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Uneven Yellow Jackets try to focus on ACC title

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Uneven Yellow Jackets try to focus on ACC title

ATLANTA (AP) Coach Paul Johnson knows that Georgia Tech is at a strange crossroads to a bizarre season.

If the Yellow Jackets upset No. 13 Florida State in the ACC championship game, they will earn a spot in the Orange Bowl.

If they lose, it might take an NCAA waiver for a lower-tier bowl even to offer an invitation.

But Johnson said he isn't concerned about Georgia Tech's postseason status with a conference title at stake Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C.

After the Jackets' four-game winning streak ended last week with an embarrassing loss at No. 3 Georgia, Johnson wants his players concentrating on what they can control.

``It's like I said when I talked to the team, `There's a lot of teams in the country that would love to change places with you and have a chance to go play in the conference championship game,''' Johnson said Tuesday. ``Is it a challenge? Sure, we're playing a really good team, but it's also an opportunity.''

At 6-6, Georgia Tech faces an uncomfortable quandary. A win over Florida State solves everything, but a loss to the Seminoles leaves the Jackets relying on bowl scenario circumstances to fall in their favor.

Just to be safe, Georgia Tech and the Atlantic Coast Conference office earlier this week filed a preliminary waiver with the NCAA to ensure that a seventh loss would not discredit a sub.-500 team and make it ineligible for a bowl.

Johnson, though, wants his team focused on what matters now.

After last week's 42-10 drubbing at Georgia, Johnson hopes that the Jackets respond appropriately against a Florida State team that's lost just twice - in a one-point upset Oct. 6 at North Carolina State and 37-26 last week at home to then-No. 6 Florida.

The Seminoles, led by the nation's fourth-most efficient passer in quarterback EJ Manuel and a stingy defense that ranks No. 2 overall, seem like a mismatch for the Jackets, but Johnson refuses to count his players out.

``They've been fairly resilient for a young football team,'' Johnson said. ``They've bounced back a couple of different times when it could've gone south, but they put forth the energy and fought to come back. So I think they realize they've got a good opportunity in front of them and hopefully we'll prepare that way and go up there and give it our best shot. It's why you play the game.''

When the Jackets were 2-4 overall after losing at Clemson eight weeks ago, it seemed that hope had all but evaporated.

But Johnson started using Vad Lee to create a vibrant quarterback rotation with fifth-year senior Tevin Washington, and the post-Clemson firing of coordinator Al Groh eventually gave Georgia Tech's struggling defense a proverbial spark.

Even though an Oct. 27 home loss to Brigham Young - a second straight nonconference home loss that followed a bitter rout by Middle Tennessee State - dropped the Jackets to 3-5, they won four straight before losing last week at Georgia.

``It's really a tale of two different seasons,'' Johnson said. ``The first part, you know, we lost a couple of close games, and I think it really affected us. We got in the conference schedule and played a little better. But it's been a different type of year. We've actually played far better in the conference than we have outside. Normally, that's usually not the case.''

Johnson also acknowledges the undercurrent of criticism that arose from Georgia loss. Since falling at home to the hated Bulldogs in November 2009, Georgia Tech is 21-20, and the Jackets certainly haven't stirred enthusiasm by dropping seven straight bowl games.

``In the five years that some of (the seniors) have been here, they've either won or tied for the division championship three times,'' Johnson said. ``You wouldn't know that. You'd think the sky was falling, but it's like that's probably better than (Georgia Tech had) done here in a while. So (the current seniors have) had some good wins and they've had some very tough losses, I think, along the way. It's been up and down, which is kind of the way it is most of the time in a lot of places.''

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Follow George Henry at www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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Who to root for in Week 11 if you are a Baltimore Ravens fan

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Who to root for in Week 11 if you are a Baltimore Ravens fan

The Baltimore Ravens are reeling, having lost three straight games as they head into today’s pivotal AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. At 4-5, the Ravens find themselves on the outside looking in in the current AFC Playoff Picture. A win at home today would not only end the team’s losing streak, but it would put them in prime position to make a postseason push in the final six games of the season. 

