FULL proCane Pro Bowl History Dating Back To 1942

Checkout the ENTIRE History of proCanes in the Pro Bowl dating back to 1942. There has been at least one proCane for 29 straights years. Click on the image below to check it out!

ProBowl - 2013-1 Roster small

ProBowl - 2013

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Andre Johnson tops in interesting stat

Wide receiver Andre Johnson finished 2012 with a career-best 1,598 yards receiving.

Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson and Chicago Bear Brandon Marshall were the All-Pro selections at receiver, but the Texan had the better numbers in one key category: yards per route run.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Johnson was the only player to register better than 3 yards per route run, and he finished with 3.01 total. Yards per route run was decribed in the post here:

This unique metric evaluates yardage totals solely based on routes run so that the stats are indicative of performance relative to the number of opportunities. It’s easy enough to understand, so let’s look at the notable performances.

Johnson and eight of his teammates are in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl this week.

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Ray Lewis a murderer? No, he's Ravens' inspiration

First of all, let's get this out of the way. Ray Lewis didn't kill anyone.

The Lewis-is-a-murderer mantra is the biggest thing you see the anti-Ray Lewis people say. It's repeated on every message board whenever the Ravens win and Lewis plays a prominent role. It's even repeated by the wives of New England Patriots players.

I covered the Lewis murder case. The NFL office, and most court observers and journalists around the case at the time, believed that the prosecution overreached in charging Lewis. This was later proven as the prosecution's case crumbled and Lewis was offered a misdemeanor obstruction plea deal.
An overreaching prosecution was a fact mentioned by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue in his then-record fine of Lewis.

This is all stated for an important reason. The narrative of Lewis as a murderer has become real in the eyes of some fans and adds to what has become Lewis' legendary status in the Baltimore locker room.

I get why some people hate Ray Lewis, but what he's done in turning around his life is miraculous. It's beyond Kobe Bryant post-rape accusations or Mike Tyson or maybe anything else that's happened in sports history.

You can hate him all you'd like -- and sometimes he's a bit much -- but to the Ravens, Lewis is football's version of a messiah. The players believe his protestations and preaching and that's all that matters.

"The more people attack Ray and bring up his past," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "the more we believe in him. He's the greatest leader I've ever seen."

A doctorate thesis or several books could be written on all of the religious-socio-political-racial issues involved in what Lewis is doing now. There has never been anyone in NFL history like Lewis who garners a flock of followers using both action and words. Normally, this kind of influence and belief system comes to a player only after he's died.

When Lewis speaks of destiny and God's plan, the players believe this as well. They are fully in. If you doubt this fact, you don't know this locker room.

The thing I hear most from Baltimore players about why they love Lewis (I use that word purposely) is that, as one player explained, "He's been through the s--- and back." The players know all about Lewis' past (particularly the murder accusation) and to them, what happened to Lewis could have happened to any of them.

That last point cannot be emphasized enough.

So hate Lewis all you'd like. Ignore how he's come back from the brink. Call him a murderer.

That just adds kindling to an already intense flame. The Ravens believe in Lewis and belief is a powerful force.

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Ed Reed is Ravens' silent weapon in playoffs

Safety Ed Reed has been the Ravens' silent weapon during the postseason.

He hasn't been involved in any big plays, but he hasn't given up any, either.

One of the main reasons the Ravens have been successful against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady has been the discipline of Reed.

He isn't cheating up any more. He isn't trying to jump routes.

He is just playing back and teams are afraid to throw at him.

Brady threw two passes Reed's way, and Manning wanted no part of Reed.

There is a perception that Reed is at his best when he is gambling and out of position. Actually, the Ravens and Reed are at their best when he is playing on the back end and taking away one side of the field because teams fear throwing at him.

Reed will have to be as disciplined again in the Super Bowl because the 49ers like to use the deep ball.

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Ray Lewis tells Ravens teammates to avoid Lombardi Trophy poses

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens welcomed CBS to their suburban facility Wednesday to take head shots for the Super Bowl XLVII broadcast, and they brought a prop – a non-engraved Lombardi Trophy.

A few players got cozy with the NFL's Holy Grail, up for grabs in 10 days, when the Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans.

Then Ray Lewis showed up and set them straight.

"Everybody wants to have you take pictures with it. And it's like I told my team, 'Don't ever take pictures with something that's not yours, nothing that you haven't earned,' " Lewis said Thursday. "When we hold that Lombardi, whoever holds it next Sunday, you've earned it.

"I don't really believe in jinxes and all that, and just believe, don't set yourself up for something."

Lewis, 37, is the only player on the current Ravens roster who was on the team that trounced the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. The Lombardi Trophy from that Super Bowl is encased in glass near a fireplace in the plush lobby at Ravens headquarters.

's OK to ogle that trophy, as quarterback Joe Flacco has admitted to doing in the past, but there's no touching that one or any other until they earn it.

"I think it's great," said Ravens running back Ray Rice of Lewis' order. "I'm not superstitious or anything, but I don't want to see anything that's not rightfully ours yet. We've got to work to get that."

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Mike James Late Edition To Senior Bowl

Didn't get a chance to pass this along earlier because I was working the phones, but Canes running back Mike James has been invited as a late addition for Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

James, replacing injured Clemson running back Andre Ellington on the South roster, will be the 63rd Miami Hurricane to play in the Senior Bowl and the first Canes running back since Cleveland Gary in 1989.

It will be James' second postseason college bowl invite; the Haines City, Fla., native rushed for 21 yards in the 2013 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl held on Jan. 19 in Carson, Calif.

James started all 12 games at running back for the Hurricanes in 2012, finishing as the team’s second-leading rusher with 642 yards and six touchdowns. He piled up 1,386 rushing yards and 17 TDs, while catching 67 passes for 585 yards and five touchdowns in his career. He was one of 11 FBS players named to the 2012 AFCA Allstate Good Works Team in September.

Kickoff Saturday is set for 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the NFL Network.

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Willis McGahee Wouldn’t Describe The Aftermath Of This Massive Hit That Got Him Carted Off The Field As An “Injury”

Above is the infamous Ryan Clark hit on Willis McGahee, four years ago yesterday, that put McGahee on a stretcher to close out the 2009 AFC Championship game. Though the next day the Associated Press considered it newsworthy that Willis McGahee would, in fact, recover from the collision, McGahee told Esquire this week that he didn't consider it an "injury" per se:

[McGahee] now plays for the Denver Broncos and was recovering from a torn medial collateral ligament. With the playoffs approaching, and with NFL injuries becoming ever more of "an issue" - the global warming of American sports fans, something to be fretted over and put aside - I wanted to talk to someone whose career has been defined by very public injuries and whose very public injuries have defined the state of football over the last ten years. But he didn't see it that way. "Injury has not been part of my career," he said. "I've only gotten hurt twice. I got hurt once in college and once in the pros."

Right, but that second injury, against the Steelers...

"No. I mean now. The MCL."

"So you don't consider the concussion an injury?"

"That's what they consider it. But getting a concussion and hurting your knee are two different things. You get back up from a concussion."

Willis McGahee was knocked out cold against the Steelers. He went out on the board. He didn't consider himself injured, though, because like all NFL players he considers himself an expert in what qualifies as an injury and what doesn't. The loss of consciousness he suffered in Pittsburgh didn't qualify because it didn't require rehabilitation. It didn't put his career in jeopardy.

Esquire checked in with Ryan Clark as well, who said of the football grind, "People always ask me, 'Are you feeling good?' No. You never feel good. Once the season starts, you never feel good. But it becomes your way of life." Later in the piece, he defends his tackling style by saying, "Listen, I'm the first one to get to my knees and say a prayer." You can read the rest here.

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Buffalo News explores different angle of Ray Lewis murder case

With the presumed future employer of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis devoting 30 minutes of air time to a 13-year-old case of double murder, it’s hard for Lewis or the Ravens to criticize any other media outlet for paying attention to the story.

The Buffalo News has paid plenty of attention to it on Thursday, with a story and video regarding the first visit of the mother of one of the victims to his grave.

Priscilla Lollar didn’t attend the funeral and hadn’t been to the cemetery, which is only 21 miles from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.  Lollar recently told USA Today that she still holds out hope that her son, Richard, will walk through the door of her home.

“I don’t discuss him in the past,” Lollar said.  “I don’t really acknowledge anything.”

She acknowledged everything on Wednesday, taking another son to the site of Richard Lollar’s grave.

“I want to see if he’s in there,” Priscilla Lollar said at the site where Richard Lollar is buried, via Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know.
“I never seen him in no casket or anything.  So I don’t know.  Now I want to see what’s up under here.  I want to see if he’s in there or anything.

“I want him to come on back home!  I just want him to come home!”

The reality is that no one would be talking or writing about this story if the Ravens weren’t headed to the Super Bowl, for what will be the final game in the 17-year career of Ray Lewis.  And Priscilla Lollar likely wouldn’t be talking and thinking as much about it.

The only remotely good news in all of this is that Priscilla Lollar may have finally obtained some closure.

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Ed Reed of Baltimore Ravens: 'I'll be playing next year'

Super Bowl XLVII will be the final game for Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss possibly could go out on top as well. But don't bring up the "R" word with Ravens safety Ed Reed.

"I'll be playing next year. Next question," Reed said, via The Baltimore Sun.

Reed made it clear this won't be his "last ride."

"I just bought a bike," Reed said.

Reed has waffled on retirement in the past, but he seems definitive here. Still, there's no guarantee that Reed will continue playing with the Ravens. Reed has done an effective job helping to prevent big plays against Denver Bronocs quarterback Peyton Manning and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady this offseason.

Reed is headed for unrestricted free agency after the season, and he would attract great interest from teams around the NFL, including the Patriots. The Ravens could use the franchise tag on Reed, but they might need to save it for quarterback Joe Flacco.

To prepare for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl, Reed has been watching film on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Reed might have to help more in run support while also trying to shut down Kaepernick's deep passes up the seam.

This could be Reed's last game as a Raven. He's still one of the big keys to their defense.

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Ray Lewis focused on 49ers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For weeks, no one could determine when The Ray Lewis Retirement Tour would draw to a close.

Since Lewis announced on Jan. 2 his "last ride" in the NFL would coincide with the end of the Ravens' postseason run, there was the possibility that each game would be his last.

Now, after successful stops in Denver and New England, there is no longer any doubt: Win or lose, Lewis will perform for the final time on Feb. 3, in New Orleans on the NFL's grandest stage.

It wouldn't be surprising if Lewis approached the Super Bowl with a feeling of finality, but the 37-year-old middle linebacker insisted Thursday that he's thinking only about helping the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.

"Honestly, outside of putting my head in the playbook and studying San Fran, I really haven't thought about anything else," Lewis said.

"It's going to be a great day, period, no matter what happens. And that's kind of the way I've approached it," he said. "I haven't even said, 'Oh man, this is your last game, what do you think?' I really haven't. Because I just really am keeping my teammates focused on the real prize."

Now in his 17th season, Lewis is preparing for his second Super Bowl -- and first in 12 years. The last time he played for the NFL championship, Lewis earned MVP honors in Baltimore's 34-7 win over the New York Giants.

After waiting all this time to get back, Lewis has no intention of merely settling for being part of the big game.

"The real prize is actually going and winning the Super Bowl," he said. "It's great to get there, don't get me wrong, but to win it is something special."

And then, only then, Lewis will think about what it means to walk off the football field for the final time.

"You feel that confetti drop, I'll probably reflect then, when I'm there," he said. "But, it really hasn't crossed my mind like that."

San Francisco inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who wears No. 52, has nothing but admiration for Baltimore's No. 52.

"I'm just a big fan of him, period," Willis said Thursday. "Just his enthusiasm on the field, the passion he plays with. I've always been a big fan of those who play with passion, such as Ray Lewis. I know people always want to make comparisons and talk about torches and all this. At the end of the day, I always say I can only be the best player I can be.

"As a fellow linebacker, being at the Pro Bowl and being able to be coached by the same coach (Mike Nolan) at one point in time in our careers, we've become friends. Ray's one of those guys, he loves to give his wisdom and give his knowledge, and I'm the type that I love to listen -- anybody who's been there, done that, especially his caliber of player, who's played a long time."

Lewis has been with the Ravens since 1996, and it wasn't long after his arrival that he became the captain of the defense. As his career went on, he lost a step but made up for it with tireless film study and sharp instincts.

After his rookie year, the only time Lewis didn't get a Pro Bowl invitation were those seasons when he was beset by injury -- 2002, 2005 and 2012.

Last year he received his 13th Pro Bowl nod despite missing four games with a foot injury. This season, after tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14, there was a strong possibility he wouldn't be back.

At first, the Ravens believed he was done for the year. But Lewis vowed to return, and his teammates were determined to make it happen.

"We knew we wanted to make the playoffs in order for Ray to have a chance to come back," safety Ed Reed said. "He's that engine, that motor that's going to go all the time. He understands what the offense is trying to do to you when you're talking about the run game. He's calling out plays before they even happen. That's what you really miss when Ray is out."

