Falcons Score in Final Minute to Outlast Ravens

The Falcons were up, 20-7, after Ryan went to White on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 11 minutes 34 seconds remaining. Baltimore rallied behind Joe Flacco’s two touchdown passes, the second a 9-yarder to Todd Heap with 1:05 left.

Back came the Falcons, who improved to 18-1 at home with Ryan as the starter. He needed less than a minute to pull off an 80-yard drive, hooking up with Michael Jenkins on a third-down pass along the sideline before going back to White for the winner.

White appeared to push off on Josh Wilson, but there was no flag, and he cruised into the end zone.

MEETING TO DISCUSS FAVRE Jenn Sterger, the woman to whom is accused of sending lewd photos and inappropriate text messages, met with investigators from the , her manager said.

The manager, Phil Reese, said in an e-mail that Sterger met with league officials and that “we cooperated fully by providing them with substantial materials in our possession. We now await the N.F.L.’s decision.”

The N.F.L. is examining whether Favre, now the quarterback of the , sent Sterger messages and photos while he was with in 2008 and she was a game hostess for the team.

The N.F.L. spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had no comment.

Favre could face disciplinary action under the league’s personal-conduct policy.

The accusations arose last month in a report on the Web site Deadspin.

The site said Sterger would not agree to an interview and acknowledged that it paid a third party for the texts, voicemails and explicit photos, said to be of Favre, that it posted online.

Favre, a three-time most valuable player, is dealing with two ankle fractures and elbow tendinitis, and took 10 stitches in his chin after getting hit against the on Oct. 31.

PLAYER COLLAPSES Cleveland Browns linebacker Marcus Benard collapsed in the locker room and was taken to a hospital, where he is undergoing tests, a team spokesman said.

Benard was sitting in a chair in front of his locker when he fell to the carpeted floor. Some of his teammates, who were getting dressed for practice, thought he may have been joking before linebacker Matt Roth yelled for a trainer.

Benard did not appear to lose consciousness and his eyes were open as three members of Cleveland’s training staff checked on him.

Benard, who leads the Browns with 4.5 sacks this season, was sitting up and appeared alert when he was wheeled out of the team’s facility and placed in an ambulance. He collapsed just as the 45-minute news media interview period was ending.

The Browns host the Jets on Sunday.

MERRIMAN OUT FOR SUNDAY A nagging injury is preventing linebacker Shawne Merriman from getting off on the right foot with his new team, the .

Coach Chan Gailey said that Merriman would not play against the this weekend, and would be out indefinitely after aggravating an injury to his right Achilles’ tendon a day earlier.

The injury, which occurred in Merriman’s first practice with the team and only a week after he was claimed off waivers from San Diego, is to the same tendon that bothered him for much of the past year.

MIGRAINE SIDELINES HARVIN Minnesota’s Percy Harvin missed practice for the second straight day because of a migraine headache.

Coach Brad Childress said Harvin, a wide receiver and kickoff returner, was visiting a doctor again after his absence on Wednesday. Harvin, who has a history of migraines, is also dealing with a sprained left ankle he sustained in the Oct. 31 game at New England.

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Falcons, Ravens Offer Prime Matchup in Prime Time

ATLANTA. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco just can’t get away from each other.

Thrown together on draft day in 2008, these two quarterbacks set off on remarkably parallel NFL careers. Both earned starting jobs as rookies. Both led their teams to unexpected playoff appearances right out of the gate. And now, in Year 3, they continue to put up carbon-copy numbers.

“They’ll be hooked together their entire career,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, who’s got Ryan on his side. “When you come in at the same time, especially at the quarterback position — which is probably the most scrutinized position in all of sports — they’ll always be compared to one another.”

They’ll finally be on the same field Thursday night. Flacco’s take on Ryan’s Falcons in a game that might just be a preview of the get-together they’d really like to have on the first Sunday of February in Big D.

“They both have all the skills to lead their team to great heights,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of years.”

So far, so good — and so similar.

This season, Ryan has completed 62.5 percent of his passes, Flacco is at 60.8. Ryan has thrown for 1,949 yards, Flacco is right behind at 1,917. Ryan has 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions, Flacco has one less TD and one more pick. Their efficiency ratings are nearly identical as well: Ryan ranks 12th in the league at 90.2, Flacco is 14th at 88.9.

“(We’re) just two bigger guys that throw well from the pocket. Both of us have been able to get outside the pocket and make plays, too,” Ryan said. “We’re probably more similar than different.”

Their teams are, too.

At the midway points of the NFL season, it’s become clear the Falcons and the Ravens — both 6-2 and leading their respective divisions — are on a shrinking list of contenders for the in Dallas.

Heck, this game might actually be worth the trouble of trying to find the NFL Network on your cable or satellite dial.

“I know it’s not going to be one of those games where it’s won in the first quarter,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “It’s going to be one of those fourth-quarter games.”

The Falcons, who hold a half-game lead over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the rugged NFC South, hope that playing at home will be the deciding factor in a game where the teams appear so evenly matched. Atlanta is 17-3 at the Georgia Dome in Smith’s three-year coaching tenure — and 17-1 with Ryan as the starter.

