NFL: Dennis Pitta, Paul Kruger boost Baltimore's bid to reach Super Bowl
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Paul Kruger was selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, plays outside linebacker, and starred for the University of Utah. Dennis Pitta was drafted in 2010, plays tight end, and is a product of BYU.
Different schools, different sides of the ball.
Both, however, have played huge roles this season for the Baltimore Ravens, who square off today against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Foxborough, Mass.
Kruger, now in his fourth year with the Ravens, had nine sacks in regular-season play to lead the team, while Pitta had a career-high 61 catches.
"(Paul) is coming on really strong," Ravens' wideout/special teams player David Reed (also a former Ute) said of Kruger here last week. "He has been playing all-out. Pitta has been ballin' since he came here. He will keep playing at a high level."
Kruger and Pitta are both expected to play key roles when the Ravens meet the Patriots today at Gillette Stadium. The winner advances to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says he's not surprised by the success Kruger has enjoyed in his fourth NFL campaign.
"He's been having a tremendous year," Whittingham said. "I have been able to catch a few of his games and he has played outstanding this year. We always felt he had the potential to be a tremendous NFL player. I think he started to come into his own right now and demonstrate that.
"He left (our program) after his sophomore year so he still had some development that was going to take place and we knew that," Whittingham continued. "I think right now you're seeing what his capabilities are after having that time to develop that he missed out on in college."
Last year the Ravens lost in the AFC title game at New England, as Lee Evans dropped a crucial pass and Billy Cundiff missed a field goal, both in the closing minutes. The Ravens haven't forgotten how they felt.
"The way we left it last year didn't sit well with us," Pitta told reporters. "So we're excited to be in this position again and give it another shot."
Pitta had three catches for 55 yards in the Ravens' 38-35 double-overtime win at Denver on Jan. 12, while Kruger had three tackles.
"I've never been part of a game like that," Pitta said. "It was incredible. We knew we had a good shot at winning the game. We went into that stadium confident and really excited about getting another shot at those guys, because the first time we played them (in the regular season) we did not play well. Obviously I think we are a different football team at that point in the season as well."
Now, Pitta and the Ravens get a second shot at the Patriots in the title showdown.
"We're excited about this game," Pitta said. "It's been a long road getting back to this point. ... The Patriots are a good football team. We know that, and they've played well all season. So, I think everyone in the building is excited about this game."
Pitta has formed a strong one-two punch with fellow tight end Ed Dickson, a University of Oregon product. Both figure to be used a lot today against the Patriots.
"We've had a lot of highs and lows this season," Pitta said. "We had a three-game losing streak when nobody thought we would win another game. We're excited to be in this game and to be able to get a rematch with these guys."
John Beck, who played with Pitta at both BYU and Baltimore, first recognized Pitta's great hands during the summer following his return from an LDS Church mission. So impressed, Beck approached then-BYU head coach Gary Crowton about the possibility of finding a scholarship for the sure-handed tight end. After his career at BYU ended, Beck was talking up Pitta again, this time to the coaches and scouts in Baltimore.
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