Since his return, Lewis has 44 tackles in three games. He isn't limping into retirement; rather, he's headed out with a flourish.

"He's played really well. He's played just like he's always played," coach John Harbaugh said.

Lewis attributes his involuntary 10-game absence as the reason behind his resurgence on the field.

"I've always said that anytime you can give your body a true rest -- not just your body -- anytime you can give your mind a certain rest from the game and from the every week wear and tear, when you come back you come back just as fresh as ever," Lewis said. "For me right now, I feel fresh. My mind is fresh, my body is fresh and I'm just excited to really be able to end the thing up the right way."

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Ed Reed says Brady’s kick slide made Ravens “want to play even harder”

Maybe the Ravens shouldn’t complain about the ungainly kick slide from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  Maybe, in reality, they should thank him.

Via CSNBaltimore.com, safety Ed Reed says the maneuver actually stirred up the road team in the AFC title game.

“Brady’s a great competitor, and I love going against him, and I know where his heart is at for this game,” Reed said.  “It was all good, man.  Kind of fired the fuel, though.  Put fuel on the fire . . . for us to want to play even harder though and hit even harder and just be successful.”

The facts support Reed’s contention.  On the next play after the slide, the Patriots kicked a field goal.  And they thereafter didn’t score another point for the rest of the game.

The Ravens, in contrast, scored 21.

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Antrel Rolle surprised by playoff results

For Antrel Rolle, watching the NFL postseason has been a lot like playing in the regular season.

“What surprised me the most was that the teams that I expected to win, haven’t been winning,” Rolle said this week.

When he was playing, Rolle anticipated the Giants would be postseason participants and make a run at a second consecutive championship. But they lost key games down the stretch and their 9-7 record left them on the outside.

So Rolle, the safety who led the Giants with 108 tackles this season, has been reduced to a playoff spectator like the rest of his teammates, one year after they defeated New England in Super Bowl XLVI.

“Honestly speaking, it’s definitely harder to watch,” Rolle said during a visit to the Timex Performance Center this week. “Especially going through experiences like the journey we went on last year and being successful. That journey is definitely harder, but at the same time, I’m a realist and I understand that we’ve had several opportunities to be in that situation and put ourselves in that situation again, but we failed to do so. I’ve just been watching it as a spectator, just a normal individual watching the game.”

The Giants controlled their postseason destiny late in the season, but lost it with consecutive December losses in Atlanta and Baltimore. They routed Philadelphia, 42-7, in the season finale, but were eliminated when Chicago defeated Detroit moments later.

For the Giants it was – and is – a bitter pill, because they believed they could successfully defend their title and they were in a good position to reach the playoffs for most of the season. Rolle is one of many players who have reflected on the disappointing end to the season.

“I’ve definitely thought about it, thought about it a lot,” he said. “Have I come up with an answer? No. I just understand that there were certain times where we were able to get up and fight through whatever we needed to fight through to be successful and at certain times we weren’t able to, for whatever rhyme or reason. You can see it before the game. You can see it during the game. You can see it after the game. For whatever reason, as a team, we weren’t in-sync; we weren’t hungry enough for that particular moment. It showed.”

Rolle, a vocal locker room presence who this season won the George Young Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media, took it personally when the Giants did not make the playoffs.

“I’m a part of this team. I feel like if one fails, we all fail,” Rolle said. “That’s just the way we look at it and the way I look at it. I think we need to find a common ground within everyone on this team. We need to find a common ground. I don’t think a team should look at one person or two people or three people, for example, to get motivated. I think every man should look at themselves and be able to look at any other player on the roster. It doesn’t matter who it is in order to look for that spark or that extra boost of energy or that focus level.”

Despite being left out, Rolle has closely watched the playoffs. He thought Denver or New England would prevail in the AFC and Atlanta in the NFC. But Super Bowl XLVI will pit San Francisco against Baltimore.

“It’s going to be an awesome Super Bowl,” Rolle said. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a great story line with both Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl. You have Ray Lewis retiring. You have San Francisco, which hasn’t been there for a number of years and was extremely close to getting there last year. It’s going to be a great battle. Both teams are going to be extremely hungry.

“There have been some exceptional games in the playoffs. I do see some fight and hunger in teams. I see a lot of similarities to the way that we fought last year and the way, for example, the Ravens have fought this year, or San Francisco fought this year. Even Seattle, the way they came back and fought and were able to make it out to the closing seconds with Atlanta. There have been some awesome games.”

Rolle expects to be playing in those high-stakes January games again next year. Although the Giants’ offseason conditioning program doesn’t start until April 15, he is already looking forward to begin preparing for the 2013 season.

“I know the caliber of this team and I understand what we have here on this team,” Rolle said. “This is a very special unit that we have here within the Giants. I’m eager to get back and do it all over again, and make sure we give it a better run.”

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Future Ray Lewis employer dredges up murder case

If members of the Ravens heckled a reporter from USA Today who dared to ask linebacker Ray Lewis about an unsolved double murder case, they could soon be getting the rotten tomatoes and eggs ready for anyone with a four-letter network affiliation.

ESPN, which reportedly will hire Lewis after he retires, devoted an entire episode of Outside The Lines to the impact of the 13-year-old murder case on the legacy of one of the greatest players in NFL history.

A pre-taped item narrated by Bob Ley revisited the aftermath of the case, which resulted in Lewis being charged with murder and eventually pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.  The package included defiant quotes from former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe and former Ravens coach Brian Billick from the week preceding Super Bowl XXXV, which were intended to force the media to turn the page permanently (or at least until after the game) on any talk of the unsolved murders.

“I find it inexcusable that that organization from the top down from the owner to the coach went into that Super Bowl and somehow acted like Ray Lewis got a bad deal,” Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post said during the segment.  “Ray Lewis got a raw deal?  Compared to who?  The dead guy?”

Lewis may find it inexcusable that so much time has been spent by his future employer on a 13-year old case, which he refused to discuss earlier this month when questioned about it by USA Today.  ESPN’s decision to devote 30 full minutes to the topic arguably makes the subject fair game for everyone else.

Michael Hiestand of USA Today participated in the live discussion that followed.  “There’s certainly nothing wrong with anyone raising questions about murders that are unsolved,” Hiestand said.

Indeed, if the media outlet that will soon be issuing paychecks to Lewis can raise those questions, then anyone can.

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Beverly Goebel Re-signs with Japanese Power Club INAC Kobe Leonessa

Beverly Goebel-Yanez and INAC Kobe have agreed to terms for her to play for the club in 2013 season. Goebel-Yanez played with the club in 2012 after the suspension of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league on January 30, 2012.

In her 2012 stint with INAC Kobe, Goebel-Yanez was a productive player. Primarily playing as a center-forward, Goebel-Yanez scored 13 goals in 17 competitive matches including 2 goals at the first International Women's Club Championship.

Prior to her time with INAC, Goebel-Yanez, played two seasons in the WPS league with the Washington Freedom in 2010 and Western New York Flash in 2011. Goebel-Yanez was a standout collegiate player for the University of Miami, starting 51 times in 53 games for the Hurricanes.

“I am very excited to re-sign with INAC Kobe for the 2013 season. I learned a lot from the club and players, and for that I am thankful. I not only enjoyed the possession style of soccer, but I have a huge amount of respect for the Japanese culture. It is difficult, at times, being so far away from family and friends, but I truly love the sport and I want to do all I can to continue to improve in as many different aspects of my game, as I can. I hope I am able to positively impact the team this year and I will work my hardest to do so.” said Goebel-Yanez

In regards to the signing, Faudlin Pierre, Goebel-Yanez’s agent said, “I am really proud of Beverly. She has really come a long way in her professional career. INAC Kobe is literally a top five club in women’s football. The team she played with last year boasted of seven Japanese Women National Team players who won the 2011 Women’s World Cup, including 2011 FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year, Homare Sawa. Beverly did not only play with some of the best in the world but she played very well. Her signing is a testament of her hard work.”

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proCane Warren Sapp requested Canes Hoops court slap

CORAL GABLES — If you were watching closely in the second half of Miami's 90-63 whipping of Duke, you saw a subtle gesture of defiance.

The Blue Devils were bringing the ball up the floor when a few Hurricanes went for it.

They slapped the floor.

Why's does that matter? Well Duke is famous for the move to fire up the crowd in big moments. Miami flipped it on them and it wasn't by mistake.

And that's were it gets a little crazier.

UM sophomore guard Shane Larkin was shooting free throws immediately before the slapping.


"I just heard somebody scream my name," he said. "It was Warren Sapp. He was like like 'slap the floor on D."

It worked, too.

"I think we got the stop," he said with a smile.

Sapp, the 7-time Pro Bowl product of UM, was sitting a few rows behind the broadcasting table of ESPN's Dick Vitale.

Read more about the Hurricanes Huge victory over Duke here.

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Frank Gore Fined $10,500 By NFL


Frank Gore's calves were too much for the NFL's fashion police.

The league fined Gore $10,500 for wearing his socks too low during Sunday's NFC Championship game, his second such violation of the year. The fine was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Gore certainly had a lot of camera time Sunday. He led all rushers with 90 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the 49ers' go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

He also will come out well ahead as far as money. He and the rest of the 49ers earned $40,000 bonuses for Sunday's victory. If they win on Feb. 3, they will get $88,000. The losers get $44,000.

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PHOTO: Kellen Winslow Jr. Spins On Good Morning America


Beyond Kellen’s skills on the football field, he is an experienced and talented DJ (DJK2). DJK2 was the guest DJ for “DJ Friday’s” segment this past Friday on ABC’s Good Morning America.

You can check out his skills on his Official Soundcloud  and visit his website  for booking details.

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NFL fines Tom Brady $10,000 for Ed Reed kick

MIAMI — Russell Maryland remembers being an overweight kid in Chicago, wondering if some college team was going to take a chance and give him a scholarship.

To this day, he remains thankful Miami saw something in him.

Maryland, one of two Hurricanes to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, was honored by Miami on Saturday night for his looming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. At Miami, he was an All-American, Outland Trophy winner and a two-time national champion who finished with 279 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 20½ sacks.

“It means everything to me,” said Maryland, the No. 1 pick in 1991, four years after Vinny Testaverde was Miami’s first to receive that honor. “I put in a lot of hard work here at The U and anytime anybody remembers you for anything, it’s pretty special. So to come back and be recognized in this fashion in front of the whole stadium and in essence in front of the whole country as a guy who comes back home and is honored for what he did in the past, that’s an awesome thing to me, very special.”

Maryland brought his wife and three children to the game, where he was being recognized in an on-field ceremony and some other events. Many of his friends, family and some former teammates were in the stadium as well, part of the crowd watching the Hurricanes take on No. 17 Ohio State.

Like most former Hurricanes, he says the current scandal hanging over the program has been “depressing.”

Miami’s athletic department, including its compliance office, is being investigated and sanctions are expected in large part because former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro claims he gave extra benefits to 72 Hurricanes players and recruits over an eight-year span. Maryland told a story Saturday of how vigilant Miami’s compliance office has been with him in the past, saying he could not hand players water and towels when he was a guest on the sideline for games.

Shapiro is serving a 20-year prison sentence for masterminding the Ponzi scheme, in which federal prosecutors said he bilked investors out of $930 million.

“I know these kids are good,” Maryland said. “They’re good kids. I know the program is a program of integrity overall. You may have had some kids that made mistakes, but who of us hasn’t made mistakes? Who of us hasn’t been influence by dubious people at times? That’s really the frustrating part about it for me. I just look at it as a situation where a person, one person, came in and can really tear down all the good things that we have within this university. An infection, so to speak. It really hurts my heart.”

Saturday’s game was Miami’s first home contest since the scandal broke. All boosters, and in most cases even former players, are no longer allowed on the Miami sideline, a new policy created as part of the university’s response to the investigation.

“I’ll be there in spirit,” Maryland said. “Maybe not next to them, but I’m still there.”

Maryland said he believes the university will be able to handle whatever fallout comes from the investigation, and added he has confidence in new coach Al Golden and his plan to bring the Hurricanes back to a championship-contending level.

“From all accounts, from what I’ve been hearing from afar (and) from being down here the last couple days, I really feel very strongly that it’s going to be a positive future for the guys,” Maryland said.

Maryland has been retired from the NFL for about a decade. He lives in the Dallas area, mainly doing charitable work and motivational speaking.

Click here to order Russell Maryland’s proCane Rookie Card.

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Mike James vs Florida State (2012)

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Sneak Peek PHOTO: Ray Lewis' Jersey With Super Bowl XLVII Patch


Here the jersey Ray Lewis will be wearing for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

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Ken Dorsey hire makes sense for Panthers

If the Panthers are looking for continuity when it comes to their offense, then their smartest move came in filling the position of quarterbacks coach, vacated when Mike Shula was promoted to offensive coordinator, with Ken Dorsey.

