AFC North: Samari Rolle

AFC North evening update

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
6:47
PM ET
Here are the latest developments Friday in the AFC North:
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
AP Photo/Rob Carr
The Ravens gave Domonique Foxworth an expensive contract this offseason, but haven't seen the expected return on their investment.

The acquisition of Domonique Foxworth seemed logical for the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason.

Baltimore was coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, and by season’s end the team had depth issues at cornerback. The Ravens cut former Pro Bowler Chris McAlister and former starter Samari Rolle’s health was in question. Rolle is currently on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) with a neck injury.

So the Ravens spotted their target and landed Foxworth by giving him a four-year, $28 million contract. The $7 million per year average was a little surprising considering Foxworth was a backup in more than half of his career games. But considering Baltimore’s need and the thin market, the Ravens did what was necessary.

The Ravens added another speedy corner to pair with starter Fabian Washington, while in turn Foxworth, a University of Maryland alum, returned to Baltimore, where he went to high school. The match made sense on many levels.

But so far the transition has been rocky. Foxworth, 26, hasn’t developed into the No. 1 cornerback the Ravens were hoping for. He has only 13 tackles and one interception through six games. As a result, Baltimore’s pass defense is struggling. The Ravens (3-3) are ranked No. 22 in the NFL against the pass and it’s a major reason why they’ve lost three straight.

Granted, Foxworth isn’t the only reason Baltimore’s defense hasn’t lived up to expectations. But improved performance from the team’s top cornerback could go a long way toward helping the Ravens play more consistent after their bye week.

Could Rolle help the Ravens?

October, 13, 2009
10/13/09
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


It is no secret that the Baltimore Ravens have struggled mightily against the pass this season.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Samari Rolle could help the Ravens if he's healthy enough when he comes off the PUP list.

But there’s a player on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) who might be able to help the secondary in Samari Rolle.

The veteran cornerback has been solid for the Ravens when healthy, and was a key cog during Baltimore’s run to the AFC title game last season. But Rolle has been dealing with a serious neck injury that required surgery, and it’s unknown whether he will be able to return once he becomes eligible to come off the PUP list following Baltimore’s bye week.

"I saw him in the building [Monday], and that will be a report from the doctors we’re looking forward to [getting]," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Rolle. "We’ll see how he’s doing."

The Ravens are ranked No. 26 against the pass as cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington have struggled. Teams also are having success against Baltimore’s sub packages on third down against backups such as Frank Walker and Chris Carr.

It's a big question mark at this point. But if Rolle is healthy, he could be productive at least in nickel and dime situations. Every little bit would help the Ravens.

In other Ravens news, the team signed veteran receiver David Tyree Tuesday. Tyree was most recently a Super Bowl hero for his big catch with the New York Giants.

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Baltimore Ravens

  • Veteran cornerback Samari Rolle signed a four-year deal with the Ravens nearly three weeks after he was released by the team, reports Baltimore Sun.
  • Murray takes a look back at quarterback Kyle Boller's star-crossed tenure with the team.
Cincinnati Bengals
  • Tight end Ben Utecht recently visited six different Cincinnati public schools to promote GEARUP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness in Undergraduate Programs) to fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders across the city, according to the team's Web site.
Cleveland Browns
  • Jay Cutler's agent, Bus Cook, denied a Chicago Sun-Times report that Cutler wouldn't want to play for Browns coach Eric Mangini, writes The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC North evening links

March, 19, 2009
3/19/09
5:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cleveland Browns are making national headlines Thursday for mostly the wrong reasons.

Here is an evening update on today's developments in the AFC North:

  • Several reports state Cleveland receiver Donte' Stallworth was legally drunk during his fatal auto accident. But Miami police have yet to confirm the reports.
  • Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator and current New York Jets coach Rex Ryan continues to look at his former players. The Jets are expected to meet with cornerback Samari Rolle, who was released by the Ravens this week.
  • Former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Glenn Holt signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

AFC North offseason report card

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
12:30
PM ET
 
  Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images; Andy Lyons and Tom Hauck/Getty Images
  The AFC North has lost some star power, with Bart Scott and T.J. Houshmandzadeh departing through free agency and Kellen Winslow Jr. sent off in a trade.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

With the busiest portion of free agency coming to an end, it is officially time to evaluate the decisions made by all four AFC North teams.

