The NFL season hasn’t been rescued yet from the labor dispute and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has already been mistaken for a convenient punching bag.
Pounded verbally by former NFL players Jamie Dukes and Bucky Brooks, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, Flacco has drawn heavy criticism.
Although Flacco has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances, Brooks said the Ravens are winning in spite of him not because of him.
Dukes accused Flacco of not working hard enough even though the former first-round draft pick has a reputation for putting in long hours at the office.
And Woodley predicted the Ravens will never win a Super Bowl in Flacco’s lifetime.
Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason has a pet theory on why Flacco has emerged as a popular target in NFL circles.
“When you’re good, people are scared of you,” Mason said during his youth football camp in Westminster.
“Honestly, that’s what I’ve seen. When people realize the potential that you have, they get very, very scared and then you see them scrambling to say bad things about the guy.
“Joe doesn’t care. He really doesn’t. For the Woodleys and the Dhani Jones and the rest of them, you see there aren’t no head coaches or general manager and no smart players saying Joe can’t play. The last thing you want to do is wake up a sleeping giant. Whether he says it or not, they’ve given him added fuel.”
Heading into his fourth NFL season, Flacco is the Ravens’ all-time passing leader with 10,206 yards, 60 touchdown passes, 878 completions and 1,416 attempts.
The 25-year-old New Jersey native has started every game of his career and has completed 62 percent of his throws for a respectable 87.9 quarterback rating with only 34 interceptions.
Including the playoffs since 2008, Flacco has a 36-19 record as a starter ranking behind only Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning (38-15) and ahead of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (35-16) and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (35-14). The Ravens are 22-3 when Flacco has at least a 95.0 quarterback rating.
During the Ravens’ last 30 wins, Flacco has thrown 43 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 102.4 rating.
What he hasn’t done, though, is lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl, going 4-3 in the postseason.
“Yeah, Joe is taking that final step,” Mason said of Flacco, who recently married his high school sweetheart. “Joe is going to be all right. Each year, the best thing he’s done is matured in the game. Joe is a mature young man.
“Each year, Joe hasn’t taken a step back. Each and every year, he’s gotten better. That’s all you can ask of your quarterback. Right now, he’s ready to be the leader of not just the offense, but the entire team.”
Last season, Flacco completed 62.6 percent of his passes for a career-high 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions for a 93.6 rating.
Ravens free agent wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth recently stuck up for Flacco’s play and stoic personality.
"I like Joe," Stallworth said. "I think from the time I got there he made a lot of progress. He’s not a fiery guy. Sometimes, those guys at the quarterback position tend to be criticized for whatever reason when they’re not that fiery or cursing at people.
“Joe is cool. He goes about his business. He works hard. He’s the first guy in and one of the last guys out of the locker room. I definitely appreciate the position he’s in. I can’t see why some people are on him. He’ll be fine. He knows that. He’s not too far away from that championship. He’s a competitor. He’ll come out swinging."
NOTE: Mason thinks Woodley made a mistake by singling out the Ravens and neglecting to mention the rest of the AFC teams.
“There’s a lot of teams in our way, the Jets, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, New England,” Mason said. “We’re thinking bigger than Pittsburgh. We’re thinking past Pittsburgh because you can’t just look at one team and forget about the others.
“Woodley is just looking at us. That tells you how scared he is of the Baltimore Ravens. You didn’t just take a dagger at us. You took a dagger at everybody else. He’s looking through a microscope; he’s looking through a funnel. He has to see the big picture.”