Baltimore certainly deserve to be here and so do we.''

The Patriots were made early 9 1/2-point favorites against the Ravens.

These teams met in the regular season and that game was also decided by a kick - Tucker's 27-yard field goal that sneaked through the right upright for a 31-30 victory. Or did it?

While the Ravens were celebrating, Pats coach Bill Belichick ran to midfield and grabbed a replacement official's arm as he tried to exit the field. The NFL fined Belichick $50,000 for the gesture.

New England is the even-money favorite in Vegas to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco is next at 2-1, followed by Atlanta (5-1) and Baltimore (8-1).

Among the possible Super Bowl story lines:

-The Harbaugh Bowl. Jim Harbaugh coaches the 49ers and John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.

-A rematch of San Francisco's 41-34 win at New England on Dec. 16 - one of the most entertaining games of the regular season.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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What Trace McSorley’s shining performance vs. Philadelphia means for the Ravens roster battle

What Trace McSorley’s shining performance vs. Philadelphia means for the Ravens roster battle

PHILADELPHIA — Trace McSorley knew something was brewing when he saw he had missed two phone calls: One from his quarterback's coach, James Urban, and the other from his head coach, John Harbaugh. 

McSorley received word early Thursday morning that he would make his NFL starting debut later in the evening against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field with starter Lamar Jackson not suited up.

And with the biggest opportunity he’s had all preseason, McSorley delivered his best performance as a Raven. He finished 19-of-28 with 203 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to lead the Ravens to a 26-15, lightning-shortened win. 

It was McSorley’s first performance where he didn’t come off the bench this preseason.

“You’re really coming into it, if you’re not starting you kind of come in and you know when you’re going to be up so you’re getting the juices flowing, getting yourself ready,” McSorley said. “Tonight, as a team, we were able to come in and play really good offensively.”

His best performance of his pro career might have clinched him a spot on the 53-man roster, too. At the very least, it moved him closer to earning a spot when the rosters shrink on Aug. 31.

“I thought he played really well,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he was really poised, he made a lot of plays on the move, extended some plays and made them. He played really well.”

With normal backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sidelined with a right thumb injury, McSorley has been the team’s backup all preseason long. 

In that role, he’s gotten reps he typically wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Thursday, he showed it’s paying off.

“Just being able to get in and really see things, really be there live, it’s a big difference than watching the film or sitting back and getting the mental reps,” McSorley said. “Once you get in there, see it live, it’s different. It’s been extremely beneficial getting all these reps.”

Aided by the return of Marquise Brown, the Ravens offense scored 23 points in the second quarter — with three touchdowns from McSorley — to pull ahead for a 26-0 lead.

McSorley’s best play came when he rainbowed the left sideline and found Michael Floyd in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass that found the wide receiver right on the money. That followed his toughest effort of the night, a four-yard scramble where he found a way to get his right arm, and the football, over the goal line for a touchdown.

His other touchdown came on a seven-yard fade route to Jaleel Scott to put the Ravens up four possessions.

Still, despite his strong performance, he deflected individual praise and was more focused on how the offense ran as a whole. 

“I think so far, I think this is probably… we made some progress from the first couple games,” McSorley said. “That’s just kind of been the goal from week one to week two, from week two to week three. I think that’s something that coach Harbaugh talks about, I think we were able to do that as an offense again tonight.”

With Jackson and Griffin not expected to play next week in Washington for the team’s fourth and final preseason game, the spotlight will once again be on McSorley, as he’ll make his final case to be on the roster. 

Even though he looks like a safe bet to make the team now, especially with the special teams reps he’s received in practice, nothing is confirmed for the former Penn State quarterback.

But Thursday’s performance, one where he played the best football of his professional career, will go a long way toward ensuring he’s on the 53-man roster when the regular season begins.

“He did amazing,” running back Justice Hill said. “He got, what, three touchdowns? That’s crazy. And he only played a half.”

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Stock up, stock down: Justice Hill, Mother Nature's stock down in Ravens win

Stock up, stock down: Justice Hill, Mother Nature's stock down in Ravens win

PHILADELPHIA — In the team’s 16th straight preseason win, the Ravens jumped out to a 26-0 lead over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field and were able to hold on for a 26-15 win on Thursday. 

Here are a few players who stood out for the Ravens:

Stock up: Michael Floyd

With Floyd seemingly on the outside looking in to the Ravens roster bubble, he certainly made his case loud and clear. 

Floyd finished with three catches for 54 yards and a score. He caught a beautiful route down the sideline from quarterback Trace McSorley on an over-the-shoulder grab for the score. 

He’s still fighting for a roster spot, but Floyd registered his first catches of the preseason. If nothing else, he performed well to potentially get a look from another team, should he be released by the Ravens.

"Yeah, he's really had a good couple weeks," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he got his legs kind of going the first week and he plays kind of angry. He does, and I say it in a good way. He plays with aggressiveness and tempo and physicality. He had some big catches for us today and he's done a great job."

Stock up: Trace McSorley

McSorley had an excellent first half and carried that the rest of the way for a 19-of-28 performance. He threw for 203 yards yards, had two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

WIth McSorley still fighting for his spot on the roster, his showing at quarterback moved him that much closer to a spot on the 53-man roster. 

He’s expected to play special teams this year, which will boost his chances of being on the 53-man roster, and the 45-man active roster each week. 

Still, his start against the Eagles was his best performance as a professional. 

Stock down: Justice Hill

Hill didn’t have many opportunities to make a special play, but he had a pedestrian game after his excellent showing against the Packers a week ago. He had just eight yards on seven carries.

With Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon out of the lineup, Hill got his fair share of touches but struggled to make much of them. He made a key block on a 44-yard pass to Miles Boykin, but the rest of his night was largely forgettable.

In a crowded backfield, Hill has to stand out each and every week to earn his touches. Thursday was a step in the wrong direction.

It is noteworthy, however, that the entire team only had 40 yards put together. While it wasn't just Hill who struggled on the ground, he's one that is fighting for playing time.

Stock up: Miles Boykin

Boykin had just one catch, but he made it count as he took the pass for 44-yards for the Ravens longest gain of the evening.

Expected to see significant reps this season, Boykin has been a big, athletic target for Ravens quarterbacks to throw to all preseason long. As his experience grows, the Ravens offense should evolve with him.

Stock up: Marquise Brown

Marquise Brown's stock isn't up because he played. It's how he played. 

He had three catches for 17 yards and a rush, but suffered no setback and said he felt good with how he played postgame. 

"I think it was very emotional during the pregame," Brown said. "Just knowing that I'm finally able to play. So once I got there, it was just back to football."

Stock down: Mother Nature

With 11:43 left in the fourth quarter, Mother Nature intervened. 

The game was called after multiple lightning strikes, ending the game early. 

That’s not good news for some of the Ravens on the roster bubble, who were looking for any reps they could get. The team has just one more preseason game, and just over a week, before the rosters are cut to 53.

"I mean, (Eagles coach) Doug (Pederson) and I had the exact same feeling and all the players on both sides felt that way. ALl the coaches felt that way. To send the guys out there after sitting in the air conditioning for, it was going to be a long time, would've just been crazy."

This post has been updated with quotes.

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