AFC North: Haloti Ngata

In what has been a trend for Baltimore Ravens players, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs dropped this year in ESPN's defensive player rankings.

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Ngata plummeted 13 spots, going from No. 9 last year to No. 22 this year. The fall is warranted for Ngata, who is no longer the top interior defensive lineman in the NFL.

He failed to crack 60 tackles in back-to-back seasons, the first time that's happened in his career. His 1.5 sacks last season were his fewest since 2009.

Ngata could have a good rebound season because he's healthy and he's back playing defensive tackle (after a year of playing nose tackle).

Suggs slipped in the rankings, but not as much as Ngata. Suggs tumbled five spots, falling from No. 23 last year to No. 28 this year.

Last season, Suggs looked like the best player in the league for the first two months, making 60 tackles and nine sacks in his first eight games. He just couldn't sustain that dominance and finished with 20 tackles and one sack in the last eight games.

On the rankings so far, eight Ravens players have made the list: Ngata, Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Torrey Smith, Lardarius Webb, Marshal Yanda, Joe Flacco and Steve Smith. All but one -- Yanda -- dropped in the rankings from the previous year.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata wants to maintain his strength throughout the season. He wants double-digit sacks as well.

But Ngata's biggest revelation is how he envisions his career ending.

"I would love to be a Ravens for life," Ngata said after the first day of Ravens' minicamp on Tuesday.

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The Ravens were unable to reach an extension with Ngata this offseason. Ngata, 30, enters this year as the third highest-paid defensive tackle in terms of salary ($8.5 million) and the second biggest cap number for any player at that position ($16 million).

If the five-time Pro Bowl lineman wants to finish up with the Ravens, he'll likely have to agree to an extension next offseason like Terrell Suggs did. The final year of Ngata's contract is 2015, and the Ravens could create $8.5 million in cap room by cutting him next offseason. The Ravens also invested a second-round pick this year in Timmy Jernigan, who may become Ngata's eventual replacement.

"If we can get something done, that'd be great," Ngata said. "We'll just let my agent and Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] take care of that business off the field."

Ngata skipped the three weeks of voluntary workouts and showed up for minicamp looking like he did at the end of last season.

He did seem to feel the effects of the sweltering heat, taking a knee when not on the field. But, of the three starters who were absent all offseason (Terrell Suggs and Chris Canty were the others), Ngata lined up for the most reps Tuesday.

"This year I just tried to lose more body fat and stay around the same weight because toward the end of last season I lost some strength," Ngata said. "But I'm just trying to lose body fat and lean up a little bit more."

One area where Ngata wants to improve is rushing the passer. He recorded 1.5 sacks last season after having at least five sacks in three straight seasons (2010-12).

"I want to get better and better and try to at least get to double-digit sacks," Ngata said. "That’s something that I’ve never done. Hopefully I can continue to get better and get to my goals.”

Ngata has set his sights high because he hasn't been limited this offseason. He dealt with a quadriceps injury in 2012 and he was still recovering from a knee injury sustained in the Super Bowl last year at this time. Ngata said he feels faster this offseason.

"He told me that this morning he's healthier than he has ever been in the offseason," coach John Harbaugh said. "So, he’s probably able to train better than he has in a few years. The expectations are very high for Haloti.”

The Ravens are moving Ngata on the line for a second straight year. Last season, he switched to nose tackle so Arthur Jones and Chris Canty could start alongside him.

With Jones signing with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, Ngata is being moved back to defensive tackle, where he played for most of his first seven seasons in the NFL. Brandon Williams is running with the first team at nose tackle.

Ngata said he has no preference where he plays.

"I’m just happy that I can be versatile and go back and forth," Ngata said. "It doesn’t matter now. I’ve been in different positions throughout my whole career, and it’s just the same for me, I guess.”

It's a big year for Ngata. He's healthy and has high goals for himself. The problem is, he comes with a higher cap hit than Gerald McCoy and Geno Atkins.

