Love growing out of 'underrated' tag

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Love growing out of 'underrated' tag

FOXBORO -- Kyle Love is used to flying under the radar. There's even something about it he likes: When somebody finds you to give a pat on the back, it's because you've really earned it.

Rex Ryan did that very thing in his Wednesday conference call. Ryan was prompted about the release of n'er-do-well defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Was he surprised at the move? No, Ryan said, New England has plenty of other weapons on the d-line for the Jets to worry about, one being the "underrated" Love.

"It's pretty good to hear that from an opposing coach," Love said when told in the locker room. "What can I say? I really appreciate it. That's a big compliment coming from him. I just have to take it in stride and keep on doing what I'm doing, playing harder from week-to-week."

The grind has always been important to Love.

While at Mississippi State, he once told coach David Turner in practice to take snaps away from him. He felt he was off his game and getting playing time he didn't deserve. Reflecting last season on the college request, Love sees the situation simply.

He wanted motivation.

It was just something I did mentally to make me play with an edge."

His tenure with the Bulldogs was impressive, yet he came to the Patriots as a rookie free agent. If you think being passed over by 31 NFL teams is just another thing to inspire him, you'd be right. Still, Love isn't trying to work toward recognition. He says the "underrated" tag is "getting overplayed" and keeps his focus on being a better player, a better man, for himself.

That means practicing technique, watching more film, and falling under the guidance of veterans Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. Already, in just his second year, Love's added an improved pass-rush to his run-stopping abilities for a more complete skillset. He'll need it. Love says the ousting of Haynesworth is two-fold in its fallout.

First the good: "I just know I have to step up even more now. Probably get a little more playing time, so just have to step up a little more.

The bad: "Guys coming in and out, that could happen to anybody. It just means I have to play harder."

He should take comfort in this season's early success. Love didn't start the first three games but got his first opportunity against the Raiders when Haynesworth was unavailable. He's kept a starting spot in the rotation since. Love has 14 tackles -- twice what he had in nine games last year -- and one sack in eight games.

Beyond Haynesworth's exit, his effort and energy have earned him added snaps. The popular NFL Films feature, "Bill Belichick: A Football Life," showed the Patriots coach criticizing his team for its lack of post-play celebration. That's not a worry with Love; he's usually one of the most dynamic guys on the field and can be counted on for a chest-bump.

"I guess you could say I've always been like that," he smiled. "Since middle school my coaches used to always tell us, 'Get excited after the play.' So it just keeps me going and to get other guys going. I get excited when I see other guys get excited."

New England will need plenty of fire this weekend. The Patriots meet the red-hot Jets Sunday in East Rutherford. Though it's not Love's first game against the AFC East rival, it should be his first start and Rex Ryan doesn't plan to be surprised. It's a new challenge in a way: live up to the growing hype.

But Love is ready. He doesn't need tricks for motivation anymore.

"I look forward to every game, so it's nothing different to me. I don't look at it as being special; every game is special to me."

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.

LAST 5

Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6

OFFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.

DEFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.
 
WHERE ARE THEIR HEADS AT

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup

Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

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Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

Tom Brady has racked up some impressive numbers over eight games, but are they enough to surpass Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the MVP race?

The Patriots have gone 7-1 since Brady returned from his four-game suspension to start the year, and the league's all-time winningest quarterback has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in that stretch (third in the league) for 2,470 yards. He has 19 touchdowns, he's been picked once, and he is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (third), giving him a 113.1 quarterback rating (first). 

According to Bovada, he's currently the third-best bet to win MVP at 15/2, down from 4/1 last week. Ahead of him? Both Elliott (12/5) and Carr (7/2). 

The Carr comparison is an interesting one for obvious reasons. Because they play the same position, it's easier to match up their stats. In 12 games, Carr has completed 65.5 percent of his passes (12th) for 3,375 yards (fourth), 24 touchdowns (seventh) and five interceptions. He's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (15th), and  he has a rating of 100.3 (seventh).

While Carr has the statistical advantage of playing in four more games than Brady has, he's also led his team to a record of 10-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment. (The Raiders hold the strength-of-victory tiebreaker edge over the Patriots, who are also 10-2.)

Meanwhile, Elliott, the talented rookie out of Ohio State who has the benefit of running behind arguably the league's best offensive line, has racked up 263 carries for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He's also posted 28 catches for 322 yards and a score. He leads the league in total rush yards, he's second in the league in rushing touchdowns behind Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, and he's fourth in yards per attempt (4.9).