AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

BALTIMORE -- Here are three predictions that I guarantee (well, feel very strongly) will happen Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens (4-2) play host to the Atlanta Falcons (2-4) at M&T Bank Stadium.

Flacco
 1. Joe Flacco will lead the winning drive in the fourth quarter. This is more of a gut feeling because the game has the makings of being a trap one. The Ravens are coming off a blowout win in Tampa Bay, and they have a big game at the first-place Cincinnati Bengals the following week. The Falcons come to town on a three-game losing streak. That's why this game will be closer than what many think. Matt Ryan led the last-minute drive against the Ravens in the last meeting. Flacco repays the favor here with his first fourth-quarter comeback at home this season.

2. Lardarius Webb gets his first interception of the season. Jimmy Smith got his first pick last Sunday, and Webb will get his chance to do the same against the Falcons. Ryan has thrown four interceptions to the right side of the field this season, which is tied for the fifth-most in the league. That's a favorable stat for Webb, who defends that side. Also, unlike Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon last week, Ryan is smart enough not to test Smith. Most of Ryan's passes will be directed at Webb and the Ravens' No. 3 cornerback (presumably Dominique Franks). Webb hasn't had an interception since last season's finale in Cincinnati.

3. Bernard Pierce scores a couple of touchdowns. The Falcons have given up a league-worst 12 rushing touchdowns this season. How bad is that? No other team has allowed more than seven. In fact, the Falcons have given up 11 rushing touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line. When the Ravens get that close to the end zone, they typically turn to Pierce. While Pierce hasn't been a big part of the Ravens' offense recently, he still tops the team with six carries from inside the 10-yard line. He has more size than Justin Forsett, which likely plays into the Ravens' strategy here.

How did my predictions fare last week?

Prediction: Flacco will throw multiple touchdown passes. Result: Couldn't have been more right on this one. Flacco threw five touchdowns ... in the first 16 minutes, 3 seconds.

Prediction: Jimmy Smith will get the Ravens secondary's first interception of the season. Result: Right again. Smith picked off Glennon's pass on the Buccaneers' opening series.

Prediction: Torrey Smith will have his best game of the season. Result: Smith scored touchdowns on the first two series and finished with a season-high four catches.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After Joe Flacco set another record, it was inevitable that the Baltimore Ravens quarterback would be asked about whether he's "elite."

Flacco
 Sure, it's a tired debate that doesn't have a right answer. Whether Flacco is among the upper echelon of passers in this league really depends on your definition.

Flacco said he doesn't know whether he has filled the requisites for being an elite quarterback.

"There’s always some kind of question out there that tends to be the trendy one that everybody is asking this year or that year," Flacco said. "I think some of it has to do with how many years you’ve been in the league. Are you a young guy that’s almost there? There are a lot of different scenarios that allow people to ask that question or tell people not to ask that question."

Flacco added, "A lot of people the last few years were talking. … That’s just the word they used: ‘Elite, elite, elite.’ Who knows where it came from, but that’s just what it was. So, I think a lot of that has kind of quieted down a little bit, and we’ve gone out and won, and we’ve won consistently."

If you didn't put Flacco's name to this résumé, would you consider this body of work to be elite?
  • Most wins (75), including playoffs, by an NFL starting quarterback since 2008
  • Most wins (62) by a quarterback in the first six seasons of a career
  • Only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons
  • Super Bowl Most Valuable Player after posting second-highest passer rating in Super Bowl (124.2)
  • Second quarterback in NFL postseason history to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions (Joe Montana was the other)
  • Most starts by a quarterback (115) to begin a career in NFL history
  • One of two quarterbacks to pass for at least 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing 12 interceptions or fewer from 2009 to 2012 (Aaron Rodgers was the other)

Last Sunday, Flacco added another impressive mark by becoming the fastest player in NFL history to pass for five touchdowns. He did so in 16 minutes, 3 seconds.

Many in the organization think Flacco doesn't get the respect he deserves. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week that it was good for "the football world to see what Joe [is] capable of in that way. He’s that kind of a player."