It was Dorsey who worked with quarterback Cam Newton during the 2011 lockout, teaching Newton the Rob Chudzinski offense.

In fact, when the lockout ended and the Panthers hired Dorsey as an advance scout, the Panthers legitimately were nervous about potential allegations that Dorsey had been working directly on behalf of the Panthers during the lockout.

Regardless, it worked.  Newton was able to hit the ground sprinting for the Panthers, thanks in large part to the work of Ken Dorsey, who with Chris Weinke got Newton ready.  (Actually, Weinke was more involved in the lockout work with Newton than Dorsey.)

Newton’s ongoing development will hinge on the ability of Dorsey to do what he, along with Weinke, did two years ago in establishing a rapport with Newton and getting him ready to play.

In his second season, Newton didn’t seem to be as ready to do much of anything, especially early in the year.  And there have been lingering whispers of Newton not listening to coaches, and of a general lack of energy on offense with the team in 2012.  While Shula was part of that in 2012, Dorsey was part of the critical efforts to get Newton ready for one of the best rookie seasons for any quarterback in NFL history.

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Rob Chudzinski says it’s “premature” to call Brandon Weeden 2013 starter

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski answered one burning question about the team’s offense during a session with the media at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be calling the plays while Chudzinski focuses on the bigger picture responsibilities of the head coach. It’s not a particularly surprising decision given Turner’s long history as a successful coordinator, but it’s been confirmed all the same. What’s still up in the air is the quarterback who will be executing Turner’s plays.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Chudzinski said it was “premature” to say that Brandon Weeden would be the team’s starter in 2013. New vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi panned the Weeden pick in his previous role as an NFL Network analyst, but said last week that he needs time to form an opinion of the quarterback. Turner, who is also in Mobile, said that Weeden has “a lot of the skillset” and a big arm while cautioning that he’s just started watching tape.

Turner also said Colt McCoy has been “productive when he played” so it’s probably better just to focus on the parts where the Browns say that they are taking their time to evaluate what’s on hand. It’s the approach any new coaching staff and front office should take about the entire team, especially when you’ll be changing the offense from the system Pat Shurmur ran for the last two seasons.

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Michael Phelps credits Ray Lewis for inspiring his comeback

Maybe if Ray Lewis gets bored doing television in his retirement, he can devote all his energies to the U.S. Olympic team.

If that’s the case, the United States might win every medal in every sport contested.

Because none other than Michael Phelps, the Baltimore-native who has become the most decorated Olympian of all time, said Lewis helped save his swimming career.

“What he did for me is the best thing in the world,” Phelps told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. “He helped me come back.”

Lewis could probably motivate a bowling ball to swim, but Phelps said that the Ravens linebacker was instrumental to getting back on track after he won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Phelps had been watching Lewis since he was a young boy (Lewis was drafted when Phelps was 11), and he said that talking to Lewis helped him push through some personal problems (which he did not describe in detail).

“We’ve talked about so much the last couple years of my career,” Phelps said. “He just helped me get through a lot of hard times, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. He’s been telling me, ‘One more shot. We’re gonna have one more shot.’ And he did it. . . .

“He’s probably the only person who could really help me do that. He’s been through everything — the ups and downs — and he’s helped me literally overcome a lot of things that I’ve had in my life that have been tough, and he’s been there for me.”

Phelps has become a fixture on the Ravens’ sidelines, and was there for Lewis in the locker room after the AFC Championship Game, one Baltimore legend giving thanks to another.

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Jimmy Graham dropped 15 of 100 catchable passes this season

Jimmy Graham dropped 15 of 100 catchable passes in 2012.

It's five more drops than any other tight end in the league. The normally sure-handed Graham -- who still led the Saints in catches with 85 -- has a built-in excuse in his season-long wrist woes. He'll have a ton of bounce-back appeal in 2013 with dynamic play-caller Sean Payton reinstated and his wrist presumably returning to 100 percent.

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Bryant McKinnie Improved

Matt Birk said that Bryant McKinnie, Birk's fellow offensive lineman with both the Vikings and Baltimore, worked hard all year to get and stay in shape this season. While the big left tackle didn't play much in the regular season, he got his shot in the playoffs. An injury gave McKinnie a chance to start, and Birk said McKinnie was prepared and has played great.

"He started last year for us and didn't start this year," Birk said, "but got his chance when we had an injury the last game of the season. He's making the most of it."

Birk talked about the unique situation of having two brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl.

"Obviously you look at [San Francisco coach] Jim and [Baltimore coach] John Harbaugh and what they've been able to do in such a short time as head coaches in this league, it's not a fluke," he said. "They're great football coaches, both of them in their own right. I'm sure there's a lot of similarities between them, but obviously there's also differences.

"They each have their own personalities and kind of put their own stamp on their teams.

"We played [San Francisco] last year, and it was a great game. Their defense is great, probably as good as I've ever seen. Offensively, they're playing well. It'll be a great challenge for us."

Finally, I asked Birk, 36, if there was any talk of retiring after this year. "We'll see, we'll see," he said. "I'm just going to enjoy the present and then I'll make a decision about my future when I have to."

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Ray Lewis won’t be forgotten

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In an era obsessed with legacy, Ray Lewis’s will be a complex one.

Long before he announced he would retire after 17 seasons as the fire-breathing identity of the Baltimore Ravens, he was a member of an exclusive fraternity that defined the linebacker position: Nitschke, Singletary, Lambert, Butkus, and Taylor as his only real company. His brand of intensity, a jolting mix of primal intimidation and joyful aggression, could be read as both genuine love for the game and self-aggrandizing bluster.

But he will be remembered as much for his dominance on the field as he will for his tribulations away from it, and then for his ability to rehabilitate both his life and his image and make an impact beyond the game. Thirteen years ago, he was on trial for the stabbing deaths of two men, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, outside an Atlanta nightclub after Super Bowl XXXIV, and although he ultimately reached a plea deal for misdemeanor obstruction of justice, he payed a tangible price in the form of a $250,000 fine, at the time the highest the league had ever levied. He continued to pay in the court of public opinion.

He spent as much time on Court TV as he did on ESPN, and when the Ravens beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV barely seven months after his trial, he was shown in small ways how far his star had fallen. He was the only player to be honored as the most valuable player of a Super Bowl who was shunned by Disney World, Wheaties, and ostensibly the NFL, which did not use his image for the cover of its Super Bowl media guide the year after the Ravens won it.

But in the years since, Lewis has been a tale of personal redemption and a case study for image rehabilitation. He has become an ambassador for the game, a mentor both in and outside of his locker room, and a motivational speaker with far-reaching appeal beyond his sport.

Over time, he has again become a viable pitchman, showing up on the cover of Madden NFL Football and most recently starring in a Visa commercial, and should the Ravens defeat the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship game and set up Lewis’s Super Bowl swan song, it’s doubtful he would be snubbed again.

“I think the greatest thing you can ever be remembered for is the impact and things that you had on other people,” Lewis said Thursday. “At the end of the day, with all of the men that I’ve been around, to one day look back here and listen to men say, ‘He was one of people who helped changed my life,’ is probably one of the greatest legacies to be remembered for.”

Support never wavered
From Babe Ruth to Johnny Unitus, Frank Robinson to Brooks Robinson, Lenny Moore to Cal Ripken, Baltimore has seen its legends come and go.

“Now our sports icon is Ray Lewis,” said Larry Young, a former Maryland State Senator and currently a radio personality for Baltimore’s WOLB. “People who this town has grabbed and said, ‘This one we’re all proud of.’ He’s now the icon.”

Lewis has become a walking personification of a proud city torn by violence but still looking for its own rehabilitation. He brought Baltimore its first championship since the Colts won Super Bowl V in 1970, molding the defense into his image, leading the team in tackles 14 of his 17 seasons. No other defensive player has played as many years with his original team.

Three years ago, the city named the portion of North Avenue, where Lewis hosts his annual Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway, “Ray Lewis Way.” At the ceremony, Lewis said, “All of these people with all this love and affection, that’s the same love I look at y’all with, because I lean on you the same way you lean on me.”
When Lewis was in the thick of the June 2000 murder trial, Young organized a prayer service at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

“I felt, when you go through times of this type, you should have prayer with you,” Young said. “We had no reason to believe the situation as it was portrayed. The hope was that if indeed this did occur that Ray was not going to be caught up in it.

“Of course, as we know, that’s how things turned out in his favor. But there was no information, there was nothing that led us to believe that here in Baltimore — he hadn’t been part of any of that activity in Baltimore. All that was new to us as it was being brought out down in Atlanta.”

Young befriended Lewis but when the city’s star was at the center of the murder trial, he was sent to monitor it. Young said the city’s support for Lewis never wavered.

“Down there during the trial, it was tense with the allegations we were hearing in the courtroom,” Young said. “But up here, I don’t think the citizens let what was being said to them grab them in such a way. There was an overwhelming feeling that Ray was not going to be found guilty. There was a sense that this is crazy, it’s confusing, it wasn’t very pretty what happened, obviously, but our Ray Lewis said this and we believe him. I don’t think he lost much favor up here as a result of the allegations.”

Trial of his life
Time has repaired Lewis’s good name, but it has done nothing to heal the families of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker.

“It’s like it happened yesterday,” said Cindy Lollar-Owens, Richard’s aunt. “He was like one of my children.”

When Lewis and the Ravens reached the Super Bowl the January after his murder trial, both families were put through the emotional wringer, the confetti falling on Lewis as he celebrated the pinnacle of his career while the victims’ families were being besieged by media looking for their sides of the story. Lewis’s retirement and the Ravens’ playoff run has created an imperfect storm, dragging the painful memories up again for the victims.

“I think it’s more sad because it’s being brought back out into the spotlight,” Lollar-Owens said. “We never forgot about it. Some family members talk about him, some of them don’t. Everybody handles death differently, but just the way it happened, it’s just sad.”

In 2001, Lollar-Owens went to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV to protest. She took the trip alone, armed with only flyers and pictures of her nephew, and an easel to hoist.

“A great big ol’ easel,” she said. “Bigger than me.”

She doesn’t see herself making a trip to New Orleans this time if the Ravens again reach football’s biggest stage.

She’s read countless stories about Lewis since the incident. Each one paints a different portrait of him.

“It’s so many different stories it’s hard to say what’s the truth and what’s not the truth,” she said. She said she met Lewis.

“He just said how sorry he was and that his attorney was telling him he couldn’t say anything,” she said. “He couldn’t apologize or anything.”

Now she wants to be able to move on.

“I don’t want to just harbor all this forever,” she said. “I mean, what good is it going to do. It’s like a pie. You cut it in three parts, you’ve got a third that believe he did it, another third that don’t believe, then you’ve got another third that don’t give a damn.

“So what do you do? You go on with your life and try to think about the good things. I want to remember my nephew as Richard Lollar, the barber. I do not want to remember Richard as being murdered.”

Should she ever speak to Lewis again, she said she has two requests.

“My nephew has a headstone and when I go and visit my nephew’s grave, I do not like bending down and looking down at his grave,” she said. “I would like to be able to stand up and look at him. Also, I would like to get a building, get it lavished and have it in his name — Richard Lollar’s barbershop. I want to remember my nephew as Richard Lollar, the magnificent barber. That would be my closure.”

Always moving forward
Without question, Lewis will be commemorated with a bust in Canton, Ohio. With the deaths of former owner Art Modell, along with family members of both defensive lineman Pernell McPhee and wide receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens’ season was already emotionally charged, but when Lewis announced this month he would retire, it gave the season a different purpose.

“We know this is the last ride for Ray,” said defensive back Corey Graham. “It’s big. I know for me as a defender, it means a lot. I’m out there with him, an opportunity to play with him probably the last time ever, and you don’t want to be the guy to let him down.”

A player synonymous with the franchise will walk away from the game, and an era in Ravens football will come to an end. Lewis will be one of the greatest players the NFL has ever seen. He will be remembered for everything he’s accomplished on the football field, but not completely defined by it. He will be far removed from the tragedy 13 years ago.

“At the end of the day, all of our eyes will close one day,” Lewis said. “When they do, my only job is to hear those two famous words from God himself, and that’s, ‘Well done.’ Success is one thing; I’ve always believed impact is another. To go out in the communities and change someone’s life, I believe that’s what all of our jobs should be one day.

“It’s not to compete against nobody in this. It’s not to make somebody feel bad or make somebody relive this or relive that. It’s to teach someone how to move forward. No matter what you go through in life, you have to find out a different way how to move forward.”

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Darius Rice Scores 39 vs. Skyfall

Darius Rice scores 39 points (9-21 3PT) and grabs 11 rebounds vs. Skyfall.

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Ryan Braun still happy with long-term Brewers commitment

The Brewers have had no luck in recent years in keeping elite players off the free-agent market. Overtures to the likes of CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke were rebuffed and those players left for huge deals with other clubs.