If he wants to be a "Raven for life" like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, he'll probably have to prove his worth on the field this year.
The Baltimore Ravens held a voluntary offseason practice Wednesday without six starters, which sets off the annual uproar over the players' commitment to the team.

At this point, the no-shows are no big deal. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive end Chris Canty, guard Marshal Yanda and inside linebacker Daryl Smith all know what they're doing on the field and they know their roles. Even though some of these players -- Suggs, Ngata and Canty -- are coming off disappointing seasons, they're really not going to benefit much from running drills in their shorts.

The criticism becomes legitimate in two weeks if these players report to mandatory minicamp in poor shape. That's when you can make the argument that they should've been training at team headquarters instead of their hometowns. Ngata and Suggs have never been considered workout warriors, so it does bear watching.

Beyond that, it's more drama than substance. Let's rewind to 2012 when the Ravens held offseason workouts without linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, running back Ray Rice (given franchise tag), center Matt Birk, Suggs and Ngata. Reed even skipped the Ravens' mandatory minicamp.

How did that affect the Ravens' season? They won the Super Bowl.

If the Ravens and the rest of the NFL teams had their way, there would be perfect attendance at every practice. The Ravens want first-round pick C.J. Mosley to absorb as much knowledge from Smith as he can, and they want second-round pick Timmy Jernigan to pick up some tips from Ngata.

Instead of bashing the players who aren't here, everyone should be applauding those who are working every day at the Ravens' facility. Despite entering his 14th season, wide receiver Steve Smith is on the field running routes because he's catching passes from a new quarterback in a new offense. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe is here learning the new blocking scheme even though he's been playing since 2009 and just signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal earlier this year. And Joe Flacco has been here for every practice even though some feel he could've put more work in this offseason.

In the big picture, this is a minor story. When you look at an offseason that has included four players being arrested, not having a half-dozen starters at a practice in June is the least of the team's worries.
The Baltimore Ravens were unable to reach an extension with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata despite offering a "lucrative, long-term" deal, according to the NFL Network. The Ravens are looking to reduce Ngata's $16 million cap number, which is the highest on the team and the second-highest for any NFL defensive tackle (only Ndamukong Suh's $22.4 million cap hit is higher).

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Is Ngata a bad teammate for not helping out the Ravens? Does this mean Ngata doesn't want to retire a Raven like Terrell Suggs?

No, on both accounts. There's really no incentive for Ngata to agree to an extension this year. He is going to make $8.5 million in salary this season, and he knows the Ravens are going to have to pay him. The Ravens would only gain $1 million in salary cap space if they cut Ngata and would carry $15 million in dead money on this year's cap. In other words, the Ravens have no leverage and Ngata is making the smart business decision.

Ngata's inflated cap number has become a hot topic since Suggs signed his extension in February. But the contract situations with Ngata and Suggs are different. Suggs was entering the final year of his contract, and the Ravens would've created $7.8 million in cap space if they released him. In this instance, Suggs decided the Ravens' extension offer was better than any deal he would get elsewhere if he became a free agent.

Ngata could face a similar scenario next offseason when he is headed into the final year of his contract. He's scheduled to make $8.5 million again, but this time, the Ravens can free up $8.5 million in cap space if they cut the five-time Pro Bowl lineman. The Ravens now have some power in negotiations. Just like Suggs did this year, Ngata may have to determine whether he can make more as free agent than what the Ravens are offering.

The market may have been set this offseason for Ngata, who turns 31 next season. Based on the deals recently signed by Atlanta's Paul Soliai and Washington's Jason Hatcher -- two interior linemen in their early 30s -- Ngata can expect a deal that averages a little less than $7 million per season and includes around $11 million in guaranteed money if he became a free agent.

So, no one should count on an extension for Ngata this offseason. But no one should jump to conclusions about Ngata's future either. The Ravens and Ngata still have another year before tough decisions have to be made.
Offensive tackle Michael Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans last week, becoming one of a handful of Baltimore Ravens' first-round picks not to remain with the team beyond their rookie deal.