But is Flacco elite? You can certainly make that argument.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Jimmy Smith has developed into the best cornerback on the Baltimore Ravens and one of the top ones in the NFL. He is also emerging as a leader.

That became evident on Friday afternoon, when Smith stood in the middle of the final huddle of the day and spoke to the team. He touched on the value of time and how you want to look back on your career and be proud of it when it's all finished.

Smith

"Like all guys, he's grown up and continues to do that," Smith said. "He's taken a big role. He's a top player on our defense. I've said it many times: I think he's one of the best players in the league. And he carries himself that way."

Smith has taken a different route than many of the Ravens' first-round picks. He didn't start right away, as previous top picks like Joe Flacco or Michael Oher did. He didn't go to multiple Pro Bowls before the age of 26, as Haloti Ngata or Terrell Suggs did.

Dealing with injuries and inconsistency, Smith didn't become a full-time starter in the NFL until last season, his third year in the NFL.

Once he established himself in the Ravens defense, he quickly built a reputation for slowing down some of the top receivers in the NFL: Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson.

"I think he's really learned how to take care of himself and study," Harbaugh said. "He talked about that as far as knowing what to do and studying your opponent. [He's] taking care of himself physically; I think he's done a great job of that. He had injury issues early on and I think he's learned how to take care of himself. He's done a great job with that."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are expected to start two rookies on the left side of their offensive line for the second straight game when they play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele, both of whom are dealing with knee injuries, are listed as doubtful on the Ravens' injury report after not practicing Friday. That likely means undrafted rookie tackle James Hurst and rookie fifth-round guard John Urschel will start Sunday.

One starter who won't be playing is defensive end Chris Canty, who has been declared out with an infection in his wrist. DeAngelo Tyson will start his third straight game in place of Canty.

Rookie second-round pick Timmy Jernigan (knee) is probable after missing the past four games.

Injury report

Out: DE Chris Canty (wrist, did not participate Friday), DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle, did not participate Friday).

Doubtful: OT Eugene Monroe (knee, did not participate Friday), G Kelechi Osemele (knee, did not participate Friday).

Probable: LB Daryl Smith (not injury related, full participation Friday), TE Owen Daniels (not injury related, full participation Friday), WR Marlon Brown (pelvis, full participation Friday), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee, full participation Friday), WR Kamar Aiken (concussion, full participation Friday).
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When the Atlanta Falcons play at the Baltimore Ravens, it will mark only the second time that the two most accomplished Class of 2008 quarterbacks go head-to-head.

The Ravens' Joe Flacco has a Super Bowl ring and the most victories of any quarterback (75) since he entered the NFL. The Falcons' Matt Ryan has passed for over 4,000 yards and thrown at least 26 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.

In their only meeting four years ago, Flacco put the Ravens ahead 21-20 with 1:05 remaining in Atlanta, only to watch Ryan throw a winning 33-yard touchdown to Roddy White with 20 seconds left.

Now, it's a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions. The Ravens (4-2) have won four of their last five games, while the Falcons (2-4) have lost three in a row.

ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discuss a few key elements of Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game.

Hensley: With the main storyline being Ryan versus Flacco, let's take a closer look at the quarterbacks. How would you assess Ryan's season? In what areas has he stepped up? And what have been his shortcomings?

McClure: I think Ryan got off to a tremendous start in a season-opening overtime win against New Orleans, when he passed for 448 yards and threw three touchdowns without an interception. Then he set team single-game records for completion percentage (87.5) and passer rating (155.9) in a 56-14 blowout of Tampa Bay in Week 3. He showed mobility a lot of folks had never seen from him before, so most figured he was in for a career season. But the negative has been his play on the road. In three road losses, he has six of his seven interceptions and has yet to post a passer rating above 87.2. Not even Ryan himself can pinpoint his road woes, but he has to overcome them, with the next four games away from the Georgia Dome.

Many folks thought at the start of the season, when Ryan diced up the Saints, he had joined the truly elite quarterbacks. But even Ryan would say a Super Bowl is an important part of the equation. How does Flacco respond to the whole elite topic and has he taken his game to another level?