The range of activity in free agency varied this year. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens were extremely active in signing and losing players, while the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers only visited with a couple of players without reaching deals.

Let's examine the moves.

Baltimore Ravens

Grade: B

Key pickups: CB Domonique Foxworth, C Matt Birk, TE L.J. Smith, CB/KR Chris Carr

Key losses: LB Bart Scott, C Jason Brown, S Jim Leonhard, CB Chris McAlister (released), Samari Rolle (released)

Analysis: Going into free agency, I thought the Ravens were doomed for failure with the amount of big names set to hit the open market. Baltimore certainly lost some of those players, but a creative and cost-effective plan allowed general manager Ozzie Newsome to soften the blow. The Ravens lost three key starters in linebacker Bart Scott, center Jason Brown and safety Jim Leonhard. They also released starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. But Baltimore quickly added talent in free-agent cornerback Domonique Foxworth, veteran center Matt Birk, tight end L.J. Smith and return specialist Chris Carr. Keeping Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs were vital. And if the Ravens put together another solid draft class, which is Newsome's forte, Baltimore should be fine in 2009. This good grade is given to the Ravens for their resiliency in coming up with a plan to stay in contention despite losing a wealth of talented players.

Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: C+

Key pickups: WR Laveranues Coles, QB J.T. O'Sullivan, P Ryan Plackemeier

Key losses: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, DL John Thornton (still unsigned), OT Stacy Andrews, C Eric Ghiaciuc (still unsigned)

Analysis: No one was surprised when former Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh left Cincinnati for the Seattle Seahawks. But it was surprising when the Bengals paid former New York Jet Laveranues Coles $28 million over four years-- including a whopping $9.75 million in his first year -- to replace Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh had 90-plus receptions the past two seasons, while Coles is more of a 60- to 70-catch receiver. Someone will have to make up that missing production whether it is a bounce-back year from Chad Ocho Cinco or a career year from one of the young receivers -- Chris Henry, Andre Caldwell or Jerome Simpson -- in the No. 3 role. Keeping tailback Cedric Benson was important, but the team still needs a big-play threat at that position. J.T. O'Sullivan was a decent pickup to back up quarterback Carson Palmer. With Palmer's return, a stellar draft could put Cincinnati in position to surprise next season.

Cleveland Browns

Grade: D+

Key pickups: LB Eric Barton, LB David Bowens, TE Robert Royal, DL C.J. Mosley, OL John St. Clair

Key losses: S Sean Jones, TE Kellen Winslow Jr. (trade), WR Joe Jurevicius (released), OT Kevin Shaffer (released), LB Andra Davis, LB Willie McGinest, RB Jason Wright

Analysis: The Browns are cleaning house, and they probably are not done yet. New coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis are turning over the roster quickly through every avenue possible. The Browns have not retained most of their in-house free agents such as safety Sean Jones and linebackers Andra Davis
and Willie McGinest. They also cut offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer and receiver Joe Jurevicius and traded former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to Tampa Bay for a pair of draft picks. The replacements have not been overwhelming. Former Jets linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens are both stop-gap players who are 30-plus. Royal is not nearly as dynamic a tight end as Winslow, and Cleveland still has a lot of holes left to fill in the draft. The Browns are clearly starting from scratch, which is why they are attempting to stockpile draft picks. Coming off a 4-12 season, Cleveland appears to be headed for another transition year in 2009.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Grade: C-

Key pickups: None

Key losses: CB Bryant McFadden, OT Marvel Smith, QB Byron Leftwich (still unsigned), WR Nate Washington

Analysis: Pittsburgh hasn't signed anyone outside of its building. Instead, the team placed its focus on keeping together last year's championship team. The Steelers retained three starters from their offensive line in guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackles Willie Colon and Max Starks and brought back a host of backups and special-teams players. They are staying true to their identity of not being major players in free agency. But it would have been beneficial to add at least one or two offensive linemen from the outside to compete and provide depth. That probably won't happen until next month's NFL draft. Starting cornerback Bryant McFadden bolting to the Arizona Cardinals could be softened if William Gay continues to develop in 2009. The Steelers are banking on it. Pittsburgh also brought in a few intriguing free agents, such as receiver Joey Galloway and cornerback/return specialist Chris Carr, for visits. But its reluctance to pay much on the open market this offseason forced those two players to sign with other teams.