The one exception has been all-star leftfielder Ryan Braun. He signed an eight-year, $45 million deal after his 2007 NL rookie of the year season, then basically committed to the Brewers for life by agreeing to a five-year, $105 million extension in April 2011 that takes him through the 2020 season with a mutual option for 2021.

In an interview on "The D List"  on 540 Milwaukee ESPN radio on Wednesday morning, Braun said he had no regrets for signing up for years to come with the Brewers rather than seeing what he might be offered on the free agent market.

"I wouldn't change a thing," said Braun. "I love it in Milwaukee. It's amazing. I think the more time I've spent there, the more I realize how great a situation it really is.

"An incredibly supportive fan base. A great ball park to play in. Weather is never an issue. We're centrally located as far as travel goes. I think from the top of the organization, from the ownership group on down, everybody is committed to winning. We've got to go to the playoffs two times in the last four or five years. We're consistently playing competitive baseball.

"For me, there's no place I'd rather be. I'm certainly still thrilled with the decision I made. I feel so fortunate, I really do. But I don't fault anybody else for making their decision, either. They have to do what they feel are in their best interests."

Braun went on to say he feels great physically and is looking forward to once again participating in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

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Jon Jay Bowling Challenge Benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Miami-Dade 1/26/13

Jon Jay Bowling Challenge Benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of Miami-Dade
Saturday, Jan. 26, 6-9 p.m.
Lucky Strike Lanes 1691 Michigan Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139
Individual tickets: $450 per bowling team (five guests will be matched with a celebrity) and $100 per person (singles will be randomly matched with other single entries/celebrities.)
For sponsorship or additional event information, call Tom Hagan at CAA Sports at 212-277-9000 or thagan@caa.com .
To purchase individual tickets and more information: visit www.jonjaychallenge.com .
5:45 p.m. Red carpet arrivals/media availability
6:15 p.m. Cocktails/hors d’oeuvres/introductions
6:45 p.m. Bowling Challenge begins
8:30 p.m. Silent Auction Ends
8:45 p.m. Winners announced

Annual Jon Jay Bowling Challenge, presented by FMSbonds, Inc., Featuring Jay, Other Star Athletes & Celebrities, to Benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade  
Jay, St. Louis Cardinals Outfielder and Miami Native, to Host Event Open to the Public at Lucky Strike Lanes in Miami Beach

Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and Miami native, will host his 2nd Annual Celebrity Bowling Challenge. Proceeds will benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade to support its many positive programs for 10,000 area youth.

Along with other Major League Baseball stars, star athletes and celebrities, Jay will bowl with attendees during the fun-filled fundraising event. The evening will include red carpet arrivals, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, exciting bowling matches and more. Sponsorships are available.

Athletes and celebrities in attendance will be David Freese, 3rd baseman, St. Louis Cardinals, 2011 World Series MVP; Yonder Alonso, 1st baseman, San Diego Padres; Blake Tekotte, outfielder, Chicago White Sox; Daniel Descalso, infielder, St. Louis Cardinals; Tyler Greene, infielder, Houston Astros; John Mayberry Jr., outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies; Cesar Carrillo, pitcher, Detroit Tigers; Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints tight end; and Bryan Greenberg, actor, HBO How to Make It in America.

“We’re very thankful to Jon Jay for choosing Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade to receive proceeds from this fun event,” said Alex Rodriguez-Roig, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. “With the efforts of individuals such as Jon, we continue to make a difference in the lives of many area youth.” 

“I played baseball at the Boys & Girls Club for years, so I’m thrilled about the opportunity to give back to an organization that has meant so much to me,” said Jay.

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Panthers to hire Dorsey as QBs coach

The Panthers again are staying in-house to fill a coaching position.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is expected to hire Ken Dorsey, one of the team's pro scouts, as his quarterbacks coach, a source with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.

Dorsey, 31, joined the scouting department two years ago after working with former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke at IMG Academy, where they trained Cam Newton during the lockout before Newton's rookie season.

Dorsey is the winningest quarterback in University of Miami history, posting a 38-2 record and leading the Hurricanes to the 2001 national title. Dorsey, drafted in the seventh round by San Francisco in 2003, was 2-11 as a starter with the 49ers and Cleveland. He also played with Toronto in the CFL in 2010.

The Panthers promoted three assistants last week – offensive coordinator Mike Shula, receivers coach Ricky Proehl and special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers. They also re-hired running backs coach Jim Skipper, who was on John Fox's Panthers' staff for nine years before spending the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

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One Future proCane Gets Late Invite To Senior Bowl

UM’s Brandon McGee was not invited to the Senior Bowl but Senior Mike James did get a last minute invite on Tuesday to the Senior Bowl. Mel Kiper projects both as late round picks, though some scouts believe McGee could rise to a mid-rounder.

“James could push his way on a roster as a third back,” Kiper said, adding no other Cane player will be drafted in April. By the way, James, McGee, Darius Smith and Vaughn Telemaque were on rosters for other draft showcase games this weekend, neither as prestigious as next Saturday's Senior Bowl.

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Wes Welker's wife apologizes over Ray Lewis comments

The wife of Patriots receiver Wes Welker apologized for comments critical of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis following the Ravens' 28-13 win over the Patriots in Sunday's AFC championship game.

After the loss, Anna Welker posted the following comment to her Facebook page, according to TheBigLead.com:

"Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"

Monday, Anna Welker released a statement to blog Larry Brown Sports apologizing for her remarks.

"I'm deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook," she said. "I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday's game.

"It is such an accomplishment for any team to make it to the NFL playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the accomplishments of both of these amazing teams."

Lewis and the Ravens will play the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

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Ed Reed Says Tom Brady Texted Him With Apology After Questionable Slide in AFC Championship Game

While the Patriots came in for a hard “crash landing,” in the words of Bill Belichick, in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game loss, Tom Brady‘s slide may be what’s attracting the most attention. Brady took off for a three-yard scamper during the final minute of the first half on Sunday, sliding to avoid a big hit by charging Ravens safety Ed Reed.

Brady dropped to the ground as he slid, but he lifted his leg high up in the air and delivered something of a karate kick to Reed’s thigh. The kick enraged some Ravens players, prompting safety Bernard Pollard to take a few digs at Brady.

The NFL is also looking at the play to determine whether a fine is in order. Reed cleared the air somewhat Tuesday during an CBS Radio interview on WJZ-FM in Baltimore.

“A little slide kick [by Brady], you know what I’m saying, but it’s a tough spot the quarterback’s in,” Reed said. “You know, I understand Brady’s point. Him protecting himself. I know he’s a great player. I respect Brady and his game for all it stands for, and I know he’s not a dirty player. And emotions get going in the game.”

Reed understands when emotions take over, considering he was fined multiple times in 2012 for excessive hits. Reed and Brady even exchanged words after the play.

“For the most part, I didn’t say anything to him when he said something to me at the game,” Reed said. “He was going, ‘You want to play like that, let’s go.’ But no, Brady’s a great competitor, and I love going against him, and I know where his heart is at for this game. It was all good.”

Once the heat of the moment had passed and the game was over, though, Brady got in touch with Reed and apologize for the questionable kick. “I told him — you know, we talked,” Reed said.

“We talked actually not too long ago, we talked on the phone. He actually reached out to me, texted me. I tried to text him back, but the message exploded after 12 seconds, so I had to call him … and he’s just apologized and what not. But I told him, ‘You know, it’s good, man.’” Reed has moved well past the play at this point, looking ahead at what might be his first Super Bowl title. As for Brady, he can only look back at what might have been and ahead at what could be next season.

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NFL reviewing Tom Brady's slide into Ed Reed

Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed said that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has reached out to him to apologize for making contact with him on a slide late in the first half of the AFC Championship Game. The NFL said Tuesday the incident was under review for possible discipline.

"I told him -- you know, we talked," Reed told WJZ-FM in Baltimore. "We talked actually not too long ago; we talked on the phone. He actually reached out to me, texted me. I tried to text him back, but the message exploded after 12 seconds, so I had to call him ... and he just apologized and what not. But I told him, 'You know, it's good, man.' "

During the final minute of the first half, Brady slid to the ground to end an impromptu run. The quarterback had one leg raised a few feet off the ground and it hit Reed, who emerged from the play without injury.

Reed said at the time of the incident, he did not say anything to Brady.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday that "any play of that nature is routinely reviewed."

"For the most part, I didn't say anything to him when he said something to me at the game," he said. "... He was going, 'You want to play like that, let's go.' But, no, Brady's a great competitor and I love going against him and I know where his heart is at for this game. It was all good."

The nine-time Pro Bowl safety added that he has respect for Brady.

"I know he's a great player," he said. "I respect Brady and his game for all it stands for, and I know he's not a dirty player. And emotions get going in the game."
Ravens safety Bernard Pollard has publicly complained and asserted the quarterback deserves to be fined by the NFL, which levies fines on defensive players for helmet-to-helmet hits.

Pollard said Monday, "If you want to keep this going in the right direction, everyone should be penalized for their actions."

He said Brady "knew what he was doing. It has to go both ways. Hopefully, the NFL will do something about it. If they don't, that's fine. If they do, then that's fine."

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Antrel Rolle credits Ravens' Lewis for helping him adjust to Giants, Coughlin

It is clearly evident what motivational impact Ray Lewis has had on the Ravens as they stormed to back-to-back road playoff victories to advance to Super Bowl XLVII. But did Lewis have a role in the development of Antrel Rolle into a leader who helped the Giants win the Super Bowl last season?

It’s hardly a far-fetched notion. Rolle arrived in 2010 and it took him time to acclimate to the way the Giants do business and especially how coach Tom Coughlin runs his team. There were angry and frustrated comments from Rolle and it appeared as if the two were headed toward a real confrontation. Rolle cooled off, though, and he says he might have overheated if not for Lewis’ advice.

Like Lewis, Rolle is a product of the University of Miami although Lewis was gone before Rolle ever played for the Hurricanes. Rolle did not know how to deal with Coughlin and one day he picked up the phone and dialed up Lewis.

“I asked him how should I handle the situation,’’ Rolle said Tuesday on WFAN. “I was like it’s extremely difficult for me, I’m not used to this and so forth and so on. We had an hour-long conversation just about life, he was telling me how I should approach the situation, how I should be able to deal with coach Coughlin but still get some things across. He helped me out a lot, I listened to what he said and it helped me out a lot.

“If you have never been around Ray Lewis, he’s probably the most humble individual and real individual you’re ever gonna be around. That’s just the reality of it.’’

Rolle spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Cardinals in Arizona and it took him time to adjust to Coughlin’s coaching methods. In week 2 in 2010, the Giants lost their first road game, 38-14 in Indianapolis as Peyton Manning bested younger brother Eli. It was Rolle’s first regular-season road trip with the Giants and afterward he blasted Coughlin’s schedule, insisting getting to the stadium more than three hours before kickoff made the Giants “sluggish.’’ Rolle later complained about Coughlin’s “controlled’’ environment’’ and said he felt the atmosphere around the team was “too uptight.’’

“I had an issue with me dealing with some things, more so my own personal issues,’’ Rolle recalled. “Coach Coughiln and myself have never had an exchange of words or anything close to it, never even had a bad eye towards one another. I’m sure he probably wanted to curse me out at times but it never crossed that line.’’

Rolle credits Lewis for helping him replace his frustration with a greater understanding of Coughlin’s methods.

“More than the [Miami] thing, I think it’s someone who has been through it all,’’ Rolle said of why he reached out to Lewis. “No matter what adversity or what Ray had to overcome I think he’s overcome it and I think that’s what it boiled down to.

"It boiled down to me going to someone I can consider a mentor, someone I know is going to give it to me straight as someone who is going to tell me something I need to hear as opposed to something I wanted to hear. And he told me exactly what I needed to hear and from that day on I never, ever had an issue, never had any concerns. I can honestly say it is great. This is the best I’ve ever felt and I am going to continue to stay on this path.’’

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Ed Reed overshadowed by Ray Lewis' last hurrah

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Within the NFL, even as much as Ray Lewis, the historic Baltimore Ravens' defense is known for the play of safety Ed Reed. Across 11 seasons there's been 61 interceptions, 110 pass deflections, nine Pro Bowls and an AP defensive player of the year honor.

He's considered one of the great ball hawks of all time, a brilliant return man and the smart, savvy leader that forces game plans to be built around him. There may not be a defensive player more revered in NFL film rooms over the last decade.

And yet, until the Ravens vanquished New England on Sunday, 28-13, on the strength of a second half that featured two Tom Brady interceptions and zero Patriots points, the great Ed Reed had never made the Super Bowl.

That 2000 Ravens Super Bowl championship team, from which the franchise's tradition of vicious defensive play was born, featured Lewis but not Reed, who didn't arrive from the University of Miami until 2002.

So here was Reed, 34, on Sunday playing a position that doesn't take kindly to age, finally reaching the Promised Land.

"I have no words, man," the sure-bet Hall of Famer said.