Hensley: Flacco's stance is every quarterback should think he's the best or he shouldn't be playing in this league. He showed the ability to play at an elite level in 2012, when he led the Ravens on that magical Super Bowl run. The biggest knock on Flacco is his consistency. He followed up an MVP performance by throwing the second-most interceptions in the NFL last season. His play is back on the upswing under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Flacco has produced the top two passer ratings of his career over the last three games. On Sunday, he became the fastest to throw five touchdowns, accomplishing the feat in 16 minutes, 3 seconds. Kubiak's emphasis on higher percentage throws and a quicker release has put Flacco on track for a career season.

Flacco and the Ravens haven't thrown the ball deep as often this season, but the Falcons have given up a lot of big plays in the passing game. Is this where the Falcons are the most vulnerable on defense?

McClure: They are vulnerable on defense everywhere, Jamison, as they yield a league-worst 6.22 yards per play. Yes, big pass plays have hurt the Falcons once again this season. In last week's loss to the Bears, they surrendered five explosive pass plays totaling 192 yards, including a 74-yarder. They gave up a 76-yard touchdown pass in a Week 2 loss at Cincinnati. In talking to defensive coordinator Mike Nolan on Tuesday, he said the blame has to be spread around and not just put on one person who happens to be the last one in coverage on that particular play. The biggest issue has been the Falcons' inability to generate pressure as they stand 28th in the league in sacks per pass play. It's putting even more pressure on an inexperienced secondary with three second-year players starting: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Kemal Ishmael. Jonathan Massaquoi showed some positive signs rushing the passer last week, so maybe he can help the Falcons at least generate a respectable amount of pressure moving forward.

The Falcons' defense is very familiar with one Ravens player, wide receiver Steve Smith, from his days in the NFC South. Has he surpassed expectations since joining the Ravens and to what would you attribute his resurgence? Do you expect him to have some explosive plays against a suspect Falcons' defense?

Hensley: The Ravens had a good feeling they were going to get this type of season out of Smith because they've seen it before. This is a team that watched tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson and wide receiver Anquan Boldin have strong seasons after getting dumped by the teams that originally drafted them. But no one has had a bigger chip on his shoulder than Smith. He plays like he has something to prove with each catch. Where Smith has surpassed expectations is his ability to get deep. The Ravens envisioned Smith to come up big on third downs and clutch situations. But the fact he has caught the three longest touchdown passes of the season from Flacco -- 80, 61 and 56 -- shows he has something left in those legs. If the Falcons don't give safety help on Smith, the Ravens won't hesitate to go deep to him.

Besides Smith and Flacco, the other part of the Ravens' team that's heating up is their pass rush. The Ravens recorded five sacks and 15 quarterback hits last Sunday. What are the chances they get to Ryan consistently on Sunday?

McClure: I think they'll get some pressure on Ryan, but I also think the Falcons know they have to run the ball more and give the offense more balance because the up-tempo attack hasn't been as effective as expected. The Falcons have a running back foursome in Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and rookie Devonta Freeman. Smith is the home-run hitter with a team-high five total touchdowns and an average of 51 yards per scoring play. So, in my opinion, utilizing the four-headed running back tandem will only help alleviate some of the pressure from Ryan, although the Falcons still are at their best when the passing game -- particularly Ryan to Julio Jones -- is firing on all cylinders.

I read somewhere that Terrell Suggs believes he should have a lot more sacks. Now he'll be up against the Falcons team that just surrendered four sacks against the Bears. Not to mention starting left tackle Jake Matthews is battling through an ankle injury and not playing up to his full potential due to the injury. Will Suggs and company take full advantage and get after Ryan?

Hensley: That's going to be the biggest key to the game for the Ravens, because their secondary is struggling so much. When opposing quarterbacks are hit or under duress from the Ravens, they are 18 of 47 (38.3 percent) for 230 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. That passer rating of 27.8 is fifth-best in the NFL. When quarterbacks aren't pressured by the Ravens, they are 124 of 180 (68.9 percent) for 1,393 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. That 102.4 passer rating is 13th-worst in the league. That's why it's so critical for the Ravens to get in Ryan's face. They can't let him have time to pick apart this secondary.

