Ravens

McIlroy, Woods among top-class field in Abu Dhabi

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McIlroy, Woods among top-class field in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Rory McIlroy is looking forward to actually playing golf again after the buzz of his multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal and the selection of European Ryder Cup captain.

The world's top-ranked golfer and PGA Championship winner leads a star-studded field at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship that includes Tiger Woods, No. 5 Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Martin Kaymer.

McIlroy signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike this week and led the charge for Paul McGinley in his successful campaign to become Europe's 2014 Ryder Cup captain.

Now he's looking forward to getting his year off to a strong start at the National Course, where he has repeatedly come up short against Kramer, a three-time winner here.

``It's a place I have done well. I think one problem for me the last few years has been Martin Kaymer. He's played really well around here and won it a couple of times, three times I think, and I always came up second best,'' said McIlroy, who is coming off a season-ending victory at the Dubai World Championship as well as the European and PGA tour money titles.

``It would be nice to go one better this week and obviously that's what I'm aiming for, but it's a great field and looks like the golf course is in great shape as well.''

Most of the questions to McIlroy this week has been about his new sponsorship deal - estimated to be worth up to $20 million a year - but he insisted his emergence as a mega-rich athlete would have no bearing on how he approaches 2013.

``I'm just concentrating on playing golf. You know, all the financial side and everything like that will take care of itself,'' the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said. ``I'm in it to try and win trophies and they are worth more to me than any contract.''

The spotlight on McIlroy will be even bigger this week as he's paired with Woods for the first two days, in a group that also includes Kaymer, giving fans another chance to see golf's two biggest names go at it.

``I just want to get off to a good start,'' said Woods, who had a share of the lead after three round last year in Abu Dhabi but finished third after shooting a 72. ``I'm playing two weeks in a row, and I had a nice break and have geared up for these two weeks and have tried to get mentally and physically ready for these two tournaments.''

Woods said he was happy with his ball striking and short game toward the end of last season, so he hasn't made any major changes to his swing.

Is he ready to challenge McIlroy for the No. 1 ranking? Woods said for now, he's just concerned with winning.

``The rankings take care of themselves by winning golf tournaments,'' Woods said. ``I was at one point, what was I, outside the top 50 or whatever it was. But I won three times last year and lo and behold, look where I'm at. It's about winning golf tournaments and being consistent.''

Among those closing the gap on the top two is Rose, who starred in Europe's Ryder Cup victory over the United States and almost stole a victory from McIlroy in the Dubai World Championship. The Englishman shot a course-record 62 that included an eagle and eight birdies but fell two shots short.

Rose, who is making his first appearance in Abu Dhabi, said he was glad to be flying ``under the radar'' in the tournament where Woods and McIlroy are taking top billing.

``Well, I think status is something I'm a long way from, but I believe my game is not far at all,'' Rose said in comparing himself to Woods an McIlroy. ``I'm very happy that I can close the gap or hopefully make the gap disappear with some hard work and some just continue what I'm doing.''

Kaymer, a former No. 1 whose struggles last year resulted in him falling to 28th, said he was hopeful his Ryder Cup performance - sinking the putt that allowed Europe to retain the trophy - could inspire better results in 2013.

``Something career-changing happened,'' he said. ``And, obviously, that gives you so much motivation and belief.''

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Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

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USA Today Sports

Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

Lamar Jackson is the most popular man in Baltimore. 

In his second season with the Ravens, it’s impossible to *not* see his name everywhere you look. His number eight jersey is quickly becoming as synonymous with the Ravens as Cal Ripken Jr.’s was with the Orioles.

Jackson has taken the NFL by storm in 2019, forcing himself into the MVP debate.

Longtime fan Rick Gibson said the Jackson era has a different feel than the previous Joe Flacco-led team.

“It’s fun coming to games,” he said before Sunday's matchup against the Texans. "A lot better than it has been in the past, so it’s more exciting.”

With the flip of a switch -- or rather, the draft pick of a quarterback -- fan enthusiasm is all of a sudden at an all-time high.

And it starts (and ends) with number eight.

“It’s incredible,” said Ravens fan Jonathan Greene. “Most excited for a Ravens team, and I’ve been a fan for years. It’s awesome. He has elevated this team.”

The words fans use to describe Jackson’s game are all similar. Phenomenal. Awesome. Incredible. Spectacular. Magic.

Jackson’s stats this season speak for themselves: 2,036 passing yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions. A 65.9 completion percentage. 702 rushing yards -- 11th-most in the NFL -- and six touchdowns. And of course, a 7-2 record.

Even those who would discount Jackson’s performance as beating up on weak competition are forced to recognize his brilliance. Against the winless Bengals, for example, Next Gen Stats estimated an average quarterback should have a completion percentage of 57.7%, based on how covered his receivers were, how much pressure he was under, and more. 

His actual percentage? 88.2%, or 30.5% higher than what was expected. It was the best difference for *any* quarterback in *any* game in 2019.

Fans are excited for the future as well. Not just for the Ravens but for young football fans across the city.

“He’s only 22 years old,” another fan, John Ford, said. “I think he appeals to the younger generation coming up through the high school and college ranks, because they can relate to him...I think he’s a role model for a lot of young kids coming up. And you watch him on the sidelines, he does some great things, but he takes it in stride. So he’s not celebrating too much, he knows what he’s got to do. That’s a unique thing for a young man, only 22 years old, at this level.”

The near future looks more daunting than in the long term. The Ravens enter Week 11 on a five-game winning streak, hoping to win six straight for the first time since 2000. 

They are beginning a tough slate of four straight against playoff contenders, but with Jackson leading an unstoppable offense, three or four wins doesn’t seem far-fetched. Regardless of what happens, Jackson has emphatically won over the city of Baltimore and the NFL writ large.

One longtime Ravens fan, Stan Nasiatka, put it best when asked about Jackson.

“That’s all we’re talking about," he said. "It’s everywhere.”

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL. That much hasn’t changed.

But something different happened on Sunday against the Texans: Tucker’s attempt on the Ravens’ first drive of the game -- from 43 yards out -- bounced off the right upright.

The miss snapped a streak of 22 consecutive made field goals for Tucker, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. He is the only kicker in NFL history to convert more than 90% of his field goal attempts.

While it's shocking, this wasn't Tucker's first miss this season. He missed an extra point two weeks ago against New England.

It’s too soon to be concerned about Tucker going forward. For now, just pick your jaws up off the floor and go back to feeling confident in the Ravens’ most consistent player the next time he jogs out onto the field.

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