Lewis is an over-sized personality, the hulking, preaching force at middle linebacker that's dominated the franchise both in play and persona. From his epic pregame speeches to his colorful introduction dances to his star turns for every in-game mic'd up feature, everything goes through him – at least when it comes to publicity.

And no one on the Ravens voices a problem with that.

Still, he tends to soak up all the attention. There was no narrative in these playoffs about getting Ed to the Super Bowl the way one often develops around veteran stars, such as this year with Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Instead it was about getting Ray back, especially after he returned this month from a torn triceps suffered in October and declared this was his "final ride."

Yet across the locker room there is no less motivation to get one for Ed, too. And even he isn't alone. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been a Raven for 10 seasons. Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata has done seven. There's more, including offensive guys such as tackle Bryant McKinnie, an 11-year NFL vet and Reed's onetime teammate at Miami.

"Me and Ed kept saying we want to get to a championship like we did in college," said McKinnie, in his second year with the Ravens.

Sunday the media kept working the Ravens' locker room, asking about doing it for Ray. Members of the organization all acknowledged that it was important. Then they kept throwing Ed's name in there, too.

"We have Ed Reed who has never been to a Super Bowl [too]," wide receiver Torrey Smith noted.

Even Lewis was in on that. He's not unaware of the situation. At 37, he's not the player he was and he isn't pretending that he is.

The Last Ride?

"I can only tell you, I'm along for the ride," Lewis said.

His motivation is, he said, everyone else.

"To do it for people that I really [want] to feel what that confetti felt like, just hearing your name being announced going to the Super Bowl," Lewis said.

It's not that Reed is ever overlooked, per se. His ability is unquestioned. He's never been a quiet or boring player. He's returned seven interceptions for touchdowns in his career, including a 108-yarder in 2008. His 1,541 career interception return yards are the most in NFL history. He's also a dangerous punt returner.

And there's never been a lack of praise from opponents. When this AFC title game matchup was set, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who never stops singing Reed's praises – and, who knows, may try to sign him this offseason – was asked about getting to see Ed again.

"I don't look forward to it at all," Belichick said in a statement built from past experience that turned out to perfectly predict a future one.

His career has been a long, slow fight to get to the final Sunday. For years it was about waiting on the offense to develop while the defense carried the team, only to lose bitter and often violent playoff games, to Pittsburgh or Indianapolis or, of course, these Patriots.

The Ravens had won at least one playoff game in each of the past four seasons, only to fall short of the Super Bowl each time.

Not now.

"I'm just grateful for our coaches," Reed said Sunday. "For everything we've been through since Coach [John] Harbaugh got here. He had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build something and to create this moment."

For Reed, the trip to New Orleans is perfect. He grew up a little more than 15 miles away in St. Rose, La. He's a restricted free agent, which means his days with the Ravens could be ending. Of course, he's also spoken about retirement over the last couple of years. So who knows what's next. This may be his final ride, too.

What's important is what's now, he said. After winning Sunday he raced to the locker room to call his mom and tell her he was coming home … just in case she hadn't been watching.

And that's the beauty of the entire thing, the story that never gets old: an unquestioned all-timer finally getting his moment, and immediately acting like an overexcited rookie.

Maybe Ed Reed will never garner the headlines of Ray Lewis, but this moment, this run, is as much about he and Suggs and Ngata and the others that joined a vaunted, championship defense as rookies and managed to make its legend greater.

This is, whether anyone is paying attention, their moment.

"To get here, it's amazing," Reed said. "It's amazing to be going back to New Orleans. I'm so grateful. To go to the Crescent City? Here we come, baby."
Here they come.

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Jon Beason Had Surgery

Coach Ron Rivera said linebacker Jon Beason had successful shoulder surgery this month after undergoing knee surgery in the fall. Beason has played in only five games since signing a five-year, $51.5 million contract extension before the 2011 season.

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Ed Reed finally gets to play in Super Bowl after years of playoff futility

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.

The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Baltimore Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.

Still, Birk knew the Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.

“At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you,” Birk said. “I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team.”

Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3.

“It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “To be able to be involved with that as a leader is a huge thing. It makes you feel really good, and now you try to make the most of it.”

Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.

Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL’s biggest game.

“It’s great, obviously,” he said. “That’s the goal. That’s your dream. That’s why you play.”

Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through over his first 14 years. But Birk exudes no such feeling of entitlement.

“Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn’t matter how long you play,” he said. “To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been through my four years here — every year getting close and getting close — to finally break through, it’s pretty special.”

Reed, 34, has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has long been recognized as one of the finest free safeties in the game. But he never got into the Super Bowl until now, and to make it even sweeter, his first appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it takes time,” Reed said. “We’ve built up to this point.”

Teammate Jacoby Jones, who grew up in New Orleans, will be making his Super Bowl debut in his sixth season. After the Ravens beat New England 28-13 in the AFC championship game, Reed prepared for a trip to familiar territory with Jones in tow.

“I really don’t have any words for it,” Reed said. “I rushed into the locker room to call my mom, because I know that my family has been going through some things, so I’m just thankful to be going home and for the whole of New Orleans to see some hometown guys. Jacoby, we talked about it. We haven’t been there since (Hurricane) Katrina. We’re just grateful.”

The Ravens failed to win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking through.

“For everything we’ve been through since coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build something and to create this moment,” Reed said. “We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand each other and understand the process together.”

Williams, a backup on the line, played for Philadelphia and Cincinnati before getting into the Super Bowl in his 13th NFL season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th season) and former Houston Texans stars Vonta Leach (ninth) and Bernard Pollard (seventh) signed as free agents with Baltimore for the chance to perform on the sport’s grandest stage.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who needed only five years to get it done, takes delight in seeing some of his older teammates finally heading to the Super Bowl.

“No doubt about it, I am excited for everybody that has been in the league as long as those guys have been,” he said. “To have this opportunity is pretty cool.”

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Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan to Canton?

This just in: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and "the Evil Empire" didn't make it to the Super Bowl.

OK, maybe you're up on the latest postseason news. But you might have missed the latest on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Brady will reside when it's all said and done. Ditto for Belichick.

Not all of the former players and contributors who were recently named to the Hall's list of finalists are that cut-and-dried. Take one of the headliners: Michael Strahan. Great player? No doubt. First-ballot Hall of Famer? We'll get to that.

To me, a player is either worthy of the Hall of Fame or not. Yet, over the years, a different distinction has been made that goes something like this: Yeah, he should be in the Hall of Fame ... but not as a first-ballot guy.

With the Hall entering its 50th year, and a maximum of seven guys going in each year (five modern-day candidates plus two senior-committee entrants), the backlog of former All-Pros on the outside looking in continues to grow. Thus, for a player to get into Canton, he has to be a different caliber of Hall of Famer -- transcendent, if you will. So let's look at the first-year candidates, as well as some guys in the gold-plated backlog waiting for their names to be called.

The list of finalists, in alphabetical order: Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Art Modell, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Dave Robinson, Warren Sapp, Will Shields, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams.

Remember, just five modern-day nominees can be inducted, and that's the maximum, which makes this process quite difficult for the 46 voters.

Who I think will make it:
» Larry Allen » Charles Haley » Jonathan Ogden » Bill Parcells » Michael Strahan

And ...

What my ballot would look like:
» Larry Allen » Charles Haley » Jonathan Ogden » Bill Parcells » Warren Sapp

The difference is that Strahan didn't get my vote ... this year. He's a Hall of Fame player, but I would rank the first-year eligibles in this manner: 1a) Allen, 1b) Ogden, Sapp, then Strahan.

If Allen and Ogden don't make the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, I'll be so shocked I'll run over myself with a tricycle. ... I'll break Chotchkie's rule and wear just 14 pieces of flair. ... I'll make myself watch the Val Kilmer "Batman" -- with director's commentary.

Allen played tackle and guard for the Dallas Cowboys on both sides of the line, and made the All-Decade Team for the 1990s and the 2000s. Oh, and he has a Super Bowl ring. Oh, and he was unanimously considered the strongest player of his time, if not the strongest ever. Oh, and he played 14 seasons.

Ogden was the dominant left tackle of his era. Though the Baltimore Ravens never had a great quarterback during his tenure, virtually every opponent referred to him as the best in the business. (Well, I'd be remiss not to mention the Seattle Seahawks' Walter Jones, who becomes eligible next year. Jones and Ogden were in a league of their own at left tackle.)

Done and done.

Why Parcells? Because unlike DeBartolo Jr. and Modell, there is no real downside to his candidacy as a "contributor," or non-player. He took four different teams to the playoffs -- two to the Super Bowl -- and won two rings with the New York Giants. For a guy who loves horse racing, he's got a track record. Let us not forget that he had the intuition to promote a 33-year-old Belichick to defensive coordinator of the Giants in 1985. They won it all in '86.

Regarding Haley, the 100.5 career sacks and multiple Pro Bowls are nice. The fact that he's the only dude walking the face of the Earth with five Super Bowl rings as a player is relevant. Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson considered him the missing piece to those great Dallas teams of the '90s. Enough already, voters.

Sapp and Strahan are where it gets difficult. Both have a Super Bowl ring and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Three things make Sapp different from Strahan:

1) Sapp has never been popular with the masses (particularly the media) and tends not to be as "commercial" as Strahan. 2) Sapp was mostly an interior defender, where it is much more difficult to post numbers and be noticed. Yet, he retired with 96.5 sacks. 3) Strahan's career took some time to get going and had some peaks and valleys, despite the fact that he was more productive for a longer period of time. Sapp was dominant early on and had a six-year run as a force from 1997 to 2002.

Bear in mind, it took pass rusher Derrick Thomas five years to get inducted, albeit posthumously. Strahan was solid against the run and still effervesces in the public eye. Will that be enough? You can choose up to five names, and I feel Haley and Parcells should already be in, thus pushing Strahan off my vote card.
Now that we got that out of the way, here's an extended look at the rest of the finalists, including the seniors. Feel free to provide your own thoughts:
@Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.

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VIDEO: proCane Gary Hamilton With Key Block In Wild Last Second Win

proCane Gary Hamilton plays for the Defensor Sporting which is Uruguayan Club Team. Check out his key block on the first possession of the highlight that enabled his team to come away with a huge last second win.

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PHOTO: Frank Gore Throws Up "The U" After Sunday's Victory


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You Decide… Did Tom Brady Intentionally Kick Ed Reed?

You decide… Did Tom Brady in Sundays AFC Championship Matchup intentionally try and kick Ed Reed, or was it just an awkward slide? Leave your comments below.

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VIDEO: Frank Gore does the Dirty Bird


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Stat of the Week: Ray Lewis Playoff Performances

If Ray Lewis -- who wore an Art Modell T-shirt under his jersey Sunday -- has much left in the tank, well, he's a pretty good physical specimen. Lewis turns 38 in May, and the Super Bowl will be his last football game.

The Ravens have played 87, 87 and 83 defensive snaps in their three playoff games, in Baltimore, Denver and Foxboro, in the span of 15 days ... when they averaged playing 68 defensive snaps per game in the regular season. Lewis has played all 257 defensive snaps. And though Lewis hasn't been his 27-year-old sideline-to-sideline dominating self, he has been consistently around the ball to the tune of:


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Frank Gore Offensive Player of The Week According To Peter King

Frank Gore, running back, San Francisco. He's had surgeries on both shoulders, both knees. He's had a broken ankle. He's had a painful hip injury. But the 49ers' all-time leading rusher came through in the biggest game of his career, rushing a clock-eating 21 times for 90 yards and two vital touchdowns -- accounting for the last 14 points of the game.

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Vince Wilfork drops out of Pro Bowl

The exodus begins.

The New England Patriots are now down to having two representatives in the Pro Bowl after quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker, guard Logan Mankins and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork pulled out of the competition due to injury.

Both Welker (knee) and Mankins (calf/hip) had documented injuries this season, but neither was listed on the team's final injury report of the season. The possible reasons behind Wilfork and Brady's absences are not known.

The Patriots medical staff conducted physicals on all players Monday morning.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski was also voted into the game but will also sit out after breaking his forearm in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Special teamer Matthew Slater and linebacker Jerod Mayo are still on track to play in the game. 


Jim Harbaugh explains his exchange with Frank Gore

SANTA CLARA -- Cameras caught running back Frank Gore engaged in an animated discussion with coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline after the 49ers fell behind in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons.

That's nothing out of the ordinary, Harbaugh said.

At that point, the Falcons were marching up and down the field, and the 49ers offense had failed to move the ball at all.

A short time later, the 49ers offense kicked into high gear, with Gore rushing for 90 yards and scoring two touchdowns in helping the 49ers beat the Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

"We bat it around on the sidelines during the game ... ," Harbaugh said. "It's always beneficial to our team to get his input."

Gore touched the ball twice on the 49ers first six plays, with runs for no gain and 6 yards, respectively. He totaled 20 yards on their third possession, which culminated with the 49ers first touchdown of the game.