Oher, the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 draft, will be known as a durable yet not dominant offensive tackle during his five seasons with the Ravens.

Let's take a look at where Oher ranks among the Ravens' first-round picks:

1. Ray Lewis, linebacker (1996): He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Few can match Lewis' resume: Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP award.

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AP Photos/David DrapkinMichael Oher has been a durable, if not outstanding, tackle for the Ravens.
2. Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle (1996): How revered is Ogden? He became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001. Ogden went to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 seasons in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed, safety (2002): He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. Reed led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

4. Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): In 2003, Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for rushing for 2,066 yards, falling just 39 yards short of the NFL's all-time single season rushing record. He carried the Ravens' offense in the 2000 Super Bowl run and still ranks as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

5. Terrell Suggs, linebacker (2003): He became the third Ravens player to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2011 by leading the AFC with 14 sacks and topping the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Suggs has recorded 94.5 career sacks, which is 24.5 more than any other Ravens player.

6. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle (2006): A five-time Pro Bowl player, Ngata was considered the NFL's best interior defensive lineman a few years ago.

7. Chris McAlister, cornerback (1999): The Ravens' first shutdown cornerback, McAlister forced quarterbacks to throw away from him for years before a knee injury and off-the-field issues caught up to him.

8. Joe Flacco, quarterback (2008): He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl with a Joe Montana-like run and has produced more wins than any other quarterback since 2008. But Flacco's pedestrian regular-season numbers have stopped him from becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

9. Todd Heap, tight end (2001): Overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the AFC, Heap remains the Ravens' all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches.

10. Peter Boulware, linebacker (1997): The 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Boulware finished with 70 sacks (second all-time for the Ravens), including a team-record 15 sacks in 2001.

11. Duane Starks, cornerback (1998): He struggled mightily at times, but he had three interceptions in the Ravens' 2000 championship run including a 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

12. Ben Grubbs, guard (2007): He started 70 of 74 games for the Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2012, his last season with the team.

13. Michael Oher, offensive tackle (2009): He never missed a start in his five-year career, but he fell short of expectations because of false starts and inconsistent pass protection.

15. Mark Clayton, wide receiver (2005): He never led the team in receiving, and he had nine 100-yard receiving games. His best season was 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns.

16. Kyle Boller, quarterback (2003): A flop as a franchise quarterback, Boller had one 300-yard passing game for the Ravens and seven starts where he threw under 100 yards. His five seasons with the Ravens produced a losing record as a starter (20-22) and just one more touchdown (45) than interceptions (44).

17. Travis Taylor, wide receiver (2000): Yes, Taylor is a bigger bust than Boller. The 10th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Taylor eclipsed 60 catches once and produced a grand total of two 100-yard games. If that doesn't convince you, Taylor didn't score a touchdown in his final 22 games with the Ravens.

Note: Safety Matt Elam was left off the rankings because he's only played one season.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Two seasons later, readers of the Ravens blog want him to take a pay cut.

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According to a SportsNation poll, 41 percent of voters believe Suggs should be the first player to reduce his salary. Suggs is scheduled to make $7.8 million in 2014, the final year of his contract.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata finished second on the poll with 30 percent and running back Ray Rice was third with 20 percent. Trailing far behind them were cornerback Lardarius Webb (7 percent) and guard Marshal Yanda (2 percent).

Here are selected comments from readers:

Chris (Winston-Salem, N.C.): In all honestly, both Suggs and Ngata should be taking pay cuts to pad the salary cap number. Neither of them lived up to their financial number this season. However, I voted for Suggs because Ngata's lackluster numbers could be attributed to attracting more blockers freeing up Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to put pressure on the opposing team's quarterback.

CJ (Sykesville, Md.): My vote would be for Suggs. He is great when he's hot but conditioning proved to be an issue again. Pass rushers fetch a good payday in free agency, but other teams may be hesitant. Given that he's on his last contract year, he may also be more amenable to a re-work than Webb or Rice.

