It’s time for Flacco to step up

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Joe Flacco is known as Joe Cool for his stoic demeanor and icy composure, delivering spirals with authority and a certain nonchalance with his textbook mechanics.

Unfortunately, though, Flacco has yet to warm up below freezing temperatures during his first two trips to the NFL playoffs.

As the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) take on the Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) in an AFC wild-card game today at Arrowhead Stadium, Flacco arrives in his third postseason having yet to make an impact during the most pivotal time of the season.

In five career playoff games, Flacco has completed just 57 of 120 passes for 660 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions for a dismal 46.5 passer rating.

He has averaged 132 passing yards in those playoff games, but has managed to win three times.

"He’s a heck of a player," coach John Harbaugh said. "I’m sure glad he’s our quarterback."

Now, the Ravens need Flacco to do more than merely manage the game as he did as a rookie when they reached the AFC championship game.

Coming off his best season statistically, the Ravens are looking for Flacco to lead them on a march to the Super Bowl.

"I think Joe is ahead of the curve right now," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "If you look at the other quarterbacks that came out of college when he did, the only one in his class is Matt Ryan. Joe is doing everything the organization has asked him to do. He has led us to the playoffs three years in a row and three winning seasons.

"You’ve got to understand after the second or third game, the only quarterback playing better than Joe is Tom Brady. His maturity has gotten a lot better. His leadership has gotten a lot better. Joe is way ahead of the curve."

Undoubtedly Flacco has played well this season.

He passed for a career-high 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 93.6 passer rating and just 10 interceptions.

However, the towering New Jersey native has yet to conquer the playoffs.

"When the game starts and the whistle blows, it’s a football game," Flacco said. "There’s a little more hoopla surrounding the game and all that. But the bottom line is it’s a football game, and you have to do the same things you did during the regular season in order to get ready for it and in order to play well."

As a rookie, Flacco completed an average of 11 passes as a rookie during the playoffs as he was unable to top the 161-passing yard mark with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Against the Steelers in the AFC title game two years ago, Flacco completed just 13 of 30 passes for 141 yards, no touchdowns and was picked off three times and lost one fumble as he finished with an 18.2 passer rating. Troy Polamalu ran back one of Flacco’s interceptions for a 40-yard touchdown to put the game away.

"I think everybody in the locker room is confident in Joe," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We know what he’s capable of."

Last year, Flacco was impeded by health issues.

He had a huge bruise on his right hip and side that severely limited his mobility and affected his throwing motion negatively. He couldn’t step into his throws and was often pushing off his back foot, causing throws to sail.

During the Ravens’ 33-14 win over the New England Patriots last season, Flacco completed 4 of 11 throws for 34 yards and one interception.

Asked to do more against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round the following week, Flacco was unable to raise his game and appeared to be in major pain again.

He completed just 20 of 35 passes for no scores and two interceptions as he was outdueled by a masterful Peyton Manning.

Those setbacks have built Flacco’s experience.

Now, it’s time for him to learn from those mistakes and lead his team.

"I’ve seen how Joe handles pressure situations and I think everybody in this locker room is confident in how he’ll carry himself and how he’ll handle it," tight end Todd Heap said. "I feel like he’s definitely healthier this year, but I think anytime you can add more experience and get more plays and more playoff games under your belt, that helps."

This was a milestone season for Flacco.

He became the Ravens’ franchise career leader in passing yards with 10,206, also setting records for all-time touchdown passes with 60 as well as his 878 completions and 1,416 attempts.

He ranks second with a 62.0 completion percentage.

Between his size, arm strength and accuracy, Flacco is the prototype pocket passer.

"A lot of things stand out, big, physical, drop-back quarterback that’s got a big arm that can make all the throws," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He has very good vision, he understands the concepts that are being called and the spacing or progression of the routes.

"Just a good, developing quarterback that with each year that I’ve seen him, he continues to make progress, and I think that shows, and just how the team has progressed."

Quarterbacks are judged, though, by what they do in big games.

And it gets no bigger than the playoffs.

"All these experiences for guys in their first, second, third, probably even in some cases into their fourth year, these experiences just add up to really help," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "It’s still difficult, it doesn’t make anything easy. It just gives you an opportunity to maybe grow.

"And we’d like to see him do that this year, and I’m confident he will, because he’s done a lot of good things in the playoffs the last two years. The thing is he is healthy this year. Last year, he wasn’t, but still found a way to play well. So, we’ll see."

Over the past four games, Flacco’s 103.4 passer rating ranks second behind Brady.

However, Flacco doesn’t enter the playoffs on a hot streak.

He averaged just 114 passing yards over the final two regular-season games with two touchdowns and two interceptions in unimpressive wins over the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Nonetheless, his teammates have expressed confidence that Flacco is ready to take the next step and become an elite quarterback.

"The way he’s matured in the game and his numbers have gotten better each year, you walk into the locker room fully confident during the playoffs that’s the one position that you don’t have to look at," Mason said. "You get defined by the playoffs, and then you get defined by the Super Bowl. The great ones make it to the Super Bowl. That’s what separates them from the good ones.

"He has put a stamp on his name these last two years. Now, he’s really going to put himself in a different bracket if we can accomplish what we want to accomplish. He can put himself in the same party as a Peyton Manning, Brady and Drew Brees. I know Joe doesn’t care about that, but, as a quarterback, you want to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys."

 

This entry was posted in The Beat with Aaron Wilson by Aaron Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson
Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best...more

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