Morning take: Browns O-line news

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
8:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

  • The Cleveland Browns continue to try to retool the offensive line, setting up a visit with free-agent tackle John St. Clair.

Morning take: After releasing former starter Kevin Shaffer over the weekend, the right tackle spot is up for competition. Drafting a right tackle in the top five is risky, making St. Clair an option.

Morning take: This move has been widely expected for weeks here and in other media circles. The $4.1 million Baltimore saves provides room for draft picks and likely a big extension for Terrell Suggs.

  • Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones' new show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe," premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel.

Morning take: Jones always had a lot of personality, and football fans should get to see it in this show. England, Thailand and Singapore are some of the places Jones is expected to visit.

  • From last weekend, former Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Khalif Barnes signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.

Morning take: Things have been quiet on the Steelers' front since losing Barnes, receiver Joey Galloway and cornerback/returner Chris Carr to other teams. Barnes was one of the last quality offensive line prospects in free agency. It looks like the Steelers won't add depth there until next month's draft.

Meet the replacements

March, 11, 2009
3/11/09
2:00
PM ET
 
  Getty Images
  Laveranues Coles, Domonique Foxworth and Matt Birk headline this year's free-agent additions in the AFC North.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

NFL free agency was created to improve the competitive balance and shake up rosters on an annual basis. This year is no different.

The AFC North lost a wealth of talent over the past two weeks, as teams outbid and traded for players such as Bart Scott, Jason Brown, Kellen Winslow Jr., T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Bryant McFadden.

Therefore, meet the replacements -- AFC North style. There are no Shane Falcos in this group, although Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco developed that "The Replacements"-inspired nickname with his team last year.

Nonetheless, these players filling in will have a major impact on the success of their respective AFC North teams next season.

  Gay

William Gay, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Replacing: Bryant McFadden

Reason for hope: Gay began to earn a decent amount of playing time during the second half of the Steelers' season, and there was no significant drop-off in production. He impressed the coaching staff so much that even when McFadden returned from a broken arm, the team still didn't want to keep Gay off the field. Now he gets to play full time.

Reason for concern: Sometimes the hardest adjustment for a cornerback is jumping from being a situational player to a full-time starter. Gay will no longer defend a team's No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. If he proves not to be ready for that jump, Pittsburgh will hope to get one more year out of aging veteran and longtime starter Deshea Townsend. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers replace McFadden, now with the Cardinals.

  Foxworth

Domonique Foxworth, CB, Baltimore Ravens

Replacing: Chris McAlister/Samari Rolle

Reason for hope: Combined with teammate Fabian Washington, Foxworth gives the Ravens one of the fastest cornerback tandems in the NFL. The Ravens run a lot of blitz packages from their 3-4 defense and need to make sure nothing gets behind them in case the call doesn't lead to a sack. Usually, safety Ed Reed will play deep centerfield to protect against the big play. But with two speedy corners, the coaching staff can move Reed around more next year and allow him even more flexibility, which is scary.

Reason for concern: Until last season in Atlanta, Foxworth had the label of "career backup." Sure, he was backing up two good corners in Champ Bailey and Dre Bly in Denver. But it is somewhat of a risk to pay a player $27 million after one season of starting with the Atlanta Falcons. Foxworth will have to answer those critics who will question his inexperience. Someone will have to step up since the Ravens waived McAlister and Rolle might see the same fate or be used as a nickelback.

  Birk

Matt Birk, C, Baltimore Ravens

Replacing: Jason Brown

Reason for hope: The Ravens lost up-and-coming center Brown -- a free agent who signed with the Rams -- but signed a six-time Pro Bowler in Birk. He has been one of the best centers in the NFL for the past decade and will bring stability and more veteran leadership to the offensive line that already has tackle Willie Anderson. Birk also will help bring along a young signal-caller in second-year quarterback Flacco.