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' defense will see two familiar faces return to the practice field this week.

Cody
Hill
Free safety Will Hill (suspension) and nose tackle Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list) will try to convince the Ravens they're ready to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons after an extended period of being sidelined.

Hill completed his six-game suspension, and the Ravens get a one-week exemption with Hill before having to make a roster move. The Ravens could use Hill, a former starter with the New York Giants, because Matt Elam and Darian Stewart are among the worst-rated coverage safeties in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

After playing in the preseason for the Ravens, Hill couldn't practice during his suspension, but he did attend meetings and work out at team headquarters. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the decision on whether to play Hill on Sunday will come down to where he's at physically.

"He's been in every meeting, so he should be caught up mentally," Harbaugh said. "Being out on the field is a different perspective. We'll just have to see how he looks in practice. You've got to mix it in with how he fits, what our personnel looks like. If he can help us and is the best fit on the 46[-man active roster], then he would be."

Cody, who had hip surgery this offseason, hasn't practiced since last season. The Ravens have a three-week window on whether to add Cody to the 53-man roster or keep him on PUP, which would end his season.

After re-signing with the Ravens in free agency, Cody would provide some experienced depth behind Brandon Williams. Injuries have hit the Ravens' defensive line all season. Two defensive ends -- Brent Urban (anterior cruciate ligament) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) -- are done for the season, and two others -- defensive end Chris Canty (infection in wrist) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) -- have missed games.

The Ravens are eager to see what he can do on the field after an impressive rehab.

"I've seen him do some things in there that we've never seen him do before from an athletic standpoint as far as him being healthy with his hips," Harbaugh said. "He's in great shape. People look at a 335-pound man and say 'How can he be in great shape?' Well, he is. His body fat is down around 20 percent, which is pretty darn good for a big man. He's ready to go. He's chomping at the bit."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens continue to express confidence in Jacoby Jones as a returner even though he has made mistakes fielding punts the past two weeks.

Jones took a big risk returning a punt from his own 2-yard line two games ago against the Carolina Panthers, and he then turned the ball over last Sunday in Indianapolis, where he misread a punt and allowed it to bounce off him.

Jones
But the Ravens aren't planning to make a change at punt returner, according to special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

"We're going to give him more opportunities to do that because we know he's an elite returner," Rosburg said. "But to be an elite returner, you have to have a ball in your hands. We need to get that fixed, and give him an opportunity to run with it."

It's a tough situation for the Ravens because they know that Jones can be a difference-maker. In the previous two seasons (including playoffs), he has five returns for touchdowns over a 32-game stretch for the Ravens.

Now it's a matter of how much the Ravens trust him as a punt returner. He wasn't on the field for another punt return after that turnover in Indianapolis, but Rosburg said he wasn't benched.

When the Ravens are going to field a punt deep in their own territory, they prefer to use cornerback Lardarius Webb as their returner because he has better hands, which comes into play because of all the weird spins that punters use on knuckleball and rugby kicks to pin teams deep. That's why Webb was on the field for the remaining punts.

Through five games, Jones hasn't made much of a positive impact on punt returns. He has had as many returns (six) and fair catches, a sign teams are trying to kick away from him. His 11.2-yard average ranks 10th in the NFL.

Rosburg said he hasn't seen Jones' struggles affect him.

"Jacoby is a guy that's full of spirit," Rosburg said. "I've heard about people talk about his confidence. I haven't seen any difference in his confidence in the meeting room. He's the same Jacoby that we all love. He's practicing hard. We all want to see him catch the ball. We're on his side."

Even though Jones was a Pro Bowl returner in 2012, he's better on kickoffs, where he can build up more acceleration. During his three seasons with the Ravens, he has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a score. His 29.6-yard average on kickoffs since 2012 ranks second in the NFL.

The Ravens re-signed Jones in the offseason to a four-year, $12 million contract that included $4.5 million guaranteed. He hasn't been much of a factor as a receiver, dropping four passes (which is tied for fourth-most in the NFL).

