Ravens: Redding, Birk look to ‘seize every moment'
OWINGS MILLS — Cory Redding never won a championship before, not in high school growing up in Houston, not playing for the Texas Longhorns in college and definitely not in the NFL. Having experienced the abject gloom of a winless season with the Detroit Lions three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens' veteran defensive end is cherishing this time as the AFC North champions are hoping to advance to the Super Bowl. Heading into Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium against the AFC South champion Houston Texans, this marks only the second year Redding has ever been in the playoffs since entering the league nine years ago. "Having the chance to continue to fight for what you have always been dreaming of when you were a little kid, hoisting up that trophy, it's a privilege and an honor," Redding said Monday. "Telling everyone to just take every day, soak everything in and don't take this thing for granted because we don't know when the next time we're going to be here. It's a tough league, go out there and do what you got to do so we can win. Nobody is talking about retirement. "Regardless if you have 16 years in the league or you're in your first year in the league, it's a sense of urgency because you never know when you're going to have the opportunity to be in this position again. That's the biggest thing we emphasize to everybody in the locker room: seize every moment, control the opportunity you are in. Never take this for granted because we have guys like myself who have been in the league nine years and only tasted the playoffs twice." Redding isn't alone as a veteran player intent on making this chance count.
The Ravens have several older players who have more football behind them than ahead of them. That includes middle linebacker Ray Lewis, 36, free safety Ed Reed, 33, and center Matt Birk, 35. Birk contemplated retirement prior to this season, but was talked into playing one more year. Now, Birk's back in the postseason again. "As you get a little bit older and you go through a lot more, you certainly don't take it for granted," Birk said. "I think one of the great things about football is the delayed gratification. You really work an entire year to reach that goal, to get to the Super Bowl. "Two out of my first three years in the league I went to the NFC championship game. At that time, I probably didn't know what it meant or just how precious is was, and I haven't been back since. So, we have this opportunity in front of us to be in the playoffs and be in the second round now. As you get closer to the end, it just becomes that much more precious."
The Ravens were dispatched from the postseason each of the past two seasons in the divisional round, falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and the Indianapolis Colts two years ago. During coach John Harbaugh's first season in Baltimore, the Ravens made it to the AFC title game only to lose to the Steelers. So, there's a determination in this football team. "After nine years, I still don't have a ring? What am I doing this for?" outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said recently. "I'm tired of falling short. I don't want to be one of the guys who has an amazing career, but no championships to show for it. A championship solidifies your whole career being an NFL player.
"These times are really kind of priceless. You're in the playoffs. It's flattering to have this stage when you're worked so hard all year and we kind of achieved it. I'm just going to enjoy it, enjoy the ride."
Redding couldn't help but get caught up in the exuberance of the moment when Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow delivered the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in overtime to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs in the first round.
"By the time the overtime hit and that big pass came out and he was going down the field, I'm not going to lie, I did jump off my couch," Redding said. "It was kind of exciting, one, just see that team overcome what they had to overcome and, two, those guys did what they had to do to win. Cincinnati is out, Pittsburgh is out, and a few other teams lost, Atlanta lost this weekend. "So, it's been a tough deal and letting us know that we just have to go out there and let everything hang out. You can't go out there and play cautious. Just go get it, man. Go get it." The Ravens already defeated the Texans once, beating them, 29-14, earlier this season as they contained Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster. The Texans were playing without star wide receiver Andre Johnson in the game and have lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the season due to a foot injury. They're now down to rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who began the season as the third-string passer.
It starts with shutting down Foster. "That's the objective: first and foremost is to stop the run," Redding said. "You can't let him get going. And number two, get guys, get eyes on No. 80 (Johnson), and guys on the back end really control not letting the ball over our heads. And No. 3, get after Yates, period. "You have to stop the run, control the pass and get after the passer. That's the formula for winning every single week and that's been our formula from week one and up to week one, and it hasn't changed." Lewis is the lone player remaining from the Ravens' only Super Bowl championship squad from the 2000 season.
"Don't waste time," Lewis said. "We have the team to do it now. We don't have too many more excuses. Let's go do it right now." The Ravens have grown tired of not accomplishing their goals.
"You don't want to be the team that just has an 18-game season every year," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "You don't want to be the team that's just satisfied with making the playoffs and then goes home early.
