Ravens hold final practice before heading south

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The music blared in the Baltimore Ravens locker room Saturday as the players threw their football gear into black duffel bags lying in front of their cubicles.

Next stop, New Orleans.

After one final practice at their own training facility, the Super Bowl-bound Ravens will take Sunday off before heading for the Big Easy on Monday afternoon in anticipation of their matchup on Feb. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re right where we want to be,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Now we have an opportunity to play in the big one. But at the end of the day, we’re still getting ready for a football game.”

Coach John Harbaugh conducted practice from Thursday through Saturday as if it was a normal work week. They went hard on Thursday and Friday and eased up Saturday.

“We’ve had a great week. We had an excellent practice,” Harbaugh said after the closed two-hour session. “The guys are very sharp and they’re excited. We’ll have to go down there and do just as well (or) do better.”

The next time the Ravens hit the practice field, it will be in New Orleans. This week, at least, there were no distractions.

“I think it’s always important to have a good practice no matter what,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to practice well to play well. You pretty much play the way you practice. That’s something that we learned when we were kids and that’s not going to change.”

It was final practice at the team’s training complex for Ray Lewis, who intends to retire after the Super Bowl. Center Matt Birk has made no such announcement, but there is a possibility the 36-year-old is also preparing for his last game.

“I don’t think like that,” Birk said. “I just try to live in the moment. That’s just kind of my mindset. I don’t think about the future or if this could be it. It drives my wife nuts, but that’s just not how I operate.”

Now in his 15th NFL season — the fourth with Baltimore — Birk’s knees are scarred from several operations and he had surgery during the offseason to repair varicose veins in his legs. But he played in all 16 games during the regular season and remained solid in the middle of the offensive line during the postseason.

“I’m not sure about Matt’s plans,” Harbaugh said. “If he decides to come back next year that would be awesome. He’s smart, he’s tough. To my eye, he’s playing the best football that he’s played since he’s been here, right now. To have that be true at the end of a (long) season is very impressive. We would not be where we are without Matt Birk.”

Looking ahead to the challenge next Sunday, Harbaugh called the 49ers “a very well-coached football team.” He said it with a grin, because San Francisco is coached by his little brother, Jim.

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