Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, top, falls over Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Kiko Alonso as he rushes the ball in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Gail Burton
December 07, 2016

BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Ravens' motivation for changing to a grass field this year was to protect players from sustaining the kind of injuries that occur on artificial turf.

Adhering to a poll of the team, the Ravens pulled up the synthetic surface they'd been using for 13 years at M&T Bank Stadium and laid down the real thing during the summer.

''Principally, we did it for our players,'' Ravens president Dick Cass said. ''There's data out there that suggests that if you have a natural grass field, you're less likely to have lower body injuries, mainly the knee.''

Though it's too early to determine if the switch has produced the desired result - Baltimore has played only seven home games - the field has played to mixed reviews.

Several of the Miami Dolphins complained about the grass in the wake of their 38-6 loss in Baltimore last Sunday.

''It was slick out there. You saw some guys sliding around,'' Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi said. ''We just had to make it work as the game went on. At the end of the game, there were definitely some people losing traction out there.''

Andre Branch, a member of a Miami defense that yielded 496 yards, said, ''The grass was terrible. We knew that coming into the game.''

Actually, the field was vastly different than one week earlier, when Baltimore beat Cincinnati 19-14. In that game, the turf was beginning to show the wear and tear of a long season.

''The grass stopped growing and it became a little bit of sand pit out there, especially between the hash marks,'' Ravens kicker Justin Tucker said.

So the team did something about it.

''We decided to re-sod the middle of the field, from the numbers to the numbers, 100 yards,'' Cass said. ''We brought in heavy-cut sod from North Carolina. I thought it was beautiful.''

Unlike the Dolphins, many of whom changed cleats after slip-sliding through the first quarter.

Ravens receiver Steve Smith tore an Achilles tendon on the artificial turf in Baltimore last year. He said playing on grass ''benefits you,'' and offered his theory about why the Dolphins were upset with the condition of the field.

''Since Miami got their (butt) whupped, of course they're to complain about it,'' he said. ''It looked pretty good to us.''

The victory improved Baltimore's record at home to 5-2.

To accommodate the change to grass, the Ravens are paying for two additional fields in North Carolina from which to obtain sod. They've also installed an artificial lighting system at M&T Stadium and given up staging the state high school football playoffs - four games in three days - because of the damage it would cause the field.

Then there's the matter of hiring crews to maintain and replace the grass.

''It's a major investment and a major commitment,'' Cass said. ''But it's worth it if we can avoid one or two major knee injuries a year. I'm not sure that's going to happen, but that's why we did it. And, our players really prefer grass.''

Especially Tucker, who has nailed four field goals of farther than 50 yards over the past two weeks.

''There's this idea that all kickers want to kick on an artificial surface,'' Tucker said. ''Not true. It's like you're trying to put your cleats into little rubber granules with synthetic grass blades in between them. It just doesn't feel right.''

The grass in Baltimore suits him just fine.

''Our guys are doing a great job with the field,'' Tucker said. ''Coming from last week to this week, it was as if the field was plucked from September and dropped into the stadium.''


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