There are not many options for the Ravens at punt returner. Webb isn't at full strength, Asa Jackson is injured, Michael Campanaro is inexperienced and Deonte Thompson is on the practice squad and hasn't fielded a punt in a regular-season game.

The Ravens, though, don't sound like a team that is close to giving up on Jones.

"I've got all the confidence in the world in him," Rosburg said. "I look forward to the next time he's got his hands on the ball. We've got to get him to catch it, and block well and give him an opportunity to do what he does best."
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Flacco
Hurt by the blitz: The most frustrating part of the game for quarterback Joe Flacco was the inability of the Ravens to capitalize on the Colts' consistent blitzes. "When they come after us, there was a spot to go with the ball and we weren't quite able to make those plays," he said. "You got to credit those guys for having the confidence to come after it and cover in the back end and do their thing. We wished we could have hurt them a little bit more because hey did come after us a little bit and you want to take advantage of that."

Mosley impresses: Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley showed why he was a first-round pick by the Ravens. He was all over the field with a team-leading 14 tackles, an interception at the goal line, a quarterback hit that led to Haloti Ngata's interception and a stop on fourth down. "We all have to catch up to him," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We knew he was a phenomenal kid coming in."

Osemele calls injury "minor:" Left guard Kelechi Osemele isn't concerned about his injury even though he had a lot of ice on his right knee. "Yeah, it's not so bad," Osemele said. "Yeah, minor." Osemele was hurt on Flacco's interception early in the third quarter. He initially couldn't put any weight on his right leg, but he was back on the next series.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Terrell Suggs came around the edge last Sunday and had a clear shot on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. By the time he got to Newton, Elvis Dumervil had converged as well.

Suggs
 Does a half sack officially mean Suggs ended his drought?

“Not yet," Suggs said. "I thought I did, but I ended up having to share it [with Dumervil]."

Suggs is searching for his first full sack of the season. In rushing the quarterback 65 times this season, he has three quarterback hits and five hurries, both of which rank in the top 20 for 3-4 outside linebackers.

This is the second time that he's gone the first four games of his season without a full sack and the first since 2007, when he finished with five. Suggs takes solace in the fact that the Ravens are tied for second in fewest points allowed and rank 12th in the NFL in pass defense.

"It’d be one thing if we were getting lit up for 400 yards passing and [if teams were] putting up 40 points on [us]," Suggs said. "Then people would say the lack of pass rush is the reason the Ravens get lit up, but it’s not that. A big part of why we’re 3-1 is because [of] what opposing offenses have to do against our pass rush. I don’t think I’ve broken the ice yet. I’m still going to go to work until I get one.”

Getting a sack will be a challenge on Sunday, when Suggs will line up most of the game against Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo. He hasn't given up a sack this year and is the highest-rated left tackle in pass protection this year by Pro Football Focus.
Jacoby Jones isn't just dropping passes these days. He's dropping down the Baltimore Ravens' depth chart as well.

Jones has been surpassed by Marlon Brown as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, based on the snap counts. It's been a tough start to the season for Jones, who has more drops (four) than catches (three). In fact, he's dropped half of the passes thrown his way, including an easy throw that bounced off his hands Sunday.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Jones catches passes during practice, and he is working hard at improving by catching passes after practice every day.

"Sometimes I think he’s pressing. I really do," Harbaugh said. "Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know -- just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody -- is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering, and you don’t get down on yourself and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”

Jones has never been considered a reliable pass catcher, which is why he's never developed beyond a No. 3 target. But the Ravens aren't going to give up on Jones because he has a history of being a playmaker.

He made two of the biggest and most memorable catches for the Ravens during their Super Bowl championship run a couple of seasons ago. His 70-yard touchdown catch in Denver, also known as the Mile High Miracle, propelled the Ravens' to an AFC divisional playoff win. His 56-yard touchdown grab near the end of the first half was one of the key plays in the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph.

At this point, the Ravens have to go with Brown until Jones breaks out of his funk. Brown played 31 offensive snaps on Sunday, and Jones received only six.