If you're a Ravens fan, you’ll be locked in to see how rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson does in his first start. At the same time, you’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the scoreboard to see how the rest of the AFC teams vying for the playoffs are faring. 

The Ravens have lost 8 of the last 10 games to the Bengals, including 3 of the past 4 at M&T Bank Stadium. And while it’s a daunting task to ask Jackson to make a successful first start against a division foe in the middle of a playoff race, it just may be the spark the Ravens need to get back on track. 

As the Ravens look to get back to .500, below is a breakdown of the key matchups for fans to watch and who you should be rooting for. 

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts 
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1:00 p.m

This is a tough one. The Ravens find themselves sandwiched between the Titans and the Colts in the current playoff picture. The Titans continued to show their improvement as team under head coach Mike Vrabel in last week’s win over the New England Patriots. Having won two in a row, the Titans are in a race of their own in the AFC South with the Houston Texans. After a slow start, the Colts are trending upward also, winners of three straight. But the Ravens still hold the tiebreaker over the Colts, and with a tough schedule and uncertainty at quarterback, would unlikely be able to overcome two games to catch and pass Tennessee. Root for the Colts. 


Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1:00 p.m

This a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Steelers have found their groove in the last five games, while the Jaguars have dropped five in a row. Mathematically the Ravens are still in the hunt to catch Pittsburgh atop the division. That and the chance to see your rival go down makes this an easy choice. Root for the Jaguars. 

Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 4:05 p.m.

The AFC’s worst team record-wise takes on a two-win Cardinals team. Root for the Cardinals.  

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Lamar Jackson earns first NFL start for Ravens as Joe Flacco's sidelined with injury

Lamar Jackson earns first NFL start for Ravens as Joe Flacco's sidelined with injury

It's the moment Lamar Jackson has been waiting for since the Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft; his first NFL start.

The team announced that Jackson will be starting under center against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in Week 11 after Joe Flacco sustained a hip injury in the Ravens' Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Jackson is 7-of-12 for 87 passing yards and one touchdown adding 139 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown in the Ravens' first nine games.

But how and when the team utilized him has lacked consistency, which has people concerned with the possibility of the rookie starting. On top of that, the Sunday matchup against Cincinnati is the Ravens' biggest game of the season and puts even more pressure on Jackson.

Sitting at 4-5 and third in the AFC North, a fourth-straight loss would all but eliminate Baltimore from playoff contention.

Jackson's teammates and coaches, however, have nothing but confidence in their quarterback.

“The young man certainly has progressed," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said about Jackson Thursday. "Smart, talented, tough – he has some great, great qualities, and [quarterbacks coach] James Urban and he have really worked hard in his progression. And, he’s done a lot of things for us up to this date.”

"He certainly has inner confidence, Mornhinweg added. "There’s no question about that, yet, very humble. So, it’s a good mix there."

Jackson missed Thursday's practice with an illness, but told the media Wednesday he has been preparing for his possible Week 11 start as if it was any other week.

When asked how he would feel if he did get the nod Sunday, Jackson said he would have butterflies at first but that once the ball was snapped, "it's on."

The faster style of NFL play compared to that of college football was something the quarterback admittedly struggled with in the preseason. But with nine games behind him, Jackson feels he's made progress.

"Calling the plays," Jackson said on the area he's made the biggest strides in. "Before I'd have to ask coach a hundred times, 'say it again, say it again,' but now he says it one time to me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes if [the call] is long or whatever I have to ask [coach to] say it again, but other than that I'm getting better with that."

Robert Griffin III, who was also in talks of starting vs. the Bengals, has taken pride in mentoring his fellow Heisman Trophy winner.

“Lamar is like a sponge." Griffin III said Wednesday. "He’s soaking up everything he possibly can, information-wise, from myself, Joe [Flacco], the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – coach [James] Urban. He’s been doing a great job."

The 21-year-old is the only first-round quarterback out of the 2018 NFL Draft that has yet to start this season. A strong showing and this could be the start of the Jackson era in Baltimore. 

Prior to Sunday, Flacco had missed just six games in 11 years, starting the last 41.

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