Overall, Gore rushed for more yards than the Falcons and spearheaded a 49ers rushing attack that amassed 149 yards and three touchdowns.

"Outstanding performance by Frank Gore," Harbaugh said. "(He's) one of the all-time great competitors in the NFL. Nobody does it better than Frank Gore."
Players were given the day off Monday, so Gore was unavailable for comment.


Antrel Rolle Undisputed Giants Leader

Antrel Rolle: Rolle has emerged as one of the most important leaders on the team. The safety usually rings the alarm when the Giants need a wake-up call. When the Giants aren't showing enough fire or not enough "dog," the safety will let his teammates and the media know.

Rolle often spits out the hard truth when things are going bad and his criticism is often welcomed by teammates, who usually agree with what he has to say. On a team that often needs somebody to be vocal, hold nothing back and hold teammates accountable, Rolle might be the best to play that particular role.

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Ray Lewis delivers sermons, Terrell Suggs offers barbs en route to Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is a delicate balance with the Baltimore Ravens, be it on the field where they were mauling Tom Brady – or "12" as Terrell Suggs would only refer to him – or back in a wild celebratory locker room.

It's prideful and petty, powerful and humble, on the edge of controlled rage and on the brink of tears over how this wonderful playoff run has played out. It is a team, especially on defense, that has figured out how to channel it all, to play to an emotional cliff without losing control. It is a team, a linebacking crew, a locker room of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, one a 37-year-old, just-hanging on legend who fashions himself a preacher, the other a 30-year-old in his prime juggernaut who doesn't mind playing a wrestling villain for laughs.

One couldn't get here – the Gillette scoreboard reading Ravens 28, Patriots 13 – without the other. And vice versa.

It is a juxtaposition that has Lewis paying his respect to the Ravens' late owner, Art Modell, by wearing a T-shirt under his shoulder pads with Modell's face and lifespan (1925-2012) printed on it. And one that has Suggs offering a less traditional remembrance.

"Art Mo-deezy," Suggs sang. "Art Mo-deezy. Art Mo-deezy, watching down on us. Shout out to Art Mo-deezy."

And to that Lewis could only laugh because it's what keeps him youthful, what drove him back after tearing his triceps in October, what lets him survive in a young man's game even as he acknowledges his old man legs.

Ray and Terrell. Lewis and Suggs. Old and young, 21 combined tackles as part of the core of a Ravens defense that demolished those Pats, forced Brady into 25 incompletions, two picks and zero second-half points.

"Shut out in the second half … " Suggs shouted, preached, just getting going.

"Oh my God," Lewis screamed like he was a member of the flock.

"… in Foxborough," Suggs went on.

"Oh my God," Lewis matched him.

"Shut out," Suggs said. "Shut out."

This was a locker room born of frustrations past, battles lost, injuries suffered. This here was a long time coming, especially up here in Massachusetts, where a Super Bowl dream died in this very game 12 months ago. That night Lewis stood and answered about retirement but vowed to return. Suggs, the 2011 defensive player of the year, would miss the start of this season with a torn Achilles and then later games with torn biceps.

It wasn't until the start of the playoffs that Lewis, Suggs and safety Ed Reed, the final piece of the iconic triumvirate, were on the field together this season. The Ravens haven't lost since.

Every time Lewis started getting emotional, overwhelmed by the moment, overwhelmed by one last opportunity, Suggs took it back home. These are the Ravens, home to the most vicious and fearsome defense (just ask them) in the league.

There's no time for crying when you can mock the fallen Patriots down the hall, taunt them with the beating they just delivered.

"These are the most arrogant pricks in the world, starting with [coach Bill] Belichick on down," Suggs declared. "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant [expletive]."

He wasn't done.

"That's funny, ever since Spygate, they can't seem to get it done," he said in a mock tone to no one in particular. "I don't know what it is."

But then this is where it recalibrates and maybe this is Lewis' influence, maybe this is why this works so perfectly, why Baltimore could become the first team to trail Brady at the half up here and come out on top, ending a streak of 67 victories.

Lewis is about respect, not disrespect. He is about honor, not anger. He is about the love of the fight and that means loving the fighters who offer the challenge. If Suggs keeps the Lewis young, then Lewis, by force of example, makes Suggs consider maturity.

So yes, soon Suggs was calmer, sitting down and whispering in a respectful tone that Brother Ray would so approve.

"People don't like them because they win," Suggs said of the Pats. "They are a great team. And they have every right to be who they are. And we respect them. It's a rivalry, it's heated, you know, but even enemies can show respect.

"All b.s. aide, all ego and arrogance aside, that is one hell of a ball [club]," he continued. "I'm speaking to you with so much humility … If we went through somebody else, it wouldn't have been the same game. Yeah it's a rivalry between them and us, between me and 12. Any other team this win would've been unjustified. Who 12 is. Who their head coach is. Who their owner is.

"We have the utmost respect for them."

This is what Lewis means to the Ravens, means to all of Baltimore. Standing there in the locker room, celebrating with the Ravens, was Micheal Phelps, the all-time most decorated Olympian. On this night, he was just a delirious Baltimore kid. "This is worth giving up a gold medal," he said. He'd been through tough times in training, tough times in his personal life, times so tough he thought of quitting. He credits Lewis for talking him through so much of it, the teacher you can't disappoint.

"He is a very powerful man," Phelps said. "A very passionate man. I wouldn't have been able to [swim in the 2012 Olympics] without him. And he's been telling me, 'One more shot, one more shot, we're going to have it.'

"And he did it."

Lewis himself was in his typical mode, in awe-of-it-all, blessed, he said, in ways he couldn't fathom, here by the grace of the Lord.

"Honestly," he said, "God is so amazing. If you're in that locker room, there's something special about that locker room. And every man looks at each other and there's a certain type of love that we have for each other.

"And for me to come out and say that this is my last ride and for me now to be headed back to the Super Bowl, for the possibility of me possibly winning a second ring, how else do you cap off a career?"

How do you cap it off? Well, Suggs had some ideas, more sing-a-longs, more shout-outs, more outrageousness.

"Unfortunately, none of our Pro Bowlers will be able to go," Suggs noted.

"Sizzle," Lewis said to Suggs, using his nickname, "you can't make it."

Ray started singing the old Eddie Money song, "Two Tickets to Paradise" while slipping on a suit. Suggs wore basketball shorts and had preferred a different chant.

"The Ravens … " he sang into the Foxborough air.

"The Ravens," Lewis repeated.

"… are going to the Super Bowl … " Suggs continued.

"The Super Bowl," Lewis said.

There was a beat of silence. Two different personalities, two similar players, side-by-side from field to locker room now headed to New Orleans, this wild last ride just rolling on. They stared at each other and laughed.

"Damn sweetest words you'll ever hear," Suggs said.

"Indeed," Ray concluded.

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Frank Gore shines, then praises coach for 49ers' transformation

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Frank Gore scored the winning touchdown in the San Francisco 49ers 28-24 NFC Championship win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and immediately praised coach Jim Harbaugh for turning around the franchise.

Gore was drafted by the 49ers in 2005 during a period when one of the National Football League's most successful franchises was enduring some of its leanest years, having gone 2-14 in the previous campaign.

The five-times Super Bowl champions had losing records in five of the next six seasons before Harbaugh took over a 6-10 team in 2011 and led them to conference championship games in each of his first two seasons.

"Its been a long eight years, we have been struggling and struggling with a lot of the same guys in the locker room and we finally got the right guys in front of us, to lead us," Gore said after the 49ers erased a 17-0 deficit for the win.

"We have the right coaches, coach Harbaugh and his staff are great together ... when you get everyone together you can go a long way."

With the host Falcons leading 24-14 at halftime, Gore said Harbaugh told the team they had the ability to turn the playoff contest around.

"We are built for this type of game, when we came in here, we didn't have our head down. They told us what we had to take care of one thing at a time, 'offense have to go back out and strike and defense you have to make plays,'" said Gore, who had two unanswered touchdowns in the second half.

"We are tough, it is hard to break us. We aren't going to give up. We will keep fighting into the fourth quarter and until the game (clock) hits double zero."

The build-up to the game had been dominated by the question of how top-seeded Atlanta would cope with the running ability of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Gore said that gave him an inkling he would get a chance to shine.

"I knew when I heard them saying all week 'We've got to stop Kap, stop Kap' that I was going to get a lot of opportunities," said Gore. "The offensive line did a great job and I fought."

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Bryant McKinnie sparked Baltimore Ravens

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When historians look back on the Baltimore Ravens' 2012 season, they will remember offensive coordinator Cam Cameron being fired and replaced by Jim Caldwell.

They will talk about quarterback Joe Flacco's clutch performances in the postseason and how star linebacker Ray Lewis's decision to retire inspired this team.

But the best move came two weeks ago when Ravens coach John Harbaugh inserted former Minnesota Viking Bryant McKinnie at left offensive tackle and moved Michael Oher to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard.

That's when the Ravens became championship caliber.

There are always new schemes and philosophies in football, but there is one constant: If your front five can beat the other team's defensive front seven, you win games.

On Sunday night, Jan. 20, the Ravens' starting group of McKinnie, Oher, guard Marshal Yanda, Osemele and former Vikings center Matt Birk were outstanding.
The Ravens had 356 yards of total offense and held a three-minute advantage in time of possession. They were hurt by poor field position in the first half, but once they opened it up in the second, they were nearly unstoppable.

Flacco was 11 of 18 in the third quarter. He finished the game with 240 yards and three touchdown passes. Receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta kept coming up with clutch catches as the Ravens took control of the tempo and the game.

"We just executed better," Birk said. "In the first half, we had a hard time on offense sustaining anything and getting our rhythm, other than the one drive. We changed things up a little bit in the second half. We got a little up-tempo and got some rhythm and guys started making plays. We just tried to block guys and (game) our playmakers a chance to make plays."

But they wouldn't have been productive without this offensive line. For most of the night, Flacco had time to eat a doughnut, drink a cup of coffee and then go through his progressions.

In three postseason games, Flacco has been sacked four times, which is remarkable because he got banged around so much during the regular season.
It's somewhat ironic that this unit has carried the team because Harbaugh was reluctant to change. Going into training camp, the offensive line was the biggest question mark, and there was even more doubt when McKinnie reported late, out of shape and overweight.

And then the Ravens cut his salary.

It was enough to make a big, old man cry, or at least sulk enough when he practiced poorly, according to Harbaugh (wink, wink). The Ravens tried several different combinations, including Oher at left tackle and Ramon Harewood and Jah Reid at left guard.

Nothing worked.

Neither Osemele at right tackle nor Oher on the left side could handle speed rushers. Privately, certain veteran players wanted McKinnie back as the starter, and there was even speculation that general manager Ozzie Newsome strongly lobbied for McKinnie with Harbaugh.

Finally, the move was made for the wild-card playoff game against Indianapolis, and the Ravens have been a different team.

They've always had weapons, but now they have time to find and use them. Because of their physical style, the Ravens can play smashmouth football with running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and control the time of possession to keep their defense off the field.

Flacco has an assortment of weapons in Smith, Pitta, Boldin and Jacoby Jones. If the protection is good, few defenses have the skill or speed to compete with this group.

The Patriots had just five quarterback hurries Sunday night. They had two sacks, and one of those came late in the game after the outcome had already been decided.

Vince Wilfork, New England's giant defensive tackle who has been one major problem for the Ravens the past two years, had only one tackle. He got bounced around by the middle of the Ravens' offensive line.

McKinnie won't remind anyone of former Ravens great Jonathan Ogden, but he still can swallow up most good pass rushers. Birk's best days are behind him, but he still can make blocks into the second level especially against a four-man front and has been a steady presence for Osemele.

Oher was never going to be a quality left tackle, but seems to have found a home on the right side. Osemele is going to be a great player and is versatile and strong enough to play any of the positions on the offense line.

As for Yanda, he is the best of the group, a throwback to the old days when linemen didn't say much, but you were always glad they were on your team.
It's an offensive line that seemed to lose its way at the beginning of the season, but has rediscovered itself just in time to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

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Bernard Pollard rips Tom Brady for trying to kick Ed Reed

When Tom Brady went into a feet-first slide with 20 seconds remaining in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, most people focused on the way Brady bungled the clock management on the play, preventing the Patriots from running another offensive play before halftime. But Ravens safety Bernard Pollard focused on something else.

According to Pollard, Brady intentionally lifted his right leg because he wanted to kick Ravens safety Ed Reed, who was pulling up to avoid hitting Brady on his slide.

“You’ve got to keep them legs down,” Pollard said, via CSNNE.com. “You’ve go to keep the legs down. We all know and understand what’s going on there. And as a quarterback, when you go to slide, we’re taught . . . we can’t do anything. When you come sliding, and your leg is up in the air trying to kick somebody, that’s bull crap.”