Patrick (Putnam Valley, N.Y.): T-Suggs should take a pay cut! The second half of the season he looked more like T-Sluggs. He was slow and pretty much a non-factor. And he's only getting older.

Jimmy (Baltimore): You would have to ask Webb to take a pay cut. He can't be the highest-paid defensive back on the team and a No. 2 cornerback. Jimmy Smith is way better this year, and Webb at times looked like he had no idea what was going on. Oh did I mention Cleveland game? Yeah, I rest my case.

Marco (Fort Worth, Tex.): As crazy as it sounds, Ngata should be the one to take a pay cut. The star defensive lineman has not been a consistent playmaker for back to back seasons, which could be a sign of concern.

Jason (Kailua Kona, Hawaii): Ray Rice is the problem, not the line. If you watch, Rice will get the ball and juke a little. But when defenders are there, he doesn't try to push through. He just dives down.

Chris (Abington, Md.): Ngata with only 1.5 sacks? C'mon man! The middle of the defense was extremely porous during the last few games. I understand his knee was banged up but he's getting older. He's gotta take a pay cut.
And then there were three. That's the number of Ravens playing in the Pro Bowl this season after defensive tackle Haloti Ngata withdrew from the game.

Ngata declined to go to Hawaii because he and his wife are expecting their third son to be born on Tuesday, according to the team's official website. He's been replaced by the Dallas Cowboys' Jason Hatcher.

This was the fifth straight Pro Bowl for Ngata. The Ravens who are still playing in the Pro Bowl, which will be held Jan. 26, are: kicker Justin Tucker, guard Marshal Yanda and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Here's the rest of your wake-up caw:
  • Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin has reached a deal to become the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator, according to the NFL Network. The Ravens need to find an offensive coordinator as well as make hires to coach the secondary, running backs and perhaps quarterbacks.
  • The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes hiring a new offensive coordinator is just the first step to fixing the Ravens. "Thinking the Ravens can turn this offense around overnight is like believing they would have brought back Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator had he not become the Detroit Lions' head coach," Preston wrote. "Here in Baltimore the Ravens have quarterback Joe Flacco, kicker Justin Tucker and, and, and ...Well, that's about it."
  • When asked about wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Suggs told NFL Network (via Comcast SportsNet): "He's in the NFC Championship, and here I am commentating on it."
  • Tight end Dallas Clark is unsure about retirement. “I don’t know right now,” Clark said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “The body feels great. It’s just got be the right situation. Being the third-down guy, just coming in on third down, that’s tough. I love being a bigger part of the game plan and things like that. It’s just gotta be the right situation, we’ll see what happens.” This really isn't a Ravens story anymore. Clark is an unrestricted free agent in March, and the Ravens are unlikely to re-sign him.

A look at the AFC North

January, 7, 2014
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The lone AFC North team in the playoffs made another early exit Sunday when the No. 3 Bengals lost to the No. 6 Chargers, 27-10, at Paul Brown Stadium. With all four division teams now in offseason mode, here is a quick look at them by order of finish in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5, 3-3 in division

Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

Biggest question: Have coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton taken the Bengals as far as they can?

Biggest reason for hope: Despite losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Bengals have a very good nucleus. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed enough to think his time splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over.

Why they might disappoint: Dalton has faltered too many times in big games to think he can take the next step, and just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Cincinnati.

Overall state of the franchise: The Bengals find themselves at a crossroads, but they have little choice but to stick with Dalton -- for now -- unless they want to draft a quarterback in the first round and hand over a veteran team to him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8, 4-2

Key free agents: OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Biggest question: Will the Steelers re-establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders while re-tooling their defense?

Biggest reason for hope: The offense will be able to mask some of the issues the Steelers have on defense if it builds on its strong second half of the 2013 season.

Why they might disappoint: The defense could get worse before it gets better if younger players don’t emerge in the secondary and Worilds signs elsewhere.

