Inconsistent Joe Flacco will be closely watched this season

August 26, 2011

— While the Washington Redskins auditioned potential starters Rex Grossman and John Beck Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, their foes faced a quarterback competition of its own. For the Baltimore Ravens, the burning question won't be answered until the regular season, but there were hints of the dilemma on display in the Ravens’ 34-31 preseason win.

The Good Joe Flacco showed up, but as is often the case, so did the Bad.

The Good tied the game in the second quarter with a perfectly-thrown floater to Lee Evans, a 35-yard touchdown that was as good as any throw in Thursday night’s game.

“He put it right where you would want it,” Evans said. “I couldn't ask for it any better.”

The Bad, though, got the Ravens off on the wrong foot. Flacco threw an ugly pass in the opening quarter that was intercepted by Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall and returned 52 yards for the game's first score.

“We can't have those kind of starts in the regular season,” Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said.

Flacco played into the third quarter and finished 17 of 27 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He faced the Redskins’ starting defense only in the first two quarters; in that span, he went 12 of 20 for 169 yards with a touchdown and interception. Rookie Tyrod Taylor took over midway through the third to help carry the Ravens to the win.

In his fourth season, Flacco will shoulder more pressure and higher expectations than he has in any of the previous three. His youth and inexperience will no longer suffice as a shield.

Mild-mannered and even-tempered, he entered training camp firing and seems to know he’ll be closely scrutinized this season. “I don’t play this game to be average. I play this game to be the best, and it doesn’t matter what other people say, I think I’m pretty damn good,” Flacco said on the first day of camp.

But his success doesn’t hinge solely on his throwing arm. The Ravens have problems on their offensive line, which was exposed early and often by the Redskins’ 3-4 defense. Washington sacked Flacco three times for a total of 17 yards. The team lost Chris Chester to free agency, Michael Oher doesn't appear to be the answer at left tackle and the Ravens last week signed troubled tackle Bryant McKinnie. For Flacco to thrive, he'll need more support up front than he received Thursday.

Following the interception to Hall, Flacco and the Baltimore offense kept battling. The Ravens started the second quarter trailing by two touchdowns, but Flacco led his unit on three long touchdown drives before handing the reins to Taylor.

A 68-yard drive was highlighted by an 18-yard pass to Anquan Boldin on third and seven and a 30-yard completion to Boldin on third and five. The second pass put the Ravens on the 1-yard line and set up Ray Rice’s short touchdown run.

“When we come out and be ourselves, it’s going to be hard to stop us,” Boldin said.

The Ravens then marched 96 yards down the field in a drive capped by the touchdown strike to Evans. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh was disappointed Flacco & Co. couldn’t better execute the two-minute offense in the final minute of the second quarter, but Flacco opened the second half with an 80-yard drive that featured a 12-yard touchdown pass to Boldin.

With Derrick Mason and Todd Heap gone this season, the Flacco-Boldin relationship will be an important one, and Harbaugh was happy to see the two connect. “That bodes well for us,” he said.

Said Boldin: “We’re a work in progress. I think we took a step in the right direction tonight.”

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.
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