OWINGS MILLS – Joe Flacco smiled at the question, happy for a bit of levity following a dreadful performance where virtually nothing went right for him.
After throwing a career-high four interceptions during a 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback was asked if even if his family wants him to ride the bench.
“I don’t know if they want to bench me,” Flacco said. “Everybody’s just making fun of me for it.”
By any standard, Flacco had a horrible game against the Bengals.
He threw into heavy coverage. He delivered passes off his back foot, a mechanical flaw that has been recurring over the past year. And he held the football too long.
Now, he’s working to correct his mistakes as the Ravens launch preparations for Sunday’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns.
“Hey, we’ve all played bad games and I’ve played bad games before,” Flacco said. “You come back and you do what you always do. You come out there and play football and you expect yourself to play well, your team to play well, and that’s what happens. You go out there and you play well.”
Considering his background during his first two NFL seasons, Flacco’s words have merit.
Following his two previous games where he threw three interceptions, he posted quarterback ratings over 120.0 in each of the ensuing games.
As a rookie, Flacco threw three interceptions against the Indianapolis Colts as he was unable to look off the safeties. The following week against the Miami Dolphins, he completed 17 of 23 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 120.2 rating.
When he threw three interceptions against the Green Bay Packers last December, he rebounded the next week against the Detroit Lions with 13 of 20 accuracy for 230 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 120.8 rating.
“For us players, the game’s over as soon as we leave the locker room,” Flacco said. “There’s not much you can do about it after the fact. You have to move on to the next week, focus on that opponent and try to get a win. You have a couple of slip-ups. It happens.
“Everybody plays bad games, and I’m going to have more bad games. The majority of them, I’m going to play well and I expect myself to. You just have to bounce back, keep your head up and know that you have the ability to do that.”
Flacco has been uncharacteristically shaky through two games while leading an offense that has scored only 20 points and two touchdowns, ranking 24th in the NFL in total offense.
He’s the last-ranked quarterback in the league with a 41.2 rating.
Despite Flacco’s struggles, the Ravens have no intentions of inserting $3.8 million backup Marc Bulger.
"You want to put the best guy out there that you feel gives you the best chance to win from week to week," coach John Harbaugh said. "That’s why we feel Joe is our guy."
However, no quarterback has thrown as many interceptions as Flacco, who has five interceptions, one touchdown and a lost fumble.
He’s also 31st in completion percentage (48.1), 29th in average gain per pass (5.22), tied for 30th in touchdown percentage (1.3) and 28th in interception percentage (6.5).
"I think the quarterbacks get too much credit when things go well, and they take way too much of the blame when things go bad," wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "He’s trying to make a play. If those balls are completions and not interceptions, it’s a great play. It just is what it is. If we make more plays, it doesn’t happen."
"It’s early in the season. It’s not like we’ve lost both games. We haven’t played great offensively, but that’s why this is the ultimate team game, because the defense has played well and we won a game. We’ll get there. If we all make more plays, specifically myself, then a lot of this is old news."
Last season, Flacco wasn’t prone to interceptions.
He only had a dozen interceptions for the entire year.
His quarterback rating of 88.9 set a single-season franchise record.
And his teammates are convinced that Flacco will bounce back from this early-season slump where his play has regressed markedly from last season.
“What he’s accomplished in a short amount of time in this league, it’s not just a credit to him as a player but his mentality,” center Matt Birk said. “That’s where Joe is really special. I love Joe. I believe in Joe.
“Obviously if there’s four interceptions on the stat sheet, people will come down on the quarterback. But everybody knows it’s a team thing."
Against the Bengals, Flacco’s interceptions broke down this way.
Twice, he threw into coverage.
One pass was deflected by a defensive lineman.
Another interception came on a desperate fourth-down heave.
“The second one I threw was bad,” Flacco said. “I don’t want to throw any of them, but I don’t think they were bad throws.”
The Ravens upgraded their receiving corps during the offseason with the intention of providing Flacco with the weapons to take the next step as a quarterback in his third season.
Despite acquiring wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Houshmandzadeh and retaining wide receiver Derrick Mason, the Ravens’ goal of becoming a more dynamic attack hasn’t materialized.
"If you don’t make these mistakes, you’ll never get them corrected. He’s a guy that’s willing to work," running back Ray Rice said. "He’s a playoff quarterback. He’s a winning quarterback. I know he’s going to get the job done. I have full faith in him."
There are plenty of theories about why Flacco isn’t playing well.
Many believe that Flacco misses the guidance of former quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, who left to become the Oakland Raiders’ offensive coordinator.
Some have questioned the play-calling of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron or whether Flacco is placing too much pressure on himself.
Regardless, Flacco figures to get back on track Sunday against the Browns.
He has never lost in four starts against Cleveland and Baltimore swept the Browns last season by a combined margin of 50-6.
In the locker room, teammates haven’t witness any changes in Flacco.
He’s the same low-key, stoic personality.
“I haven’t noticed anything different in him at all. He’s about the same to me: real quiet, real chilled," Houshmandzadeh said. "They say you want your quarterback to keep an even keel, not too high, not too low. That’s him all the way. That’s a good thing. You never want to get too emotional."