Ravens vs. Patriots: Joe Flacco keeps winning, despite skeptics of his game

January 20, 2012

The debate about Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco’s merits is all too familiar to practically everyone in the organization, and to Flacco in particular.

They’ve all heard the arguments more times than they probably care to remember: how Flacco stacks up victories despite posting underwhelming statistics.

“This team as a whole, we’ve never been kind of like anybody’s favorite,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said this past week. “I think he fits right in with us, kind of with our persona. . . . He is right there in the locker room with us. We are just us. We’re a different kind of group with some special cats around here.”

It wasn’t particularly surprising that the Flacco debate raged on during the week, while the Ravens readied themselves to travel to face the New England Patriots and their golden-boy quarterback, Tom Brady, in Sunday’s AFC championship game with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

What was a bit different, however, was what spurred the Flacco discussion to begin anew — comments made by Ed Reed, the Ravens’ venerated safety, about Flacco’s performance during last Sunday’s playoff triumph over the Houston Texans. Reed said during a satellite radio interview early in the week that Flacco had seemed a bit “rattled” by the Texans defense and didn’t look like he had “a hold” on the offense.

By the time Flacco and the other Ravens players returned to the practice facility at midweek to begin preparations in earnest for the meeting with the Patriots, Flacco had to face questions about his reaction to Reed’s remarks. His teammates, led by Suggs and fellow linebacker Ray Lewis, were left to take up for him again.

“When I first saw it, I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” said Flacco, adding that he became aware of Reed’s comments while out at dinner. “Like I said, we talked about it. We are a team around here. It’s not really that big of an issue. I don’t really take things that bad.”

Lewis called it a non-issue.

“The only issue we have, as a team, is going up and trying to get a victory. . . . Anything else that anybody else wants to bring up is irrelevant at this time,” Lewis said. “Every person in our locker room is thinking of it the same way.”

What does seem clear is that the Ravens could use a far better outing by Flacco against the Patriots than they got in the victory over the Texans. Flacco completed 14 of 27 passes for a modest 176 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and didn’t have an interception. But both Ravens touchdowns came via short drives after Houston turnovers, and Flacco was sacked five times. The Ravens won, 20-13.

There could be far more opportunities Sunday against a New England defense that ranked 31st in the league against the pass and 31st overall during the regular season.

“If you look at the statistics, you can say, ‘Hey, we don’t score a ton of points. We don’t put up a ton of yards,’ ” Flacco said. “But the bottom line is we get the job done. We score points when we need to.”

Flacco was the league’s 18th-rated passer during the regular season. He was 25th in completion percentage. But he was better in passing yards, ranking 12th in the league. He threw just 12 interceptions to go with his 20 touchdown passes, and the Ravens went 12-4 to secure the second seed in the AFC playoffs.

Including the postseason, Flacco’s record in his four seasons as the Ravens’ starter is 49-23. A victory over the Patriots would make him the first NFL quarterback ever to reach 50 wins, including the playoffs, in his first four seasons. It also would give him a sixth career postseason triumph, which would match Brady for the most ever by a quarterback after four NFL seasons.

“I don’t have to stick up for Joe,” Suggs said. “His reputation speaks for itself. I just say what people seem to forget sometimes. That’s all that it’s about.”

The Ravens always have taken pride in their rugged style of play and defense-first approach. They won a Super Bowl in the 2000 season with a defense hailed as one of the greatest ever and an offense overseen by a quarterback, Trent Dilfer, viewed as little more than a game manager.

But the sport is played differently than it was 11 years ago, and there’s room to wonder if a defense-first team still can win a Super Bowl without also getting a major contribution from its quarterback.

Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said he understood “where Ed’s heart is” and added: “We know each other. We understand where each other is coming from. I’m sure there are some things he would have like to have said a little better. If you look at the whole context and hear the tone of his voice and the message he was trying to communicate, it’s a good message.”

That message, Reed said during a conference call with reporters later in the week, was that the entire team could have played better in the Houston game.

“What was said was something I said about the whole team,” Reed said. “It wasn’t just Joe being criticized about how we play. We were critical of ourselves in that game, and that’s every teammate of mine talking about the game that we watched on film. We weren’t satisfied with our effort.”

During his tumultuous week, Flacco was asked if winning a Super Bowl title would change the perception of him as a quarterback.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I will be wearing a ring and we will be holding a trophy. The perception probably won’t change. But it does not really matter.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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