While he doesn't have the same explosiveness as Jones, Brown caught all three passes thrown in his direction on Sunday for 31 yards. Two of Brown's receptions converted third downs.

"[He] did a good job, made a couple plays -- third-down conversions that were very important," Harbaugh said of Brown. "[He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well."

Ravens report card vs. the Panthers

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
12:00
PM ET
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers:

Quarterback: This was Joe Flacco's second career game with over 300 yards passing, three touchdown passes and no interceptions (the other was Week 3 of 2011). He completed 71 percent of his throws as well as posting season highs in average yards per attempt (10.5) and passer rating (137.4). Some will say Flacco was lucky, but he was in a zone, knowing where he wanted to go with each throw especially on third down (10 of 13 conversions). Grade: A-plus.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoRavens running back Justin Forsett averaged 4.7 yards per carry against the Panthers on Sunday.
Running backs: Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett ran hard on every carry and broke a total of four tackles. His 11-yard touchdown run, which he broke through Luke Kuechly's arm tackle, was pure effort. Forsett gained 20 of his 66 yards after contact. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was the closer with 32 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk nearly had a touchdown for the second straight week and had a strong game as a lead blocker. Grade: A.

Wide receivers/tight ends: Steve Smith was the headliner once again with seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Nearly half of his yards came after the catch. Not bad for a 35-year-old receiver. There was a Torrey Smith sighting. He had two catches for 53 yards (including a 24-yard touchdown) and drew two pass interference penalties that totaled 29 yards. Marlon Brown caught all three passes thrown his way for 31 yards. Jacoby Jones dropped his fourth pass of the season. Grade: A-minus.

Offensive line: The Ravens didn't give up a sack for a third straight game, and guard Marshal Yanda allowed the only hit on Flacco. The line was just as impressive in opening holes for a running game that gained 127 yards. Running backs gained 79 of those yards (or 62 percent) before getting touched. Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah were dominant in run blocking. Rookie left tackle James Hurst held up well in his first career start, but he didn't get his blocks and got turned around at times in the run game. He didn't allow a quarterback hurry or hit. Grade: A-minus.

Defensive line: The Panthers weren't at full strength at running back, but it wouldn't have mattered based on the play of Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams up front. Their play was a big reason why the Panthers averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Chris Canty had his best game despite being questionable for the game with a knee injury. He was part of an inspired pass rush, recording a quarterback hurry and knocking down a pass. Grade: B-plus.

Linebackers: Rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was all over the field, stopping the run, playing coverage and rushing the passer. He finished with a season-high 11 tackles and broke up two passes. The Ravens crashed the edges with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, both of whom combined for two sacks. Suggs had two quarterback hits. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee delivered five quarterback hurries with an inside pass rush. Daryl Smith was strong in run support with eight tackles. Grade: B-plus.

Secondary: Jimmy Smith gets an "A" while the starting safeties get a "D." Smith shadowed Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' top receiver, and gave up two catches for 25 yards. He even drew an offensive pass interference penalty. But he didn't get much support. Free safety Darian Stewart didn't provide deep help, which allowed Benjamin to get open for Carolina's only touchdown. He just lacks instincts in pass coverage. Cam Newton did make some excellent throws, but strong safety Matt Elam has to get a better feel on when the ball is coming. He doesn't turn in time. Grade: C.

Special teams: Sam Koch had only one punt, and it should have pinned Carolina at its own 2-yard line. But Albert McClellan's personal foul gave the Panthers some breathing room. Justin Tucker had six touchbacks, although he missed a 57-yard field goal. Jacoby Jones is pressing so much to make a play that he fielded a punt at his own 2-yard line in the first quarter. That's not playing smart. Grade: C-plus.
BALTIMORE -- Whether running back Justin Forsett starts for a third straight week is up to the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff. There's just no argument that the veteran journeyman has done everything he can to keep hold of the job.

Forsett
Forsett totaled 97 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. The impressive part isn't that he's the only Ravens running back to gain at least 70 yards total yards in every game this season. It's how he's gained those yards.

