NEW ORLEANS - Super Bowl week is officially under way.
The Baltimore Ravens arrived at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, took the 15 mile bus ride to their team hotel and, less than two hours later, head coach John Harbaugh and a group of players that included Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and Matt Birk met with hundreds of media members from around the country - and some international reporters as well.
"This is pretty cool," Harbaugh said. "This is pretty exciting. We're really excited to be here. We're thrilled to be here. On behalf of the Baltimore Ravens, the entire organization, the city, the greater Baltimore area, Maryland, Ravens fans everywhere, we're proud to be participants in the Super Bowl. We're going to do our best to play our best in this game."
The Ravens will partake in Media Day today at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome - with each of the team's players and coaches available to the thousands of media expected to be in attendance. Wednesday will then begin a relatively normal day of practice - as much as it can be - as Baltimore continues its preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.
"We're going to have a similar schedule to what we always have, as much as possible," Harbaugh said before joking, "If it weren't for the media, we could do it 100 percent like we always do it, so you guys are in the way. No, just kidding.
"It's OK. We're going to embrace all of that. ... But let's make the most of our preparation. We're going to get our full meeting times. We're going to get our full practice times. And we'll be ready to go Sunday."
Last week, players were consumed making travel and game arrangements for their family and friends - getting tickets to the game and taking care of booking airfare and hotels. Aside from that, Flacco described last week as "a normal week of practice."
"We prepared like a normal week last week," Flacco said. "We pushed it back a little bit so we can get a little bit of this stuff handled, but we put in a normal week and got ready for these guys so we can come down here and just polish some things up."
Added Harbaugh: "We've laid out most of our plans now, so we'll be fine tuning what we're doing and trying to improve every single day and be our best on Sunday."
R. LEWIS RESPECTS 49ERS' GORE: The 49ers have a multi-dimensional young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. They have a former Pro Bowl tight end in Vernon Davis. They have a 1,000-yard wide receiver in Michael Crabtree. And they have an offensive line that's been described by several Ravens defenders as one of the best in the NFL.
But the player Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis apparently respects the most on San Francisco's offense: running back Frank Gore.
Gore rushed for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season and was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl. He's rushed for at least 1,036 yards during each of the last six seasons he's played in at least 14 games.
"He's just like a bull," Rice said. "He goes downhill on you really fast. I think he's more loose than people think he is. I have respect for his game because if you watch Frank Gore, he doesn't take the hits. He actually delivers them because of his low center of gravity.
"You go ask Ray Lewis who he has respect for in that offense, and obviously he has respect for everybody, but the main person he'll tell you right now is Frank Gore."
LIGHT MOMENT: Harbaugh's joked before with Newsday's Bob Glauber regarding Glauber's resemblance to Harbaugh's brother-in-law, Indiana University men's basketball coach Tom Crean.
More joking ensued Monday when Glauber asked Harbaugh which coach has been most influential to him to this point of his career.
"Well, looking at you, I think of Tom Crean right away," Harbaugh said to Glauber with a smile. "But you talk about [former University of Michigan football coach] Bo Schembechler, and we grew up with coach Schembechler ... and that's the foundation for all of us, but I would say [brother] Jim [Harbaugh] and Tom [Crean].
"Those are the guys you talk to almost every single day throughout the offseason and sometimes during the season - just about coaching and issues we have. So we try to keep it in the family"
49ERS' SMITH EXPLAINS DECLINE IN PRODUCTION: It was just seven weeks that 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith was on the brink of breaking the NFL single-season record with still three games left in the regular season.
But after posting 19½ sacks during San Francisco's first 13 games, Smith is now without a sack in each of the 49ers' last five games.
"A lot more guys coming to block me," Smith explained. "I'm getting double-teamed a lot, triple-teamed at times, and then the quarterbacks are getting the ball out fast.
"[But something] that's really cool about that is if I'm not making a play, a lot of times I'm getting double-teamed and a sack comes from somebody else. I might not get it, but at the end of the day the stats still say it's a sack."
Smith was named San Francisco's team MVP earlier Monday. He's expected to be primarily matched up with Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie Sunday. McKinnie allowed a sack to New England Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich early in last week's AFC championship game, but that's the only sack - and one of the only pressures - McKinnie's yielded this postseason.
STOPPING THE RUN A PRIORITY FOR 49ERS: San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith - no relation to Aldon - was asked Sunday about the success Flacco has had this year producing big gains in the passing game.
Flacco's completed 15 passes that have gone for gains for 20 yards or longer during the playoffs while averaging nearly 17 ywards per playoff completion.
Flacco completed 63 passes that went gains of 20 yards or longer during the regular season, which ranked as the fifth-most in the NFL.
Said Smith: "I think the main thing is stop the run, keep the safeties deep, try not to get them involved in the run game as little as possible, so [Baltimore wide receiver Torrey] Smith doesn't run through our backfield, our d-backs. That's pretty much their M.O. - run, run, chuck it over your head. The reason they can do that is because they can run the ball successfully on people. So, that's going to be one of our keys."
San Francisco ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense during the regular season, but it's given up 653 yards through the air in two playoff games. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers last week.
Flacco's thrown eight touchdowns without an interception this postseason while throwing for an average of 284 yards per game.
SUGGS SPEAKS OUT OVER COVERAGE OF RYAN'S TATTOO: It made national headlines earlier this month when a picture of a vacationing Rex Ryan surfaced with the New York Jets head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator sporting a tattoo on his right shoulder of a woman - apparently his wife - wearing only a green Jets jersey with the No. 6 on it. No. 6 on New York belongs to much-maligned quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was asked about the tattoo Monday, and the outspoken Ravens defender responded by vehemently downplaying the relevance of his former defensive coordinator's tattoo.
"I probably got something on my [butt] that ya'll never see that is probably inappropriate," Suggs said. "Who cares? I think you guys blew it way out of proportion. I don't really think it's a big deal. I think everybody should have a certain amount of privacy, even though they are in the public eye, no matter who they are. Even our president deserves a certain amount of privacy. That goes for NFL coaches.
"When he leaves the office, he's not a head coach, he is a husband, father, brother. I think ya'll need to keep that in mind when you're writing these stories about us, that we're not just coaches and players. We're human beings, too. You can do your job, but don't try to make ours so hard."