It’s impossible to get inside Brady’s brain and say whether he was trying to kick Reed or whether his foot just came up awkwardly as he was sliding. In the same way, it’s impossible to get inside Ndamukong Suh’s brain and say whether he intentionally kicked Matt Schaub on Thanksgiving, or whether Suh’s foot just happened to go in the wrong place as he was falling near Schaub.

But the NFL saw enough on the Suh-Schaub kick to fine Suh $30,000. Now Pollard, the man who ended Brady’s 2008 season with a shot to his knee, thinks it’s time for the NFL to take a look at Brady.

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7 proCanes, 5 Active, Heading to New Orleans For Super Bowl XLVII

Nine active proCane entered Championship Playoff weekend looking to make it to the Super Bowl. Four have been sent home packing. There will be FIVE ACTIVE proCane competing in Super Bowl XLVII, and up to FIVE proCane can earn Super Bowl rings because both Tommy Streeter and Damien Berry of the Baltimore Ravens who are on IR would still receive rings if the Ravens won.

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bryant McKinnie, Damien Berry (IR), Tommy Streeter (IR)
San Francisco 49ers: Tavares Gooden, Frank Gore

New England Patriots: Vince WIlfork Marcus Forston
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bosher, Harland Gunn (Micanor Regis on practice squad but not ACTIVE)

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, Brandon Harris, Chris Myers.
Green Bay Packers: Sam Shields
Denver Broncos: Orlando Franklin, DJ Williams
Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne
Washington Redskins: Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss

Six Playoff #proCanes were on the injured list and not on an active NFL playoff roster: Willis McGahee (Denver), Rashad Butler (Houston), Darryl Sharpton (Houston), Damien Berry (Baltimore), Tommy Streeter (Baltimore) and Brandon Meriweather (Washington).

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Ed Reed on return to hometown for Super Bowl: 'Here we come, baby'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For Ed Reed, the Ravens' triumph over the New England Patriots sends him back to a place he cherishes: Louisiana.

The star free safety grew up in St. Rose, La., just outside New Orleans.

And now Reed is making his return with the AFC champions after they punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.

"It's just awesome right now," Reed said. "A great feeling. It's amazing to be going back to New Orleans. I'm so grateful. To go to the Crescent City, here we come, baby."

For Reed, whose family still lives in Louisiana, this marks a huge moment.

The 34-year-old former NFL Defensive Player of the Year couldn't have written a better ending to his career should he decide to retire after playing the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

"I really don't have any words for it; I rushed into the locker room to call my mom because I know that my family has been going through some things," Reed said. "So I'm just thankful to be going home to New Orleans for the whole of New Orleans to see some hometown guys. [Pro Bowl kick returner] Jacoby Jones [a fellow New Orleans native] we talked about it. We're just grateful.

"I don't think we've been there since right before [Hurricane] Katrina [in 2005]. It's just a blessing. I thank God for assembling this team and for his grace. It's been a long time coming, but it takes time. We've built up to this point. We're just thankful."

As inspired as the Ravens have been by retiring inside linebacker Ray Lewis, this marks the first Super Bowl berth for most of the players.

"I have no words, man," Reed said. "I'm just grateful for our coaches. For everything we've been through since coach [John] Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something and to create this moment. We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand each other and understand the process together.  Our coaching staff is amazing for what they do. That process that we went through as a team, that growth."

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Frank Gore helps San Francisco 49ers rush to Super Bowl

ATLANTA -- Early in the game, when all looked lost for the 49ers, running back Frank Gore got in Jim Harbaugh's face. It was a heated discussion. Gore did not appear to be asking who had it better than them.

What was the running back telling Harbaugh with such urgency?

"I just let him know I was ready," Gore said. "And he said, 'I can see that.' "

Ready? After enduring more than his share of heartache -- not to mention actual ache -- after being drafted by a lousy team in 2005, Gore was in no mood to come up short of the Super Bowl sticks for a second season in a row.

He asked for the game to be put in his hands. And then he held on tight.

Gore rushed 21 times for 90 yards and scored a pair of second-half touchdowns, fueling a 28-24 comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.

The second of Gore's touchdowns, a 9-yarder with 8:23 left in the game, gave the 49ers the lead for good.

It also propelled one of the game's underappreciated players to his first Super Bowl, a journey that has taken eight years, 8,839 regular-season yards and more defenders stacking the box to stop him than he'd care to remember.

"We've had all those years of struggling, struggling and struggling. But we had the right guys in the locker room," he said, giving a shout out to Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree. "The list goes on and on. We just stayed together and got the right guys to lead us."

After their rocky start against the Falcons, Gore and the 49ers found their stride midway through the second quarter. As the offensive players suspected, the Falcons' would focus on quarterback Colin Kaepernick on read-option plays, leaving room for Gore to gash the middle.

Gore never broke a biggie -- his longest carry went 11 yards -- but he kept banging his way for steady progress. On the 49ers' first scoring march, for example, he opened the drive with a 9-yarder and a 1-yarder, finally giving the 49ers' a first down with about a minute gone in the second quarter.

The chains were moving. The 49ers looked like themselves again.

"What's the word I'm looking for? It was vintage Frank Gore," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.

The Falcons led 24-14 in the third quarter, but with the memories of last year's NFC title game loss still fresh, Gore said the 49ers were determined to avoid another letdown. "We knew what we had to do," he said, "and we knew we had guys to lead us."

Gore scored the game's final two touchdowns. His 5-yard touchdown run with 10:47 to play in the third quarter cut it to 24-21. Then he completed the comeback, blasting around the right side of the line and getting a key block from Davis, the tight end, to scoot into the end zone.

Gore did kind of a halfhearted version of the Falcons' famed "Dirty Bird" dance -- he'd had that in mind all week -- but said he can't quite celebrate yet.

After eight years, what's two more weeks?

"We're not done yet," Gore said. "We have one more."

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Ray Lewis' Super Bowl Return Has Ravens LB Emotional

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ray Lewis' makeup was running. It was eye black, actually, that dark, oily greasepaint football players smear under their eyes to cut down on glare, but which Lewis has begun using to fashion a fearsome facemask for himself. And somewhere amid all those hugs on the field and a few tears in the locker room, it had already turned into a mess.

Lewis was sitting on a table in the Ravens' training room following a 28-13 win over the Patriots that punched his ticket back to the Super Bowl. He pulled off his gloves first, then the nylon skull cap he wears under his helmet, staring straight ahead, enjoying a quiet moment by himself.

Then Terrell Suggs, his sidekick and fellow linebacker, burst into room bellowing, "The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl!" It was as though somebody threw a switch.

"Say it again," Lewis looked up and said, just above a whisper.

Suggs complied.

"Again!" Lewis hissed, a little louder this time, and began clapping his hands over his head in accompaniment.

Then he rubbed his eyes – as if checking to make sure he wasn't just imagining the scene. And just like that, the eyeblack that began the night covering his cheekbones now adorned his chin like a beard.

"We're built a certain way and we've got each other's backs, through it all," Lewis said. He savored the moment, remembering how the Ravens left New England a year ago, eliminated in this same AFC championship game after former kicker Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal attempt hooked wide left.
"Last year when we walked up out of here, I told them, I said, `We'll be back. Don't hold your heads down because we've got something to finish.' "

That won't be for two more weeks, at the Super Bowl against the 49ers in New Orleans, but win or lose, Lewis will be finished. A tough guy playing a position where toughness is a given, he defied the odds by lasting 17 seasons and all of them with the same club that drafted him.

Lewis doesn't dominate games the way he used to, crushing running backs and making every tackle sound like it does on a video game. Yet the numbers don't lie, and just as he has throughout Baltimore's improbable run, Lewis led the Ravens in solo tackles and assists, 14 combined on this night. At 37, he's also been on the field for more snaps than any other defender.

Yet Lewis' leadership is more than his stats, more than his awkward dance out of the tunnel, more than the hoarse pregame speeches he gives in the last huddle before leading his teammates onto the field.

"There's so many things you can say about Ray, but the thing you don't see just watching the games is how much work he puts in," backup linebacker Paul Kruger said. "And not just his own business. He wants the kickers to be pros in how they go about their business in practice, the linemen, the skill guys – it doesn't matter to Ray.

"A lot of guys outside this locker room have been talking about how we're all playing for Ray, and that's true," he continued. "But playing for Ray means playing for yourself, too, and playing for the team, because that's what he cares about most.

"So yeah," Kruger said. "You could say we're playing for Ray. But what that means to us is that nobody wants to be the guy who lets him down."

That wasn't a problem Sunday night, at least not once the Ravens took the Patriots' measure. After nosing in front 13-7 by halftime, Baltimore's defense stiffened and held New England scoreless the rest of the way.

"Second half, baby, was 21-0!" Suggs screamed in the next locker over from Lewis. "My wife told me, baby, quit watching tape and come to bed, you're going to win by 10. And she was only off by five points!"

Lewis looked over at his teammate and covered his mouth to stop from laughing out loud.

Though it wouldn't hurt, Lewis doesn't need another Super Bowl, let alone another Pro Bowl, to secure his legacy. At least not the football portion of it.
Lewis won the NFL's biggest prize once already, in 2000, and was named MVP in that game to boot. He's been picked for the Pro Bowl 13 times.

But a trip back to the big game will carry echoes of his last trip there, a year after Lewis was charged in a double murder after a Super Bowl party at an Atlanta nightclub a year earlier. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and testified against his two former co-defendants. Neither was convicted, and Lewis eventually reached undisclosed cash settlements with the victims' families.

Lewis worked hard to rebuild his reputation, eventually working his way back into the graces of the NFL. Humbled, he volunteered to speak at rookie orientation sessions and slowly won back the kind of respect that had nothing to do with his play on the field.

"Ray's a guy that's turned everything over," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's surrendered everything and he's become the man that he is to this day. He's a different man than he was when he was 22 or 15 or whatever. I think everybody sees that right now. I think it's a great thing for kids to see. It's a great thing for fathers to see. It's a great thing for athletes to see.

"It's," Harbaugh said, "a very special deal."

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Watch Ray Lewis' Emotions Flow Right Before AFC Champ Game

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Ravens extend Ray Lewis' ride, beat Patriots for Super Bowl berth

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A week after hushing his critics with a big comeback win in Denver, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco quieted the crowd at Gillette Stadium. Now, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis can take his retirement party to New Orleans, and coach Jim Harbaugh can take on his brother in Super Bowl XLVII.

Flacco threw for three touchdowns on three consecutive second-half drives Sunday as the Ravens beat the Patriots 28-13 for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens' 2011 season ended here in the AFC Championship Game with a loss in final seconds. They also lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the conference final in the 2008 season.

"It's crazy. This is my fifth year here, and this is the third one of these games that we've played in, and this in the first one we've won," said Flacco. "These are tough games to win, but we played together well as a team today."

In the final seconds of that 23-20 loss here last season, a potential winning touchdown pass by Flacco was stripped away in the end zone, and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal for Baltimore. Did that experience make this all the sweeter for Flacco?

"I think it's pretty sweet having won one of these AFC championships. It's probably pretty sweet no matter how you do it and no matter what fashion it is in," said Flacco, who hit 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards and no interceptions a week after rallying Baltimore to a 38-35 overtime win against the Denver Broncos.

Baltimore, which won the Super Bowl in the 2000 season in its only previous trip to the NFL's ultimate game, struggled down the stretch in the regular season.

Lewis, who has announced he will retire after 17 NFL seasons at age 37, missed the last 10 games of the regular season with a torn triceps in his right arm. He's returned in the playoffs to inspire a Baltimore defense that held Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to one touchdown pass with two interceptions.

"How else do you cap off a career?" said Lewis, a Raven since 1996. "How else do you honor your fans and give them everything that they cheer for? Baltimore is one of the most loyal places since 1996 that I've ever been around. And the greatest reward you can ever give to them is another chance at the Super Bowl. The last ride, I can only tell you, I am along for the ride."

The Patriots had been 4-0 in AFC title games at home.

"They just outplayed us and outcoached us tonight," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They just made more plays than we did, and it was pretty much the story."

To no avail, Brady hit 29 of 54 passes for 320 yards and became the NFL's all-time leader in postseason passing with 5,949 yards. Brady's last pass was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Cary Williams with just over a minute left.

"We got behind in the second half and became one dimensional, just couldn't string enough plays together,'' Brady said. "Whatever we did, we didn't execute very well. … We didn't earn it. They earned it."

Surely, the Ravens wanted to send Lewis out in style. But it went way beyond that.

"We all want to win the Super Bowl," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Ray isn't the only guy here. … We all know this is his last shot. But we have (safety) Ed Reed, he's never been to a Super Bowl. Terrell Suggs, Anquan Boldin never won one. … We all play for each other."

John Harbaugh echoed that.

"Coaches and players working together to make each other better. … That's been our mantra," Harbaugh said.

Flacco, now 8-4 as a starter in the playoffs in five seasons, outplayed Brady a year ago in the AFC championship only to lose at the finish. This time, Flacco took the final suspense out of it in the second half.