Overall state of the franchise: The Steelers are facing a lot of uncertainty, but a 6-2 finish and the way the offense has come together point to them returning to postseason play in 2014 after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8, 3-3

Key free agents: TE Dennis Pitta, LB Daryl Smith

Biggest question: Did the Ravens suffer through the dreaded Super Bowl hangover or are they in decline?

Biggest reason for hope: Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback, and there is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Why they might disappoint: The Ravens, like the Steelers, are clearly in transition on defense. Two cornerstones of that defense -- outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- no longer dominate on a consistent basis.

Overall state of the franchise: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are as good as any general manager-coach tandem in the NFL, and they have to be given the benefit of the doubt even though the Ravens slipped this season.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12, 2-4

Key free agents: C Alex Mack, S T.J. Ward

Biggest question: Will a new coach and a quarterback finally stabilize an organization that has floundered, often spectacularly, since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999?

Biggest reason for hope: There are some pieces in place, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Joe Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns have a pair of first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection.

Why they may disappoint: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are the quarterbacks the Browns have drafted in the first round since 1999. Why should Browns fans think they will get it right in this draft?

Overall state of the franchise: The Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, and unless they find the right replacement and, oh yeah, a quarterback in the draft, the Browns will continue to bottom feed in the AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens surprisingly sent four players to the Pro Bowl in a season that has not lived up to their expectations. Kicker Justin Tucker made his first Pro Bowl, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and guard Marshal Yanda are repeat selections.

This is the seventh season that the Ravens had at least four Pro Bowl players. This year, a Ravens team that is fighting to make the playoffs has twice as many Pro Bowl players as the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and one fewer than the last-place Cleveland Browns.

Tucker was the Ravens' most-deserving Pro Bowl selection and was really the only lock from the defending Super Bowl champions to make the all-star event. In his second NFL season, he leads the league with 35 field goals and had the longest streak in the league this season with 33 straight field goals. Tucker has hit three game-winning field goals this season, including a 61-yarder in Detroit earlier this month.

He is the third Ravens kicker to make the Pro Bowl, following Matt Stover (2000) and Billy Cundiff (2010).

"What an incredible honor it is to be recognized like this by the players, coaches and fans of the NFL,” Tucker said. "I will forever be thankful to the Ravens for giving me a chance to come in and compete for a job after going undrafted last year."

The other three Ravens Pro Bowl players made it more on reputation. Suggs (six Pro Bowls), Ngata (five) and Yanda (three) have combined for 14 Pro Bowl invitations.

Suggs is tied for 14th in the NFL with 10 sacks, but he went six consecutive games without one and had five games with two or fewer tackles. Ngata ranks second among Ravens linemen in tackles and has only 1.5 sacks (his fewest since 2009), although he has come on strong at the end of the season. And Yanda hasn't been at the top of his game because he was coming off offseason shoulder surgery.

Fullback Vonta Leach, whose role has significantly been reduced this year to a handful of plays a game, was voted as a first-team alternate.

The only snubs for the Ravens were ones who don't have the same stature as the players who made it: inside linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive lineman Arthur Jones and cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Daryl Smith is the only NFL player with over 115 tackles, four sacks, 10 passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Jones leads the Ravens' defensive linemen in tackles and sacks. And Jimmy Smith is the second-best cornerback in the AFC North behind the Cleveland Browns' Joe Haden.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens knew Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings was a must-win in terms of their playoff hopes. They just didn't know they would have to win it three times in the final 2 minutes, 5 seconds of the game.

The Ravens took late-fourth-quarter leads on touchdowns from tight end Dennis Pitta and kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, but it wasn't until Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds remaining that Baltimore could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

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AP Photo/Gail BurtonJacoby Jones returned a kickoff for one of five touchdowns in the final 2:05 of Sunday's game.
By the time the dust cleared -- actually, it was a few inches of snow at M&T Bank Stadium that needed to be cleared-- the Ravens had won 29-26 and held onto the No. 6 and final seed in the AFC by coming out on top in a fourth quarter that featured 42 points and six lead changes.

