After cruising, Flacco hits choppy waters

November 17, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Last week, as the Ravens prepared for yesterday's game against the New York Giants, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said of Joe Flacco's season-long development, "It doesn't get any easier."

Anybody who doubted that, who thought the quarterback had figured it all out 10 games into his NFL career, can't anymore. Not after yesterday. The Giants could hardly have made it harder. Neither could his teammates. Or, for that matter, himself.

It was far from his worst game of the season, but it also was far from his best. And it only occasionally resembled the four straight games the Ravens had won before this. All things considered, the 30-10 beating at Giants Stadium had "learning experience" stamped all over it. The level of competition leaped dramatically, and the Ravens, including Flacco, didn't leap up to match it.

"We did kind of what we wanted to do. We just didn't capitalize when we got past the 50," he said. "And you have to do that. You have to put points on the board."

Especially yesterday. Flacco's best friends - the defense and the running game - let him down in a big way, pretty much from the start. The formula he improvised worked just well enough to generate a decent number of sustained drives - but not well enough to score points.

Two such drives ended in disaster - Matt Stover's blocked field-goal attempt and the 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by Aaron Ross.

The latter came when the Ravens were within 20-10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, near midfield. Flacco tried to swing one out to Derrick Mason on the left side. It came in too high and behind him, and it ricocheted off him and into Ross' hands. Good night, thanks for coming.

"I obviously think he was crowded out there," Flacco said, "and tried to put the ball into Derrick tight a little bit. It was unfortunate." He paused, thought for a moment, and added, "Tipped balls don't hit the ground in this league."

Mason stuck up for his quarterback: "I'm supposed to catch that. ... I told Joe that. We, as an offense, have got to help him."

All season, the Ravens' re-energized offense has helped the rookie enormously, so he was rarely in a position where he had to make do-or-die plays. Yesterday, though, he had to throw 33 passes. Although he clicked regularly with Mason, he wasn't as accurate as he had been.

He caught a couple of breaks: Although Ross' first interception halted the Ravens near midfield late in the half, Ray Lewis negated the effect with a timely pick at his 6 on the ensuing drive. Also in the half, Flacco escaped trouble when passes into multiple defenders in the end zone to, respectively, Mason and Mark Clayton, fell incomplete.

The miscues came from forcing things, much as they did against the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, two defenses that bottled up the run and took off after him. Flacco had no turnovers in the four straight wins. Then again, chalk up his team-best 57 rushing yards yesterday to his making something out of nothing far more often than he usually has to.

It all was a jolt to the smooth progress Flacco had made in the preceding month. "He'll build from the good plays, and from the plays that weren't so good," coach John Harbaugh said, adding, "I'm excited to see where he's going to go next week."

The Philadelphia Eagles come to town next week. The time to apply the lessons taught yesterday will be here soon enough.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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