"We understand that you don't get this opportunity many times. You look at a guy like Dan Marino, Hall of Famer, he went one time. Every year, you can't take for granted the fact that you are in the playoffs. You have to take advantage of that because you don't know if you are ever going to make it again." Seeded second overall, the Ravens (12-4) haven't had a home playoff game since their 15-6 divisional round loss to the Colts five years ago. A raucous atmosphere figures to greet the Texans on Sunday.
"The 'Bank' is going to be rocking," Redding said. "Everybody out there is going to be screaming loud. It's going to be crazy. [Yates] is going to have a hard time trying to make his checks. He is going to have hard times really trying to let the guys know when a blitz is coming because it is going to be noisy, and we want that.
"The defense really feeds on that energy, but for a young quarterback coming into a hostile environment and really having troubles with communicating, it's going to play into our hands. We are just going to sit back and let the crowd do their thing and do our job."
Relatively healthy again, undefeated in eight home games and the only NFL team to win at least one playoff game in each of the past three seasons, the Ravens are confident about their outlook.
After recalling lost chances in the past, including a state title that eluded him and backup center Andre Gurode back in high school, Redding concluded: "This is a good shot."
Ravens notebook: Harbaugh predicts ailing players will play
OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens emerged from their bye week a much healthier football team. So much so that coach John Harbaugh predicted every injured player will be able to play in Sunday's AFC divisional round playoff game against the Houston Texans.
The Ravens still have a fairly lengthy list of ailments, including: inside linebackers Jameel McClain (sprained medial collateral ligament) and Brendon Ayanbadejo (sprained quadriceps), offensive guard Marshal Yanda (bruised ribs, loose cartilage, thigh contusion), wide receiver Anquan Boldin (torn meniscus), cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Tom Zbikowski and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (concussions).
"From an injury perspective, we look good," Harbaugh said Monday. "We anticipate everybody playing in the game."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh indicated that middle linebacker Ray Lewis has fully recovered from a right turf toe injury that forced him to miss four games.
"He looks great," Harbaugh said. "He's 100 percent. Any report to the contrary is absolutely untrue. His toe is 100 percent, has been for a couple weeks."
Harbaugh said none of the players with concussions have been medically cleared yet, but that could happen as soon as today. Boldin returned to practice last week after undergoing minor knee surgery on Dec. 22 and was able to participate again Monday. "He looks fine, and he's been running on it," Harbaugh said. "So, he should be 100 percent." McClain and Ayanbadejo didn't practice last week, but are expected to return this week. "Jameel and Brendon are working through their issues," Harbaugh said. "They should be good. We'll see how they practice." Right guard Marshal Yanda played through rib and thigh contusions against the Bengals, and he is expected to be ready to play Sunday against the Texans.
"The concussion guys haven't been cleared yet, but we anticipate them being cleared tomorrow," Harbaugh said.
Defensive end Cory Redding had been dealing with a right ankle injury that sidelined him against the Cleveland Browns.
With a week off to recuperate, Redding is feeling much better.
The Ravens earned a first-round bye after winning the AFC North title with a 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in their regular-season finale. "Awesome," Redding said. "I was just talking to some of our coaches and talking about how good I feel. We did what we had to do to get that bye. Guys are fighting on the field with big gashes down their legs and bruised ribs, messed up knees and toes and ankles and hands.
"Everybody got in that Cincinnati game and just played because we knew we were fighting for a week off, and that was the biggest thing. We got that accomplished. Now, it's time to rest, recover and get ready for the second season and win game one."
MEANINGFUL BUMP: Referee Tony Corrente might never have discovered that he was suffering from throat and tongue cancer currently being treated by chemotherapy if not for his collision with Ravens center Matt Birk and offensive tackle Michael Oher.
Corrente got knocked down while attempting to break up a fight as Birk and Oher squared off with a few Pittsburgh Steelers during a September game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Corrente told Sports Illustrated that he was wracked with pain and coughing up blood the next day before eventually seeking help from a doctor who diagnosed him with cancer.
Corrente approached Harbaugh before the Ravens' recent win over the Cincinnati Bengals to talk with Oher and Birk and relate his story. Harbaugh didn't recognize him at first because Corrente's appearance, including loss of hair, has changed due to the effects of the chemotherapy.
"He got between Matt Birk and Michael Oher and two Pittsburgh guys and got knocked to the ground.," Harbaugh said. "He had to go to the doctor because he was coughing up blood, and that's how he discovered he had throat cancer. He said probably, if not for that circumstance, they would have never discovered it.
"So, he got a little emotional and felt like the Lord works in mysterious ways. It was just a stunning story. So, he wanted to talk to those two guys. We grabbed them and brought them over, and they had a great conversation."
