WOUNDED BIRDS PRACTICE
Key players practiced Friday, as both quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice were on the field during the portion of practice open to the media. Flacco and Rice are the only starters on the Ravens who are currently listed on the team’s injury report. Both Flacco and Rice are expected to play Sunday when the Ravens host the New England Patriots.
Flacco practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday after injuring his left knee on Monday night when linebacker DeAndre Levy’s helmet struck the quarterback’s knee. Flacco finished the game, but was noticeably in pain. The signal-caller has practiced this week with a knee brace and will likely wear a brace on the knee during Sunday’s game as well.
Rice meanwhile, is nursing a thigh injury, one that is a surprise as he played through the entire Monday night game and was not examined during the game. He was held out of practice Wednesday but participated Thursday on a limited basis.
Other players who have not participated in practice or have participated in a limited fashion are cornerback Asa Jackson and linebacker Albert McClellan. Tight end Dallas Clark was ill early in the week but has practiced without limitations since.
For New England, tackle Nate Solder returned to practice on Thursday and Friday after suffering a concussion last week, but wide receiver Josh Boyce looks unlikely to play as he has not practiced this week with a sprained ankle. Boyce had been the primary kick returner, and had been playing more offensive snaps with other receivers in New England hurt.
STOVER ROOTING FOR TUCKER
Former Ravens kicker Matt Stover and current kicker Justin Tucker worked together earlier this week at the Hard Rock Café in Baltimore for the Casey Cares Foundation. While there, Tucker’s field goal streak came up. Tucker has connected on his last 33 field goals and is nearing all-time great territory for consecutive field goals made, including besting Stover’s Ravens record of 36. The all-time record is 42 straight set by Mike Vanderjagt in 2004.
While some may think Stover would privately prefer to keep the record to himself, he clarified Monday night that it could not be further from the truth. “I encouraged him to do it,” Stover said, “I looked at him like, ‘Why not you? Why not? Be the guy. It’s alright.’” Stover later added some sage advice, saying “Streaks are streaks. That just means you perform well. Wouldn’t you rather be talking about a streak than not? Embrace it.”
Tucker missed two field goals against Cleveland in Week 2, but has not missed since that game. Tucker was candid discussing his most recent big kick, the game-winning 61-yarder he drilled to defeat Detroit Monday night. Tucker told reporters, “The best part of it is I didn’t have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”
Last season was Tucker’s rookie season, and his first true test came when he was asked to hit a game-winning 27-yard field goal against this week’s opponent, the Patriots, and delivered just inside the right upright. Ravens fans have to feel comfortable if Tucker is in a similar position this Sunday afternoon.
MCCOURTY PLANS TO ELIMINATE RAVENS, BREAKS SILENCE
Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty broke what had been a week of compliments and quiet preparation on both sides from the Ravens and New England Patriots Sunday when he told reporters he was looking forward to being able to beat the Ravens (who he claims he hates “a little bit”) and end their season.
McCourty said Friday, “I’ll put it this way: there would be no better feeling than us beating them Sunday and…we eliminate their season right there. For me and my teammates there would be no better feeling.”
The issues with McCourty’s comments are that they’re not quite accurate. Even if the Patriots win, and so do the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens would still be mathematically alive heading into Week 17, albeit in a tough spot as they would need to defeat the Bengals and hope for help from the New York Jets against the Dolphins.
Despite McCourty’s error, it is refreshing to hear something other than praise or silence this week from the two teams heading into the bitter rivalry. It’s been so quiet that the Jones brothers, Arthur and Chandler, who play for Baltimore and New England respectively, haven’t even talked this week, despite Arthur’s attempts.
PITTA NEVER DOUBTED RETURN TO FIELD
Four weeks ago the Ravens appeared to have a bleak outlook on the rest of the season. They were 4-6 and seemed to have little chance of reaching the postseason. This led to debate about whether or not it was right to bring back tight end Dennis Pitta, who had suffered a dislocated hip in the preseason and had been placed on injured reserve with the option to return. Some thought it would be smarter to rest Pitta the rest of the year, as he may have been rushing back, and there seemed to be little to play for.
Pitta also will be a free agent this offseason and it may have benefitted him not to return too quickly or risk re-injury in the offseason when he looked for his next contract. Pitta however, insists he never considered not returning, and would have returned even if the Ravens had not been able to get back in the playoff chase.
“We never had that conversation,” Pitta told Comcast SportsNet. “You don’t want to plan for not making the playoffs, so we never sat down and talked about that. And I don’t think it would have changed anything. I knew I wanted to get back on the field, and do that as quickly as possible.”
Pitta has helped ignite an offense that has been inconsistent and anemic at times this year. He caught what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, and was then double covered at times against the Detroit Lions last week, opening up space for other receivers to make plays.