"Will we ever see another game like that again?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh asked after the game.

It's going to be hard to top a finish that included five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds:

  • With 2:05 remaining, the Ravens went ahead 15-12 on a 1-yard pass from Flacco to Pitta (in his first game back since dislocating his hip) on fourth-and-goal.

  • After the Vikings took the lead back on a 41-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart, Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards down the Ravens' sideline (Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was not here to interfere this time) to put Baltimore up 22-19.

  • Minnesota rebounded with a spectacular 79-yard catch-and-run by Cordarrelle Patterson to jump back ahead, but Flacco marched the Ravens 80 yards on five plays in the final 45 seconds of the game. His 9-yard pass to a leaping Brown sealed a victory that had often proved elusive.

"I don't know if there has ever been a crazier minute-and-40-some seconds ever," Flacco said.

The day began with both teams struggling to move the ball because players had trouble with footing on a snowy field. The conditions got so bad that a plow got stuck at the 20-yard line because too much snow had accumulated.

"This was just a really crazy game under really crazy conditions," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.

The Ravens (7-6) needed this win if they were to have any hope of winning the AFC North or capturing a wild-card berth because the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) and Miami Dolphins (7-6) had both won. That just heightened the drama of what became a one-of-a-kind, back-and-forth finish for the Ravens.

"You couldn't even really get emotional," said Jones, who scored his first touchdown off a return since the Super Bowl. "It was too confusing."

The Ravens have had memorable finishes in 2013. There was the Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver and the late fourth-down stand in the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I've never seen a game like that before," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Besides the Super Bowl, that's probably the most special win I've ever been a part of."

While the finish was scintillating, the final score shouldn't come as a surprise. This was the Ravens' eighth game decided by three or fewer points this season, and the Ravens have now won four of them.

"That was like playing 'Madden,'" wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "If you have a heart condition, you can't watch the Ravens."
BALTIMORE -- Running back Ray Rice described the Baltimore Ravens' 19-3 win over the New York Jets as a "very good team win." Not exactly.

The Ravens remained in the thick of the AFC's playoff picture (or is it the race of mediocrity?) because of their defense. With all due respect to Joe Flacco's two long passes and Justin Tucker's four field goals, the most dominant group on the field was a Ravens defense that was on a mission.

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AP Photo/Nick WassCorey Graham intercepted two passes and the Ravens allowed a season-low 220 yards.
All week, the Ravens heard about how the Jets had a fearsome front seven, the NFL's best run-stoppers and a top-10 defense. By the end of the day, the defense everyone was talking about belonged to the Ravens.

Baltimore allowed a season-low 220 yards and gave up three points, its fewest in four years. The Ravens forced three turnovers and held New York scoreless for the final 51 minutes, 52 seconds.

"We always want to be the best defense on the field," said cornerback Corey Graham, who tied a career high with two interceptions. "We knew they've got a pretty good front seven, and they play good ball. But when it came down to it, we wanted to be a dominant defense, and that's what we were able to do today."

The Ravens' defense has been the most consistent part of the team. This was the seventh time this season that the defense allowed one or no touchdowns in a game.

The problem has been finishing off teams. Two weeks ago, it was a Hail Mary pass by the Cincinnati Bengals. Last Sunday, it was a 43-yard completion to tight end Martellus Bennett that set up the Chicago Bears' winning field goal in overtime.

On Sunday, when the Jets drove into Ravens' territory in the fourth quarter, it was a different story. Graham picked off rookie quarterback Geno Smith in the end zone to squash the Jets' last true scoring opportunity.

"That was a point of emphasis by our coaches, that we need to find a way to finish, not just drives but games," Graham said. "They made some plays, but when it came down to it, we made the bigger plays."