“We’ve been tough at home,” Ryan said. “Our fans have really done a great job this year, especially when we’re on defense. The Dome has been loud. It’s been a great environment, and hopefully we can keep that going.”

Baltimore is tied for the AFC North lead with Pittsburgh and knows that every win is crucial in a conference that has seven teams at 5-3 or better. There’s only six playoff spots available.

Plus, the Ravens wouldn’t mind scoring another blow for the AFC, which holds a 21-17 edge over the NFC in interconference games.

“It’s not as if we don’t know what’s going on,” linebacker said. “We know Atlanta is playing at a very, very high level in the NFC right now, and we’re playing at a high level in the AFC. So, we know what’s coming.”

The comparisons don’t stop there.

Michael Turner has carried the ball 155 times for the Falcons, Rice has gotten it 153 times for the Ravens. Atlanta would seem to have the edge in the receiving department with NFC-leading Roddy White (58 catches, 796 yards, five TDs) and Canton-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez, but the Ravens aren’t too shabby either with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Overall, the Falcons appear to have an edge on offense with their balance and big-play capability.

That said, the Ravens appear to have the clear advantage on defense, especially since safety Ed Reed returned from an injury to hold down the back end. Haloti Ngata anchors the defensive line, Terrell Suggs provides pressure off the edge in the 3-4 scheme, and the 35-year-old Lewis, despite losing a step or two, remains the heart and soul.

“They always talk about being strong down the middle in baseball,” Harbaugh said. “Well, we’re pretty strong down the middle on defense.”

The Falcons will surely test that defense if White is healthy. He hurt his right knee in last Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay and barely practiced in the short lead-up to this game. But he’s expected to play against the Ravens.

“He’s just spectacular,” Harbaugh said. “I’m very impressed the fact that he’s a threat to the field in both directions. He can stretch it horizontally coming across the field. He can stretch it vertically.”

For Smith, this is a chance to face the team he once worked for. He was a defensive assistant under his brother-in-law, , when the Ravens won the Super Bowl during the 2000 season.

“When I think about the Baltimore Ravens, I think about a team that each and every year is one of the top teams in the league,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here in Atlanta.”

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Thursday Night Lights: Ravens-Falcons

Once or twice a season, NFL Network gets a matchup worth, well, worth searching for a TV system that gets NFL Network.

The first Thursday night game in the network’s package is as good as it can get: division leaders Baltimore and Atlanta. Both are 6-2. One team (the ) has a powerful and physical defense. The other has a powerful and physical offense.

Atlanta is 4-0 at home and ranks fifth in offense behind rugged running back Michael Turner and efficient quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons also are a plus-7 in turnover margin, and they win close games: In five games decided by an average of 4.8 points this season, the Falcons have four victories.

“It’s preparing us for later in the season, and you know playoff games are always going to be tight,” said leading receiver Roddy White, whose team is a 1-point favorite.

The Ravens are among the most balanced teams around, and they got stronger in the secondary — and in experience and leadership — when star safety Ed Reed returned from injury. He has three picks in two games.

Like Ryan, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has been a starter since 2008, when both were rookies. Like Ryan, he has plenty of helpers. He also has a better defense.

RAVENS, 19-17

We know all about how teams get stoked by coaching changes. Maybe it will happen for the — next year.


Rested, with a fierce pass rush and, just maybe, a who is on a mission, the will push Miami to 0-4 at home.


After that stinker at Cleveland, the should be motivated and mad. looked shaky in second half against .


How much is Andy Reid enjoying some QB melodrama somewhere other than in Philly? And with in the middle, no less.

, 24-17

There’s no truth to reports the are bringing back Marvin Harrison to play wideout.

COLTS, 24-17

Last week convinced us it’s dangerous to rely on the in tight matchups. Jaguars, coming off a bye, aren’t much more reliable.

JAGUARS, 18-15

We still don’t believe the are turning it around, even after that scintillating comeback against Arizona. We do believe the Vikes are good enough in this one.

VIKINGS, 24-17

Drew Stanton at QB offsets many of the strides the have made in other positions. keep coming close. This time, they get over the hump.

BILLS, 14-13

If the Jets truly are a contender, they need to begin showing it here, especially on defense against a team growing in confidence. This one has OT written all over it.

JETS, 20-17

Spunky Bucs should have little trouble handling undermanned and undertalented .


haven’t been favored in the Mile High City often. might not be a favorite the rest of the way.

CHIEFS, 24-18

A chance for each team to prove some worth in the weak NFC West. We’ll give the Niners one more chance.

, 21-20

This one depends entirely on whether Seattle gets back QB Matt Hasselbeck from a concussion. Charlie Whitehurst might not be good enough to start for the Cardinals, and that is saying something.

(with Hasselbeck), 17-13



Versus spread, 9-4 (overall 69-53-1); Straight up, 9-4 (overall 82-48)

Best Bet: 4-5 against spread, 6-3 straight up.

Upset Special: 6-3 against spread, 6-3 straight up.

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