Joe Flacco’s Chance of a Lifetime
“Killin’ them corners like Ed
Lineback like Ray
Man, we wacko like Flacco
Look out for that Purple Reign” ---Baltimore rapper Mullyman, “I Go Harder”
I begin this blog with a personal story about Joe Flacco
In 2008, I covered the Ravens’ final preseason tune-up against the Atlanta Falcons. Going into the game, everyone knew Flacco was going to be the starter heading into the season opener against Cincinnati. Flacco, the team’s first round pick out of UD, had won the job almost by attrition after Kyle Boller’s shoulder gave out and Troy Smith’s tonsils betrayed him.
Flacco had long since been out of this Atlanta game by halftime, and I sat down in the media lounge with longtime Baltimore radio personality Ted Patterson. Ted and I got to be friendly during the putrid 2007 season when the Ravens finished 5-11 in Brian Billick’s final year.
Me and Ted started talking about Flacco and I distinctly remember saying to him, “You know, you’d like to see this guy take the job and hold it for the next decade.”
After the game, Flacco was one of the team’s designated people to speak to the media. Most of the questions were about whether Flacco thought he could handle starting right away. I remember someone asking him whether it was better for him to play or sit and learn. Flacco gave a look that said, “Are you f’n kidding me?” and responded by saying he always wanted to play immediately and didn’t think he could learn anything sitting on the bench.
Flacco gave off the air of someone supremely confident in his own abilities. He had an aura about him that said, “I got this.”
When my friend Chris and I talked about the Ravens prospects later that week, he expressed reservations about Flacco. I remember saying, I’ve been around this guy and I’m telling you, I think we’re all right at QB.
Fast-forward almost halfway through that decade I promised Ted.
Joe Flacco stands on the cusp of the opportunity of a lifetime this Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday afternoon against the New England Patriots, Joe Flacco has the opportunity to do everything he’s probably ever wanted to do as a quarterback. He can take the Ravens to the Super Bowl, hush his thousands of critics, validate himself as a championship-caliber quarterback and make the case to Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti that he’s worthy of franchise quarterback dollars.
If he lays an egg and the Ravens lose? The questions about his ability to be an “elite quarterback,” whatever that means these days, will just get louder.
Thought you had a lot of critics before Joe?
Go 13 for 30 with three picks, like he did the last time he played in an AFC championship game, and see how many more pundits start taking aim.
Stink it up against New England and Ozzie and Biscuit start exploring other options, like a girl that’s fed up with her boyfriend.
Joe Flacco is the most polarizing athlete I can ever remember in Baltimore. To his defenders, he’s taken the Ravens to the playoffs his first four years and won a playoff game every year, something no quarterback since the merger has done. The Ravens have never had a quarterback as good as Flacco in their franchise history.
But to his critics, and believe me, Flacco has them nationally, locally, hell, even in his own locker room, he’s a hesitant passer that lacks that certain something that great quarterbacks have and comes up short on big stages.
Being a sports talk radio shrink dissecting Flacco’s play has practically become its own industry. National pundits question just about every breath he draws. They “just don’t see it” with Flacco. ESPN’s Skip Bayless, or Skip Clueless as I call him, nearly has an aneurysm if anyone dare mention Flacco as an “elite” quarterback. Millions of pixels die everyday on message boards going back and forth on Flacco.
As if all this wasn’t tiring enough, safety Ed Reed said Flacco was jittery in last week’s win over Houston, although Ed left out the part where the offensive line got abused by J.J. Watt and the tough Texans defense.
The national media has quickly seized on this meme, trying to construe Reed’s comments as throwing his quarterback under the bus.
While the endless Flacco/Reed stories have become overblown and tiresome, the fact remains that this game is as big a referendum on Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as there can be.
For the Ravens to win this game, Flacco has to be the Ravens’ best offensive player. Not to say he has to throw six touchdowns, but he has to manage the offense, avoid turnovers, be accurate and keep Tom Brady and the Patriots offense off the field.
Flacco and Cameron would do well to find the film of when the Pats played Pittsburgh this year and duplicate the Steelers’ strategy: a controlled passing game mixed with bruising running that eats up yards and clock and ends in touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to cut it here.
The Ravens will need to turn this game into a street fight, instead of a track meet, and Flacco has to be the conductor out there. He’s got to give New England’s defense a reason to respect him when they load up to stop Ray Rice. The Patriots will surely try to avoid a repeat of the 2009 wild card game between these two teams, when Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain ran all over New England.
Flacco knows all of this, I’m sure. He’s capable of pulling this off. He did it against the Chiefs in last year’s playoffs and he’s done it to Pittsburgh twice this year. Anyone with the stones to drive 92 yards against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense, in their backyard, doing it all without getting frustrated when his receivers were dropping passes left and right, has what it takes to win this game.
The Ravens may never get a better opportunity than the one that’s staring them in the face this Sunday. Veterans like Reed, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk are fighting the sands of time and there’s no guarantee they’ll ever be back in this spot. In the world of pro football, things can change in an instant.
Thus, the mission for Flacco is simple. Win. Doesn’t matter how, just win. The playoffs are no beauty contest. Style points are meaningless. It’s win or go home. As head coach John Harbaugh said after the ugly Houston game, “by any means necessary.”
Win, and the critics, the pundits, talk radio Freuds and armchair quarterbacks out there will have to drink a tall glass of shut the hell up.
The Super Bowl represents Joe Flacco’s middle finger to the world. Time to go out there and stick it in the air.