Birk was stunned to hear Corrente tell what has happened through their chance encounter.
"Mind-blowing is a good word," Birk said. "The guy says half-jokingly, but half-serious, that we saved his life. You never know how God is going to use you. And here Mike and I just thought we were probably just being tough guys, getting in a little scuffle after a play, but everything happens for a reason. And the one thing that I know I'll take with me for the rest of my life, when Tony told that story and just how it relates to him, he said, ‘You know, your whole life, you're always trying to see your glass as half full.' And once this whole thing happened, he said he realized that his glass was all-the-way full.
"And I just thought that was awesome, and certainly talking to him, it was a very humbling experience. I don't know him that personally, but he sure seems like a heck of a guy, and I went home that night and woke up my wife and told her, and it didn't really sink in until the next day after she woke up again. She thought it was pretty cool, and my family and I have prayed for him and his recovery, and I'm just glad I could be a part of it. I didn't do anything; I'm just glad I was a part of it."
RICH REWARD: Running back Ray Rice had promised that he would take care of his offensive line and fullback Vonta Leach.
"Man, that bill is going to be expensive for what I have to get my offensive line," Rice said recently. "I have to get those guys something nice. They've set it up nice for me this year." And Rice rewarded his blockers with fancy Breitling watches. The watch retails anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 depending on the model.
"Nice gift for me and offensive lineman," Leach wrote on his Twitter account along with a photograph of the watch.
Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards and scored 15 touchdowns to set a franchise record, leading the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage. Birk joked that Rice bought him a Casio.
"It's like no watch I've ever had before, it actually had hands on it," Birk said. "We should probably be buying him something. He probably makes us look better than we are, but it's certainly appreciated. I really have never owned a watch before. Maybe I'll wear it."
ADVANCE SCOUTING: Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron scouted the Texans personally, sitting in the stands during their 31-10 win over the Bengals.
"That's something Cam has done, he's done that quite a few times over the years when we've had bye weeks," Harbaugh said. "That's something he likes to do. It gives him a feel, watching the game live, scouting the game live. It's not so much X's and O's as it is a feel for the tempo and things like that. That's something he likes to do, and he's done that over the years."
JOHNSON BACK: The Ravens didn't have to square off with Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson during the first meeting earlier this season in Baltimore, a 29-14 victory. Johnson was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Now, he's back and coming off a strong performance where he caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.
QUICK HITS: Quarterback Joe Flacco was nominated for the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Year by the NFL. Flacco's dramatic 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6 at Heinz Field was the chosen play. ... Rice is a finalist for FedEx Ground Player of the Year. He's competing against Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (1,606 rushing yards) and Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (1,309 yards, 17 touchdowns). ... Harbaugh took in the Denver Broncos' exciting overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers that was decided by a touchdown pass from quarterback Tim Tebow to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "You know, you have one eye on the TV screen and another eye on the computer screen, so you're trying to do two things at once," Harbaugh said. "But you certainly get your attention drawn to that game and what's going on live during the course of the game." When asked for his reaction to the ending engineered by Tebow, Harbaugh replied: "Wow! Just like everybody else, just trying to figure out what coverage they wanted to be in. Hey man, that's football. That's what makes the NFL great, games like that. So, congratulations to the Broncos."
Derrick Mason: ‘I'm done'
OWINGS MILLS -- Following a stellar career in the NFL that spanned 15 seasons, veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason is going to retire. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Mason caught 943 career passes for 12,061 yards and 66 touchdowns. He played for the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and the Houston Texans. "I'm done," Mason told the Times in a telephone interview "I won't be playing football. I only knew one play to play football, going all-out and having fun out there."
Mason, 37, caught 19 passes for 170 yards this season with the Jets and Texans after being cut by the Ravens prior to training camp. Always a candid interview as a player, Mason plans to pursue a career in the media. He has appeared on NFL Network and other outlets since being let go by the Texans.
"I'm spending some time at home and doing as much as I can to really get entrenched in some broadcasting network whether it be nationally or do something here locally," Mason said. "I enjoy it a lot."
Other than not winning a Super Bowl, he played in one with the Titans when they lost to the St. Louis Rams, Mason leaves the game with no regrets. "That's one thing, I leave it healthy and able to run and walk and not take a half-hour or 45 minutes to get out of bed," Mason said. "I can jump right out of the bed and go. I don't have lingering pains as of now. Me leaving now, even though it didn't happen the way I wanted it to happen, I had a good run. It was fun while it lasted."
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