Reason for concern: In signing Birk, the team gained experience but also got six years older at the position. Birk will be 33 at the beginning of the 2009 season and has some wear and tear on his body after playing in the trenches for 12 seasons. He has started all 16 games the past three seasons. The Ravens are hoping that clean bill of heath continues for Birk in 2009.

 Gooden
 McClain

Tavares Gooden or Jameel McClain, ILBs, Baltimore Ravens

Replacing: Bart Scott

Reason for hope: The Ravens have two potential replacements for Scott, now with the Jets. Therefore, they have twice as good a chance to find a suitable replacement in time for next season. Gooden was a third-round pick in 2008 from the University of Miami and a player who impressed fellow Hurricane Ray Lewis. The veteran Lewis has tutored many linebackers before, including Scott, and will have to teach another young player the position. McClain was an undrafted surprise from the University of Syracuse and registered 2.5 sacks in limited playing time. Sometimes he is compared to Scott in Baltimore because both players were undrafted.

Reason for concern: Scott is as physical a linebacker as there is in the NFL. He did a lot of the dirty work, such as blowing up fullbacks and offensive linemen at the point of attack to allow teammates like Lewis and Terrell Suggs to clean up and make plays. Both Gooden and McClain have ability. But it remains to be seen if either can bring that same type of physicality in what is essentially a "bodyguard” role for Lewis, Suggs, Reed and others.

  Coles

Laveranues Coles, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Replacing: T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Reason for hope: Coles is a savvy veteran receiver who has meshed well with a lot of different quarterbacks. Last year, he developed good on-field chemistry with Brett Favre and should have no problems playing with Carson Palmer, who remains one of the league's best quarterbacks when healthy. Coles should fit in seamlessly.

Reason for concern: Coles is no longer a game-breaking receiver. He will be asked to replace current Seahawk Houshmandzadeh's tremendous production, but Coles is not the type of player who will record 90 to 100 receptions per season. Therefore, a combination of players will have to make up for those numbers, whether it is Chad Ocho Cinco having a monster year or Coles combining with one of the younger receivers to equal Houshmandzadeh's output.

  Royal

Robert Royal, TE, Cleveland Browns

Replacing: Kellen Winslow Jr.

Reason for hope: First-year Browns coach Eric Mangini is familiar with Royal after battling the former AFC East division rival Buffalo Bills during Mangini's days with the New York Jets. The signing is out of respect for Royal's ability and hopes that he can bring some stability to the position. There is also depth with teammates Steve Heiden and Martin Rucker.

Reason for concern: Current Buccaneer Winslow is a unique talent and a top-five player at his position when healthy. Browns fans have become accustomed to tremendous production from that position over the years with Ozzie Newsome in the 1980s and Winslow most recently, but Royal is simply not that caliber of player.

  Bowens

David Bowens, OLB/ILB, Cleveland Browns

Replacing: Andra Davis or Willie McGinest

Reason for hope: Bowens, who just signed Wednesday night, has the versatility to play inside or outside in a 3-4 defense. Mangini had Bowens for two seasons as coach of the New York Jets. Bowens will be able to start right away and help the younger players quickly adapt to the new scheme. With 32.5 career sacks, he should also bring a much-needed pass rush to Cleveland.

Reason for concern: Bowens was mostly a career backup who is now being asked to be a full-time starter in Cleveland. At 31, he is a stopgap player who will be able to teach the young players the position for a few seasons. Bowens never has had more than 41 tackles in a season. Bowens is talented enough to do his part, but he is not the difference-maker defensively that the Browns have long searched for. McGinest is not on the Browns' roster and Davis signed with the Broncos.