When Baltimore was losing four of its last five in the regular season, Flacco took heat on the radio talk shows in Baltimore, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired and replaced by assistant Jim Caldwell, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Baltimore offense clicked in the playoffs, though Flacco didn't look back on what's happened quite that way.

"I think we've been playing like that all year," Flacco said. " … People lose during the football season. We had a couple of bad losses, but we really rebounded from them really good. We had a couple of losses in there that were really close, and, hey, that just happens sometimes."

Now, the Ravens are Super Bowl bound.

"We came here to win the game. It wasn't a secret," said Boldin, who caught two of Flacco's touchdown passes.

"We came in here last year and left with a bitter taste in our mouths. … We get great pleasure out of coming to Foxborough and doing it here."

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VIDEO: Ed Reed Tribute Song [Amazing NFL Highlights] Ravens Miami

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Giants May Let Kenny Phillips Walk

One league observer feels the Giants could let SS Kenny Phillips walk in free agency this offseason because of Phillips’ wear and tear the past three seasons and the money he might be seeking. The Giants typically set a number, and if the player isn’t willing to work with it, the club just moves on.

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Free agency possible for Ed Reed

TAMPA, Fla. -- College all-star game practices are a great place for NFL scouts and personnel men to evaluate upcoming talent. But it's not all about prospect evaluation. The latest player news, coaching moves and everything else relating to the NFL are all hot topics, as well.

Here are a few nuggets I gleaned during my time on the sidelines at the East-West Shrine Game practices this week:

» One personnel executive mentioned that he wouldn't be surprised if the Baltimore Ravens allowed Ed Reed to depart via free agency in the offseason. If the 11-year veteran safety hits the open market, two logical landing spots would be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Reed is close to Colts coach Chuck Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick has never been shy about his high opinion of Reed.

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Colin McCarthy hopes he's not injury-prone

Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy knows what everyone is thinking: He’s injury prone.

The second-year pro had an exceptional training camp, was voted a team captain and was poised for a breakout season. But after missing nine games, he’s aware that questions about his health will persist.

“Until I stop getting hurt and can stay on the field for 16 games, that is going to be something for people to talk about,” said McCarthy, a fourth-round pick in 2011. “It is going to be an issue. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know if it’s bad luck or whatever, but hopefully it will turn.”

McCarthy went down in the season opener against the Patriotsicon1 with a high-ankle sprain and missed four games. He suffered a concussion against the Jaguars on Nov. 25 and missed the final five games.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray doesn’t think McCarthy is necessarily injury-prone. He pointed out that defensive end Derrick Morgan overcame a run of injuries early in his career and put together a solid 2012 season.

“I hope it is just bad luck,” Gray said. “You look at Derrick and the stuff he went through the first two years. He had an injury to his knee and then he had a high-ankle, but (played) at a high level. Hopefully this will pass with McCarthy also. … Hopefully the injury stuff won’t show up his third year.”

McCarthy’s concussion was particularly troubling. Several times in December he seemed on the verge of returning to action, but he never made it back. He was scheduled to see more doctors after the season.

“We plan to keep in contact with him throughout the offseason to make sure he is right,” coach Mike Munchak said.

McCarthy also suffered injuries in his rookie season, but missed only three games because of a strained hamstring and sore knee. He also had some dislocated fingers.

This season in seven games he finished with 45 tackles and three tackles for loss along with a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Dolphins on Nov. 11.

Teammates tried to keep his spirits up late in the season when his concussion symptoms persisted, but he couldn’t shake the frustration.

“It wasn’t an easy (season), but it’s football,” McCarthy said. “And you have to deal with it. Hopefully I can put all this behind me.”

If he does, the Titans could have a special trio of linebackers.

Second-year pro Akeem Ayers led the Titans in tackles (101) in 2012, when he also had six sacks and eight quarterback pressures. Rookie Zach Brown had 93 tackles and three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns in the season finale.

“Me and Akeem, all season we told Colin, ‘When we make a play, just know we are thinking of you out there.’ I did a little kick thing for him after plays,” Brown said. “Two of the three young boys, we are doing what we are supposed to do and unfortunately he wasn’t able to be out there with us as much as he wanted to.

“It is hard, but you have to be there for him, and we have been. It is not like his career is over.

“We are a young corps, but I feel we are headed in the right direction.”

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LaRon Byrd Ready For New Coach

LaronByrd 2
Before the news broke that Bruce Arians would be the Cardinals next head coach, LaRon Byrd’s phone buzzed.

It was Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, a fellow former Miami Hurricane, giving Byrd a hard time for stealing his former offensive coordinator and interim head coach.

“You’re going to love him,” Wayne texted Byrd. “He’s a great coach and he knows what he’s doing.”

With the news official by time players arrived in the locker room for treatment Friday morning, the Cardinals were expressing their excitement about having Arians as their new coach through Twitter, the Internet and in person.

“I think everybody’s excited,” quarterback Ryan Lindley said. “Obviously, the next step is getting back in the facility and getting with him and see what’s going on.”

Although Arians’ background was relatively unknown to most of the team save for him helping Pittsburgh win two Super Bowls, the Cardinals were keenly aware of the quick success he had with a young roster in Indianapolis.

And they’re expecting nothing less this season.

“It’s good because I’m a young guy so hopefully everything plays out,” said Byrd, who will be entering his second season. “It’s a new look. It’s a new year. It’s time to start fresh. We have a new face of the organization now, we just got to work for him.”

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Long-shot DeQuan Jones living a dream

Rather miraculously, rookie DeQuan Jones finds himself in the Magic's lineup, starting at small forward over a respected veteran and a coveted draft pick culled from the Dwight Howard deal.

Truth is, nobody expected Jones' name to come up in a conversation involving Hedo Turkoglu and Maurice Harkless.

But here he is, hearing his name called during player introductions the past eight games after making the team as an undrafted, October training-camp invitee.
"Feels like a roller-coaster ride, the highs and lows, going from not playing to starting," Jones said, shaking his head. "It's a matter of staying on an even keel, staying consistent."

It's a major opportunity for Jones, even if he has a minor role in the production.

The Magic only ask DeQuan to be what he is at the moment: an electric, versatile athlete who's learning on the fly and doesn't necessarily need the ball.

"There's certain things a player learns that can't be taught by just watching film," he said. "There's things you can only learn through in-game experience. It's just a matter of me getting accustomed to the NBA game, the ins and outs."

Coach Jacque Vaughn has seen Jones take baby steps.

"He's been improving," Vaughn said. "You watch film and he has less breakdowns for us on the defensive end, which means he's understanding the concepts better. His shot selection has been pretty good. Just his aggressiveness, being able to attack the rim and maybe get a foul.

"He's just learning, and that's the best part. He's learning along the way and he keeps getting better."

The small-forward spot has been a revolving door since Turkoglu sustained a broken hand in the opener and still struggles to fully recover.

Harkless made 20 consecutive starts until Vaughn decided to go with Jones on New Year's Eve against the Miami Heat.

In a rebuilding season featuring player development, Vaughn said he wanted to again evaluate Jones, who had made three previous starts early in the season while battling a strained groin.

"Change-wise, it was just time for me to see (Jones) in the lineup," Vaughn said. "He had been working hard … that was the base for the change, not to say Mo had not been working hard."

If you were to draw blueprints to build a player, Jones would be an ideal model at a chiseled 6-feet-8, 220 pounds.

"Physically, right now, even though he's a rookie, he matches up well with most starting 3-men in the league," Vaughn said.

Jones' stats won't wow you. He's averaging just 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, and 11.9 minutes overall. But since the beginning of January, he has averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds in 19.4 minutes while shooting 54 percent.

Jones, 22, had similar numbers during his four years at Miami. Minor role or not, he has landed a shot at the big time, trying to handle this unique opportunity to audition.

He's starting, but doesn't get starter's minutes.

He's starting, but his biggest job is to do the little things.

He's starting, but it feels as if the promotion could stop at any time.

It's as if DeQuan is a temp, perhaps keeping the seat warm for now with Turk out and Harkless watching closely. And he knows it.

"I never get complacent. I never for one second thought I was a sure lock (last summer)," Jones said. "I still don't. That's not who I am. It's just every day, come in and be ready to work."

He remembers his first NBA start after Turk was injured, facing Phoenix on Nov. 4. "During intros, they called my name. It kind of hit me," he said. "I caught a flashback when I was a kid, watching Michael Jordan. I realized I was a part of it.

"That was the defining moment, when I realized the position I was in."

Jones is playing on a one-year, minimum contract. He's still fighting to gain a career foothold.

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely."

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VIDEO: Darius Rice shops at The Foundry

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Jon Jay put injury issues behind him

ST. LOUIS -- Both Matt Holliday and Jon Jay, bothered by nagging injuries during the 2012 season, said this weekend that they are confident that there are no lingering effects from their respective issues.

Though Holliday never went on the disabled list, he was bothered by back tightness at various times last year. Holliday still insists that "it wasn't that big of a deal," though Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has identified Holliday as one of the players he will be more proactive in sitting in order to reduce the chance of injury this year.

Holliday's winter workout regimen has included therapy and strength exercises that have specifically targeted his lower back.

Jay did have a stint on the DL due to a left shoulder strain sustained when he ran into the outfield wall. Issues with that shoulder lingered for much of the season, though Jay on Sunday declared himself "100 percent."

He had his shoulder looked at by the club's medical staff before heading home for the winter, and everything checked out as it should have. That allowed Jay to then undertake a normal workout program.

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Yonder Alonso To Benefit From Changes To Petco Park

By altering the dimensions of Petco Park, the Padres could be playing a very different brand of baseball in these coming years. Long thought of as one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of baseball, Petco Park might have a new identity in the future. Due to their decision to move the fences in, the Padres will have to build their team in a different way. For players like Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko, the new dimensions could be extremely beneficial to their success at the plate. However, for pitchers like Edinson Volquez and Eric Stults, they are going to have to learn to keep the ball on the ground more in 2013.

The new dimensions at Petco Park are drastically different from the old. In Right Field, the wall is moving in 11 Feet. In Right-Center and left-center, the walls will be moved in 12 Feet. Also, the visiting bullpen down the Right Fieldline is being relocated to Center Field behind the home bullpen. Padres president Tom Garfinkel told ESPN, “Players know what’s fair and what’s not. When they crush a ball that would be out in 29 other parks, and it’s not out here, they know that it’s not fair. We wanted to make it more fair from that standpoint.” This is the way a lot of baseball feels about extreme pitcher’s parks, so not too many people seemed unhappy with the Padres decision.

Just looking at Yonder Alonso’s 2012 hit chart, if he had played at Petco with its new dimensions, he could have had anywhere from 6-8 more Home Runs in 2012. For someone who only hit nine all season, that makes a pretty big difference. The fantasy baseball implications of the Petco Park dimension change are enormous. Now, Chase Headley looks a lot more likely to repeat his tremendous 2012 season and Cameron Maybin looks like a good bet to break 10 HRs in 2013, something he’s never done before in his Major League career.  I wouldn’t be surprised if more Padres pitchers started throwing more sinkers and trying to keep the ball down more because of the new fences.  Overall, statistics for Padres hitters and pitchers are going to change greatly over the next couple years.

San Diego is no longer going to have a ballpark where hitters find it nearly impossible to hit it out. With these changes, Petco Park will become more of a fair environment for hitters and pitchers. Not to mention, it should be easier for the Padres to draw Free Agent sluggers in the future. Even though teams have proven that it is possible to be very successful playing in a pitcher’s park, the Padres organization realized it wasn’t going to work for them. It will be extremely intriguing to see what kind of effect the new dimensions has on the Padres next season.

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Pirates avoid arbitration with Gaby Sanchez

The Pirates and Gaby Sanchez avoided arbitration today by agreeing to a one-year, $1.75 million contract including performance bonuses, according to a tweet from Sanchez's agency, the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

Sanchez, eligible for arbitration for the first time, earned $483,000 in 2012.

The Pirates still have three players -- Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and James McDonald -- eligible for arbitration. Today is the deadline for the teams and the players to exchange salary figures.

Sanchez, 29, will most likely platoon with Jones at first base and man the position when Jones plays right field. He had a .279 on-base percentage and hit seven home runs in 2012, when he joined the Pirates from the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline.

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Chris Perez avoids arbitration with Indians for $7.3 million

Chris Perez has avoided arbitration in his second-to-last season of eligibility, agreeing to a one-year, $7.3 million deal with the Indians.

Perez showed some signs of decline in 2011, including a career-worst strikeout rate of 5.9 per nine innings, but last season he whiffed 9.2 per nine innings while saving 36 games with a 3.59 ERA.

If the Indians struggle in 2013 he’ll likely be a prime trade candidate, as Perez will probably command more than $10 million via arbitration for 2014 and would then hit the free agent market at age 28. Vinnie Pestano is waiting in the wings to take over ninth-inning duties if needed, although for now at least Perez is obviously a big part of Cleveland’s plans.

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