Rookie Quarterback Joe Flacco Gives Ravens a Shot in the Arm

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Nov. 12 -- What must it be like to be Joe Flacco right now?

To be 23 and rich, a starting NFL quarterback for a first-place team only nine games into his career, his face on advertisements, his highlights on television and a whole city seemingly humming his name?

It would seem to be a dream.

Except Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback, winner of six of his first nine professional football games, hardly appears overwhelmed. He stood in a hallway at the Ravens' practice facility on Wednesday having just endured 10 minutes before a battery of television cameras, mumbling answers about playing what might be his team's most important game of the season on Sunday against the New York Giants in his home state of New Jersey, and he looked bored by it all. As if being the anointed savior of a football franchise in transition was something he never set out to be.

"It's not about me," he finally said. "It's about everyone we have on our team. It's about our defense and our offensive line and our running backs and our receivers."

As he talked, he stared out a nearby window, at the practice fields and the battery of cameras where he had just been standing and where defensive end Trevor Pryce, one of the team's established stars, was talking. In many ways, this team still belongs to Pryce, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and all the other players who have been here for years. But through all the winning seasons, through the playoff runs and the Super Bowl season, in which Baltimore's defense thrived, the team perpetually lacked the one essential piece that kept it from being a dynasty.

It never had the right quarterback.

Suddenly, as the old stars start to fade away and the team builds again with a new coach, that quarterback has arrived.

Because rookie quarterbacks rarely start in the NFL and almost never find themselves in first place so soon, what Joe Flacco has done this year is nothing short of amazing. Flacco has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,649 yards, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Not that this is a surprise to Hue Jackson. The Ravens' first-year quarterbacks coach first met Flacco back in February at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis. Baltimore was searching for a player it could call its quarterback of the future, and Jackson had decided to intimidate the draft's top quarterbacks when they came to interview with the Ravens.

When Flacco, suddenly heralded after throwing for 4,263 yards his final year at the University of Delaware, showed up at Baltimore's hotel suite, Jackson barked out questions. Flacco had left the University of Pittsburgh after two years for more playing time at smaller Delaware. Why did he do this? Was there a problem at Pitt? Was he in trouble? Did he not like his coaches?

The questions kept coming, one right after the other, like gunfire.

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