Inside the AFC North

March, 6, 2009
3/06/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here is this week's look inside the AFC North division:

     
      AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey
      Why didn't the Bengals franchise T.J. Houshmandzadeh to trade for draft picks?
  • The Cincinnati Bengals made yet another front office flub in letting receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh walk for nothing this week. The Bengals could have easily slapped the franchise tag on "Housh” in an effort to work out a trade for draft picks. Instead, Cincinnati used its tag on kicker Shayne Graham. (I'm still scratching my head on that one.) As a result, Houshmandzadeh signed with the Seattle Seahawks and left the Bengals empty-handed. Other teams like the New England Patriots (Matt Cassel) and likely the Carolina Panthers (Julius Peppers) are using franchise tags to work out trades. Why can't the Bengals?
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are taking a risk in letting No. 3 receiver Nate Washington flee to the Tennessee Titans. It's obvious that the Steelers were not going to pay their third receiver $27 million over six years. But in terms of on-field production, Pittsburgh runs a lot of three-receiver sets. So much so that you can almost count the third receiver as a starter in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' scheme. Therefore it's a must that second-year receiver Limas Sweed is ready to step up for the defending Super Bowl champions. With few opportunities, Sweed didn't get to show much and had trouble catching the football. But the coaching staff is showing a lot of confidence in letting him take another big step forward in 2009.
  • Veteran cornerback Samari Rolle is looking more and more like the next salary-cap casualty for the Baltimore Ravens. There is a lot of writing being put on the wall by the Ravens, including the fact they went after cornerback Domonique Foxworth and signed him to a $27.2 million contract on the first day of free agency. With Foxworth and Fabian Washington likely the starters, Rolle would be an expensive nickelback to keep. Releasing Rolle, 32, would reportedly save a little more than $4 million off Baltimore's salary cap.
  • The Cleveland Browns' offseason program begins in less than two weeks (March 16), and it will be interesting to see who shows up. It's apparent that new head coach Eric Mangini means business. So although these workouts are "optional," it's in the players' best interest to show up to avoid being put in Mangini's doghouse right off the bat. Will star players like defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and receiver Braylon Edwards cooperate?

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

  • Free agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh will take a little more time before making a decision. His options include the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks or returning to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Morning take: The fact that Houshmandzadeh remains in Minneapolis could be a clue of where he's leaning. Of the three teams, that appears to be the most logical choice if "Housh" wants to join a playoff contender.

(Update: There have been some conflicting reports and it turns out Houshmandzadeh did leave Minnesota Sunday night.)

  • Following the signing of cornerback Domonique Foxworth, veteran Samari Rolle wants to be released from the Baltimore Ravens.

Morning take: Rolle, 32, sees the writing on the wall as Baltimore is getting younger in the secondary. The Ravens also would save more than $4 million off their cap, making his release likely.

Morning take: The Browns were rumored to be interested in talking with Goodman. Several days into free agency, Cleveland only traded one player (Kellen Winslow) for draft picks.

Morning take: This sounds like a good match for Washington, who would bring a needed deep threat to Nashville. Let's see if Tennessee will eventually close this deal.

Ravens-Steelers injury report

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
4:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- After days of questions, interviews and missed practices, here are the final injury reports for the Baltimore Ravens (13-5) and Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) leading up to Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

The biggest injury involves Baltimore cornerback Samari Rolle, who likely won't play with a thigh injury. Linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs also is questionable with a bad shoulder.

Overall, the Steelers are very healthy entering this game.

Baltimore Ravens

Out: LB Antwan Barnes (shoulder)

Doubtful: CB Samari Rolle (thigh)

Questionable: LB Terrell Suggs (shoulder), WR Derrick Mason (shoulder), DL Justin Bannan (foot), WR Mark Clayton (thigh), TE Todd Heap (back), LB Jarret Johnson (calf), RB Le'Ron McClain (ankle)

Probable: LB Ray Lewis (shoulder), S Ed Reed (knee), FB Lorenzo Neal (shoulder)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Probable: S Troy Polamalu (calf), C Justin Hartwig (knee)

AFC title pick (sort of)

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

I had an epiphany several days ago while trying to get a room key at the front desk of my hotel in Pittsburgh.

"So who are you picking this week?" the hotel worker asked.

I immediately thought to myself that it's going to be a long week -- and it was.

Despite being asked time and time again, there will be no predictions on the AFC Championship Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) and Baltimore Ravens (13-5).