Known more his speed and catching ability, Forsett is showing he can grind out yards inside and break tackles downfield. For the 5-foot-8 Forsett, it's more about determination than size.

"After all the experiences I had in my career, being hurt [and] being on the bottom of the depth chart last year, I didn't know if I was ever going to play the game again," Forsett said. "So every game I go out and play, I play it like it's my last."

It's become a weekly guessing game with the Ravens running backs because there's not much logic to it.

Forsett led the team in rushing in the season opener, and the Ravens started Bernard Pierce in Week 2. Pierce was active for Sunday's game, but Forsett got the start against Carolina.

After the game, coach John Harbaugh said Pierce wasn't at full strength and won't get out on the field until he's 100 percent. Pierce was listed as probable with a thigh injury.

Still, you have to wonder whether the Ravens will stick with Forsett because he's more durable than Pierce and more experienced than Lorenzo Taliaferro. Harbaugh was complimentary of Forsett after the game.

"He's making yards after the hit on his own. That's kind of how you measure a back," Harbaugh said. "I remember reading Woody Hayes' book when I was a kid, and he called it 'a string of pearls.' How many tacklers can you leave in your wake? That kind of is a measurement of a great back. And Justin is playing that way.”

Forsett clearly tops the list of biggest surprises so far. This is his fourth team in four seasons. He had a grand total of six carries for a bad Jaguars team last year.

It's difficult to believe that's the same back who broke arm tackles from linebackers Luke Kuechly (last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year) and A.J. Klein and then bounced off safety Roman Harper for an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"He's very low to the ground," Flacco said. "He should have pretty good balance, and that's kind of what he has. When people hit him, he's very good about keeping his feet underneath of him. I feel like he spins a lot while he's getting contact, guys fall off of him. The touchdown run -- a couple of guys hit him, and he made sure he got in the end zone."

Flacco added, "That's huge. To get the ball into the end zone from the 10-yard line, and not have to go in there and pound it one, two, three times, that's huge for us; that's huge for down the road in the game. He's been able to do that all year so far.”

Whether that means Forsett is the starter for Sunday's game at the Indianapolis Colts remains to be seen.

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh walked past Steve Smith in the training room before the wide receiver took on his former team on Sunday and asked him, "How are you doing? You doing OK?"

"Nope," the mercurial Smith replied.

From Harbaugh's viewpoint, that meant Smith understood the gravity of the situation and he recognized that he needed to get control of his emotions. That businesslike approach, as well as a little luck, proved to be the difference as Smith delivered the critical plays in the Ravens' 38-10 rout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Smith didn't shake hands with his former Panthers teammates before the coin toss. He didn't even use his trademark spinning of the ball after a big catch.

Instead of living up to the promise of "blood and guts" with this reunion, Smith delivered his payback with two big plays and a parting shot in his final answer of his postgame media session.

"I'll give you a one-liner: That film was a coaching session," said Smith, who caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. "They're going to be coaching how, at 35 years old, a man ran around boys like they were schoolyard kids."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said Smith didn't make a big deal about the game throughout the week. Everyone, though, knew how important it was to him.

That's why the Ravens targeted Smith on three of their first five passes. Strangely enough, Smith's most memorable play of the game came on a pass not intended for him.

His 61-yard touchdown in the second quarter first deflected off the right hand of tight end Owen Daniels and fell into Smith's arms at the Carolina 45-yard line. Smith raced past safety Thomas DeCoud, then took a bow in the end zone.

At the start of that play, Smith ran 10 yards out to the left sideline, but he thought Flacco was going to scramble. That called for Smith to run downfield, like he did in the season opener on an 80-yard touchdown. As he took off and Flacco threw the pass, he noticed the nose of the ball was up, so he kept running. The pass then tipped off Daniels and went right to Smith in stride.

"One of the craziest plays you'll see, one of the craziest touchdown passes you'll see," Flacco said. "But I'll take it."

Smith now has 29 career catches of 50 or more yards, the most among active players. This was his second for the Ravens.

