Ray Rice issues statement

Former Ravens running back Ray Rice issued a statement to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun where he apologized for his domestic violence incident and thanked the Ravens.

Here's the statement:

Dear Baltimore,

This is not a farewell or goodbye. The last seven years that my family and I have spent in Baltimore have by far been the best of our lives. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for the love and support you've shown my family and I throughout my football career. We'll always be grateful for the love we've received from all of our fans and supporters, and for winning a Super Bowl. To all the kids who looked up to me, I'm truly sorry for letting you down, but I hope it's helped you learn that one bad decision can turn your dream into a nightmare. There is no excuse for domestic violence, and I apologize for the horrible mistake I made. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and I hope to make a positive difference in people's lives by raising awareness of this issue. Thank you, Baltimore Ravens, for all you have done for my family and I. I'm very grateful to Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh, and everyone at 1 Winning Drive. I love you all very much, and I'll always be proud to say I played for the Baltimore Ravens. Thank you.

— Ray Rice

Andrew Luck: I'm not playing against Peyton Manning

Following the Colts' 26-10 victory over the Bengals, attention quickly turned to the fact that Andrew Luck will be facing Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos.

Of course, this is a natural storyline. Manning was the longtime face of the Colts before a neck injury put his career in doubt. With the Colts winding up with the first pick in the 2012 draft, they decided to part ways with Manning and take Luck with the selection.

Manning ended up in Denver and has continued his storied career. Now they'll meet in the postseason.

However, Luck wanted to point out that Manning won't be on his mind this week. He has to go against the Broncos defense, not Manning.

“It's not the quarterback-versus-quarterback thing,” Luck told reporters after the win over the Bengals. “We're not on the field at the same time. I have a lot of respect for him, what he does, what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense. That's what I'll worry about.”

Hey, good point and a good way to deflect attention on what will be talked about all week. It's definitely a unique situation. But it's just two quarterbacks of two teams. Neither will out-duel one another. Each will have to beat the opposing defense next Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Tony Romo proves clutch in fourth quarter

For whatever reason, Tony Romo has developed a reputation of being a choke-artist.

Yet the examples on the field of the opposite ring true far more often than when he's unable to come through late in games. Sunday's Wild Card win over Detroit, a 24-20 victory, was yet another example of this. The Cowboys were down all game but got a great performance from Romo, who didn't let the early 14-0 deficit get to him mentally.

Romo tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Terrance Williams, which gave the Cowboys the lead with under three minutes to go in the game. He finished the game 19-21 for 293 yards and two touchdowns.

This is the fifth time Romo has led the Cowboys to a game-winning drive this season, and it is the fourth fourth-quarter comeback he's had. Though it's popular for folks to criticize Romo, the numbers don't lie. In regular-season games during his career, Romo has accounted for 24 fourth-quarter comebacks and 28 game-winning drives. Seventeen of those have occurred in the past four years.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Ron Rivera's house caught fire early Monday morning

Panthers coach Ron Rivera was awakened early Monday morning to his house catching on fire, according to a report from NBC affiliate WCNC in Charlotte.

At around 4 a.m. Rivera woke up and got his family outside as the fire began doing damage to his home's attic and roof. No one was injured in the fire.

The fire appears to have been accidental and took an hour to put out.

Rivera was asked by an NBC Charlotte reporter about his status following the fire.

“I'm OK,” Rivera said. “Everyone is fine, thank you guys.”

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Lions hurt by controversial call in loss to Cowboys

For a moment it seemed the Detroit Lions were about to pick up a big-yardage play due to a defensive pass interference penalty on the Cowboys.

Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchins did appear to interfere at some level with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, drawing a flag. After the penalty was announced — prior to referees meeting to discuss the flag — it was picked up and ruled a no-call.

This was about as bad as it gets on the officiating side of things. It sure didn't seem like the flag sould be picked up.

Thing is, if the guys met before announcing a penalty, there wouldn't be so much noise about it. But the fact that contact was made and a call was determined makes taking the penalty away that much worse. This crew is supposed to be among the better in the NFL.