But to provide the type of analysis people are asking for, here are three reasons why each team can win Sunday's conference title game and advance to Super Bowl XLIII:

Reasons for the Ravens

 
  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
  In six career games against the Ravens, Willie Parker has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

1. Ravens are road warriors

The Ravens have taken the stance that they will play football anytime and anywhere. That has proved to be true. Baltimore has won seven of its last eight road games and most recently went into hostile environments in Miami and Tennessee to pull out playoff victories. Sunday's game against Pittsburgh will be the third straight division champion Baltimore has faced this postseason. Leaguewide, home-field advantage hasn't meant much in the playoffs. In fact, road teams are an impressive 5-3. Last weekend road teams were 3-1 in the divisional round, possibly setting up another wacky weekend in the two conference title games.

2. Baltimore has Willie Parker's number

If history is any indication, the Steelers will not run the ball effectively against the Ravens. Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker has done very little in six career games against the Ravens. Parker, who is coming off a season-high 146 rushing yards against the San Diego Chargers, averages just 2.8 yards per carry and has a career-high of 63 yards against Baltimore. If the Ravens make Pittsburgh one dimensional, that will go a long way toward helping Baltimore pull out this game.

3. Ravens Pride

This team has tremendous heart, and it's hard to imagine any team beating Ray Lewis & Co. three times this season. Statistics show that it is not impossible. But there is a ton of character and personal pride with the Ravens, which surely will up show in Sunday's game. But if the Steelers beat a prideful Baltimore bunch three straight times everyone -- including Ravens fans -- would agree that Pittsburgh is a worthy team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Reasons for the Steelers

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Though he's only 26 years old, Ben Roethlisberger will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game.

1. Pittsburgh is the healthier team

Perhaps the greatest advantage of winning the division is that Pittsburgh had the chance to get healthy and play one less game. The Steelers looked well rested and sharp in last week's 35-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Previous weaknesses (running game and pass protection) suddenly looked like strengths with two weeks of preparation, and previous ailments to injured players wasn't a factor. Meanwhile, the Ravens are hurting after two physical playoff games against a pair of division winners in the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. That Titans game, in particular, was brutal as Baltimore suffered significant injuries to starting cornerback Samari Rolle, linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs and running back Le'Ron McClain.

2. Steelers have the veteran QB

Really the only difference in the first two games between the Ravens and Steelers was that Pittsburgh had a veteran quarterback who was able to make big plays down the stretch. Offense will be at a premium in this game. It's safe to say that both defenses will control the pace of the game, but at some point plays will have to be made to put points on the board. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is already playing in his third AFC Championship Game, is more adept at making those clutch plays. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has done well in the postseason but never participated in a game of this magnitude.

3. Pittsburgh is confident

After winning both games, the Steelers feel they're the better team. That remains to be seen. But up to this point, they have earned the right to feel that way following a regular-season sweep. It's been more of a quiet confidence in Pittsburgh. The team is very businesslike and has done very little trash-talking this week. In fact, there hasn't been much trash-talking on either side, which is unusual for this game. That tells me we are due for an explosion of emotions and physicality once these two teams hit the field on Sunday.

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  Samari Rolle and the Baltimore defense had some calls go their way Saturday but also forced three Tennessee turnovers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A cynic could find so many excuses why the Baltimore Ravens won Saturday.

Lucky plays. Iffy officiating. Not having to face a game-breaker for most of the afternoon.

The Ravens aren't interested in justifying their 13-10 AFC divisional playoffs victory over the Tennessee Titans. For the second straight week, they went on the road and hammered a divisional champion into submission.

The wild-card Ravens are headed to the AFC Championship Game, and they're not one bit apologetic about it.

"Our guys just found a way to get them stopped when they had to," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There is nobody to blame on that."

  Cardinals-Panthers highlights
  NFL.com Video
  Highlights of the Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Titans in the AFC divisional playoff.

To call the Ravens a team of destiny would be rather melodramatic. They'll visit the winner of Sunday night's San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers showdown.

The Ravens lost both of their games against the Steelers by a combined seven points, the first one in overtime. The Ravens didn't play the Chargers.

But Saturday at LP Field, Baltimore sure looked like a team of destiny with all of the breaks that went its way.