In total, Smith's 429 yards receiving are the most by an NFL player over age 35 in the first four games of a season. Harbaugh was hoping Smith would be productive when the Ravens signed him in March. He saw Smith on tape making tacklers miss and covering a lot of ground with that long stride.

"But, the kind of production he's had, it would be pretty hard to predict that," Harbaugh said.

Smith's second touchdown catch involved some good fortune as well. Later in the second quarter, Flacco dropped the snap from center, picked up the ball off the ground and immediately heaved it to the left side of the end zone. Even with a cornerback grabbing his right arm, Smith was able to make the 21-yard catch to put the Ravens up 21-7.

The reason Flacco threw it so quickly was based on his pre-snap read. He saw the Panthers pressing Smith at the line of scrimmage, and Smith was running a go-route. So Flacco had already made up his mind that his best option was throwing Smith's way.

"I knew I was going there with the ball right away, so when I dropped the snap, I tried to pick it up as cleanly as I could and give him a chance -- kind of lucky, but it worked out," Flacco said.

Smith threw his first touchdown pass into the crowd. His second one is being saved. It's going in his son's room.

"I know so many people were saying this over and over: I'd get ejected, I fight, I talk mess," Smith said. "I just went in there and played, not have anything good, bad or indifferent to say. I just played, and at the end of the day, honestly, they didn't deserve anything I had to say that would be derogatory, and I had no need to. It was all business."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The entire Baltimore Ravens organization celebrated O.J. Brigance's 45th birthday after Friday's practice.

Brigance, the Ravens' senior adviser to player development, was told he had five years to live when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. That was seven years ago.

[+] EnlargeO.J. Brigance
AP Photo/Steve RuarkO.J. Brigance, the Ravens' senior adviser of player development, in February 2013. Brigance celebrated his 45th birthday with the team Friday.
Each passing birthday for Brigance has been more than celebrating a day. It's celebrating his fight against the debilitating disease.

Before bringing Brigance into the cafeteria, coach John Harbaugh told the players about how Brigance kicked his team's butt on special teams and called him "the strongest man in the building."

The players and coaches gave Brigance a standing ovation when he arrived in a wheelchair and sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

"Even though he doesn't stand on his two legs, he stands above all of us," Harbaugh told reporters. "We think he's a great leader and we look to him everyday for strength and encouragement. I think he's the heart and soul of what we're about with the Ravens."

Brigance has become an ambassador for the battle against ALS, a progressive and fatal disease that shuts down nerve cells responsible for movement but doesn't impair the brain or any of the senses.

No long-term prognosis on Pitta: Harbaugh was told that tight end Dennis Pitta 's hip surgery was successful but he didn't have many details. When asked about Pitta's long-term future, Harbaugh said. "I have no information on that." Pitta was placed on injured reserve this week after injuring his hip Sunday in Cleveland. It's the same right hip he had surgery on last year.

Guy fits Ravens defense: The Ravens believed defensive end Lawrence Guy would work well in their defense after seeing the physicality he played for the San Diego Chargers on tape. "We got final confirmation from Double J [former linebacker Jarret Johnson, who now plays for the Chargers]," Harbaugh said. "We texted him and he gave us his stamp of approval. He said, 'He's got Ravens-like qualities.' So, that was all we needed to hear at the end." Guy was signed by the Ravens to provide depth at defensive end because Chris Canty has missed practice all week with a knee injury.

No change in Steve Smith: There has been no difference in wide receiver Steve Smith in practice this week compared to his previous ones, according to Harbaugh. Smith is playing the Carolina Panthers on Sunday after spending 13 seasons with that organization. "He's been the same. He's worked hard. He's been in great spirits," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, the game means something to him. It means a lot to him. It would anybody. But he's in a positive state and he's got good feelings about those guys over there. He wants to do well."

Ravens thinking of Bengals' Still: Harbaugh acknowledged the 4-year-old daughter of Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still at the start of his news conference. Still's daughter had a cancerous tumor removed Thursday. "We wanted to wish her all of our prayers and all of our thoughts," Harbaugh said. "We pray for healing from this disease. She's going to make it."

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