Where the Ravens made their stand throughout the game was on third down: Baltimore stopped the Jets from converting on 11 of 12 chances. This is what the Ravens did on third down: Haloti Ngata stuffed running back Chris Ivory for no gain when he needed 1 yard, Graham picked off his first pass, Chris Canty batted down a pass and Pernell McPhee recorded his second sack of the season. In total, Smith was 0-for-6 on third down.

"That's just a great accomplishment," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We blitzed a little bit, but I think it was four-man pressure, and that's usually the result of good coverage, too. Our guys did a good job of taking away the first read or two [and] gave our guys a chance to get there."

Some may downgrade the Ravens because this effort came against a struggling rookie quarterback. But the Ravens have had their troubles with less-than-established quarterbacks this month (Jason Campbell and Josh McCown).

For the Ravens, it wasn't about playing Geno Smith. It was about reuniting with Jets coach Rex Ryan, who was the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008. In the Ravens' three games against Ryan, their defense hasn't allowed a touchdown. It's not a coincidence.

"There's always a little something added when we're playing Rex," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "[Ravens defensive coordinator] Dean Pees called a great game and put us in the beset opportunities to make plays as a defense. We’re proud of the fact that we didn’t give up a touchdown."

Haloti Ngata active for the Ravens

November, 24, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is active for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

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Ngata, who returned to practice Friday and was officially listed as questionable, injured his right knee on Nov. 10 and missed last Sunday's game at Chicago. He hasn't missed back-to-back games since November 2009.

The Ravens' other two players who were listed as questionable -- linebacker Daryl Smith (thigh) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (abs) -- are also playing.

The only surprise inactive is wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who had played in seven straight games. He only had one catch in his past two games.

The Ravens' official inactive list is: CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, RB Bernard Scott, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, LB John Simon, DT Brandon Williams.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is one of three starters on the Baltimore Ravens' defense listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

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Ngata returned to practice Friday after sitting out the past two days with a knee injury. This is an encouraging sign for Ngata, who walked off the practice field without a limp. He hasn't missed back-to-back games since November 2009.

The other Ravens listed as questionable are: linebacker Daryl Smith (thigh) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (abs). They were limited in Friday's practice.

Ngata, Smith and Webb should all be available Sunday.

Here is the Ravens' official injury report:

QUESTIONABLE: DT Haloti Ngata (knee), LB Daryl Smith (thigh) and CB Lardarius Webb (abs).

PROBABLE: WR Marlon Brown (knee) and WR Brandon Stokley (groin).
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta hasn't been ruled out for Sunday's game against the New York Jets after he practiced all week.

Pitta returned to the field for the first time since dislocating his hip in late July. He remains on the injured reserve designated for return list.

Pitta
Asked if Pitta could be activated for Sunday's game, coach John Harbaugh said, "There's always a chance. I don't want to say 'no' and then he plays, and I don't want to say 'yes' and he doesn't play. There's always a possibility of (him playing)."

The Ravens would have to activate Pitta by 4 p.m. Saturday and announce a move to make room for him on the 53-man roster.

"We're going to see how I feel (Saturday) and we'll see how it feels (Sunday)," Pitta said, "and we'll go from there."

Pitta was the second-leading receiver on last season's Super Bowl team, catching 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. With Pitta out, Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson have combined for 39 catches and three touchdowns in 10 games.

Pitta sounded more optimistic Friday than he did when he spoke to reporters before his first practice Wednesday.

"I feel great. I feel really good," Pitta said. "It's amazing how it can come back. I'm feeling strong and running well. Everything's been positive."

Here is the other injury news:
  • Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata practiced for the first time in two weeks. He missed last Sunday's game with a knee injury. "We'll just have to see how he comes out of that right now," Harbaugh said. "It'll be interesting to see how he fared and how it feels (Saturday)." Ngata declined comment in the locker room Friday.
  • Left guard Kelechi Osemele had "successful" back surgery Monday, according to Harbaugh. Osemele is already walking and has visited Ravens headquarters. "He was in a little bit of pain," Harbaugh said. The projected recovery is three to four months.

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