  • Tennessee committed three turnovers in Baltimore territory, including an Alge Crumpler fumble on the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with Baltimore ahead, 10-7.
  • A delay of game penalty was not called on a third-down conversion that kept the Ravens' winning drive alive late in the fourth quarter, a drive that ended with Matt Stover's game-winning 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.
  • The Titans were without rookie running back Chris Johnson for the second half. He was well on his way to having the best ground game of any Ravens' opponent with 72 yards on 11 carries.
  • Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas pushed a 51-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the third quarter, one play after a 5-yard Bo Scaife catch was negated by replay.
  • Baltimore's first 10 points were the result of long Joe Flacco pass plays, including a 37-yard pass to Mark Clayton, who sorted through double coverage from Pro Bowlers Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope to come up with the ball.

But great teams make their own breaks, and the Ravens' afternoon wasn't exactly a frolic under the rainbow

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a sprained right shoulder and missed the second half. A bad ankle forced Pro Bowl running back Le'Ron McClain off the field for several snaps. Four-time Pro Bowl tackle Willie Anderson was in and out with a stinger. Cornerback Samari Rolle left the game in the second half with a groin injury.

"It was a heavyweight fight," Suggs said. "We would have been happy if nobody got injured, but it was a dogfight, and there was a lot of bloodshed."

So the Ravens didn't want to hear any whining about the Titans' offense being short-handed without Johnson.

"We're not going to feel sorry for these guys," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "We've got five starters on this defense that barely made it past Week 5.

"It was a physical game. We try to do that against any back. We try to make it physical, make it a rough day for them. Sometimes they don't hold up."

Sometimes the odds don't hold up either. Titans running back LenDale White said afterward his team would beat the Ravens nine times out of 10, and Saturday happened to be the exception.

The Titans had a statistical edge in every category aside from turnovers. They outgained the Ravens 391-211 and had the ball more than eight minutes longer.

The Titans limited the Ravens to nine first downs and held the league's No. 4 run offense to 50 yards rushing. McClain ran 12 times for 12 yards. Willis McGahee had 12 carries for 32 yards, and 11 of those came on one play.

Joe Flacco by distance thrown
  Less than 10 yards 10 yards or more
Comp-Att 7-11 4-11 *
Pass Yards 43 118
Yards per att. 3.9 10.7
TD-INT 0-0 1-0
Passer Rating 71.4 107.4
* 3 completions came on scoring drives
-- ESPN Stats & Information

Flacco was a nondescript 11 of 22 for 161 yards. But he completed two long passes, one for a 48-yard touchdown to Derrick Mason and the 37-yard completion to Clayton that set up Stover's first field goal.

"Our offense struggled a bit," Mason said.

The difference, though, was the Ravens' defense.

It's always the defense.

They were pushed around but came up with critical plays when it mattered.

Although the Titans lost only two of them, they fumbled five times. In addition to Crumpler's costly fumble on the doorstep, White lost one on the Ravens' 15-yard line right before halftime.

Kerry Collins threw an interception Rolle tracked down at the Ravens' 9-yard line to end a drive that started on the Titans 1-yard line and lasted 13 meaningless plays.

"They were moving the ball," Scott said. "They were doing a great job. They were breaking tackles. We just continued to fight and refused to let them in. We made the plays we had to.

"We'll take it any way we can get it."

Several Ravens hurt, but Suggs shrugs

January, 10, 2009
1/10/09
10:57
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The list of Baltimore Ravens injuries from Saturday's victory over the Tennessee Titans features more big names than the Cleveland Browns' coaching search:

Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs (shoulder), Pro Bowl running back Le'Ron McClain (ankle), right tackle Willie Anderson (stinger), cornerback Samari Rolle (groin).

Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't have any updates after the game.

"We will find out," Harbaugh said. "We don't know. I know we have a lot of little things. Hopefully, we won't have any big things."

Suggs, however, proclaimed he will play next Sunday against either the Pittsburgh Steelers or San Diego Chargers.

"Check my track record," Suggs said. "I don't miss games. The only way I wouldn't be there is if I didn't have air in my lungs. I will see you next week."

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