And they blew it in an ever-important Wild Card game. At the moment, Detroit was leading and had the ball. They ended up having to punt, which gave Dallas the ball back. The Cowboys would go down the field and score the game-winning touchdown to advance with a 24-20 victory.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

John Harbaugh calls Joe Flacco 'best quarterback in the NFL'

Opinions tend to vary widely when it comes to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

For whatever reason, Flacco has become the center of the elite conversation, with those claiming he belongs in that category and others saying he's not even close. Well, Flacco's coach is in the former camp. Following Baltimore's 30-17 win over Pittsburgh, Ravens coach John Harbaugh sang Flacco's praises to the highest level.

“Joe Flacco, what can you say,” Harbaugh told reporters after the game. “He's the best quarterback in football. We'll take him any day of the week, twice on Sunday or Saturday if that be the case.”

Plenty of folks will take issue with that. But at the end of the day, who cares? After all, Flacco has won a Super Bowl and has been to the AFC Championship three times. He's 6-0 in playoff openers in seven years. It doesn't matter how Flacco wins in the postseason, it only matters that he wins in the postseason.

Flacco and the Ravens will travel to New England next week for the Divisional Round.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Panthers defeat Cardinals 27-16

Twice in NFL history has a division winner reached the postseason with a sub-.500 record.

And both times the teams advanced to the Divisional Round. The Carolina Panthers, NFC South champs at 7-8-1 in the regular season, defeated the banged-up Arizona Cardinals 27-16 in the NFC's Wild Card round on Saturday.

The Panthers got the job done with defense as they held Arizona to just 77 total yards. Of course, the Cardinals' offensive depth dwindled as the season carried on, with starter Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton out at quarterback.

The Panthers got another inspired performance from running back Jonathan Stewart, who has been on a roll lately. Stewart rumbled for 123 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Carolina, as the No. 4 seed will wait and see which team it will play in the next round. If Dallas defeats Detroit, the Panthers will face top-seeded Seattle. If Detroit defeats Dallas, Carolina will take on Green Bay.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

A.J. Green doubtful for Wild Card round

The Cincinnati Bengals will more than likely be without their top offensive weapon this Sunday against the Colts.

Receiver A.J. Green has been designated as doubtful, meaning there's a 75 percent chance he does not play. Though there has been the occasional occurrence over the years, very rarely do players listed as doubtful participate in games.

Green sustained a concussion after taking a hit to the head in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers. He's been in the NFL's concussion protocol all week and has been unable to gain clearance.

Green will meet with a team doctor with hopes of being cleared. If that's the case, he very well could see his game status upgraded before kickoff.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Ravens' Eugene Monroe, Timmy Jernigan out for Wild Card game

The Ravens will once again work with a makeshift offensive line this week in the Wild Card round against the Steelers.

The Ravens announced that left tackle Eugene Monroe will miss his second consecutive game due to an ankle injury. He sustained the injury in Week 16 against the Texans. With Monroe out, the Ravens will plug in undrafted rookie James Hurst at left tackle and kick out Marshal Yanda from right guard to right tackle. Rookie John Urschel will then step in at right guard.

In addition, Baltimore will also be without rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who suffered a foot/ankle injury a week ago. Jernigan was seeing additional minutes during the four-game suspension served by veteran Haloti Ngata. Though Jernigan can't play this week, Ngata is back and able to go against Pittsburgh. He was suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy by testing positive for the drug Adderall without the league's approval.

On Friday, Ngata was activated to the 53-man roster from the suspended list, with the Ravens putting linebacker Arthur Brown (thigh) on injured reserve.

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Jonathan Stewart to remain Panthers starting RB

Though the Panthers ended the regular season 7-8-1 and won a horrible NFC South, they're not exactly a team others want to play right now.

Riding a four-game winning streak, Carolina demolished Atlanta in the regular-season finale to put itself in the postseason. A big reason of that goes to running back Jonathan Stewart, who has emerged in recent weeks to carry more of a load with DeAngelo Williams out with a hand injury.

Over the past four weeks, Stewart has averaged 100 yards per game and has totaled five touchdowns on the ground. Therefore, according to The Charlotte Observer, Stewart will remain the No. 1 back, even with Williams cleared to go this week.

The Panthers are riding a lot of momentum and could be a dangerous team since they host Arizona at home. But keep in mind, their four wins have come against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta. It's not like they were beating world beaters.

At the same time, getting hot at the right time in the NFL can do a lot for confidence. And the Panthers certainly have that going their way at the moment.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt