No mistake about it

Rookie Flacco - careful with ball, cool in clutch - outplays veteran Collins

January 11, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - He actually did say, "The same as anything else, like any other drive."

Joe Flacco might have been describing some drive he conducted in a sandlot in South Jersey or against William and Mary in his junior year in college. But he was talking about the one last night, at the home of the team with the NFL's best record, in the final minutes of a tie game that took his Ravens one step away from the Super Bowl.

The quarterback who should have been talking that way was in the other locker room at LP Field. Not the rookie, but Kerry Collins, the 14-year veteran who has been to a Super Bowl, lived a couple of lives during his NFL career and took the wheel of the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and steered them to this point.

But Collins instead was the loser last night, done in by an offense that coughed up the ball at the worst possible times, including the time, in the second quarter, that Collins threw an absolutely unforgivable interception inside the Ravens' 10-yard line.

It was obvious long before then that points were going to be hard to come by and that any miscue would be fatal. It was just a matter of which team, led by which quarterback, would make it. Don't feel bad if you thought it would be Flacco, because he's a rookie, instead of the so-called savvy vet Collins. You know better now.

It's unconscionable for a team to gain 391 yards in a home playoff game and manage only 10 points. The Titans gave the ball up at the Ravens' 30, 9, 15, 33 and 1. Besides the interception and the two fumbles, they botched a fourth-down try and missed a long field-goal try with the wind at their backs.

Collins overthrew, underthrew and everything in between. Twice, he mishandled shotgun snaps, appearing not to be ready for them. Give the Ravens' opportunistic defense credit, as usual, and the Titans did lose their game-breaking running back, Chris Johnson, in the second half. But never were the Titans that short on weapons. They just never did anything good with them.

They did the Ravens good instead. They gave the Ravens the ball and a path to the AFC championship game. Where Collins steered his team off the path, Flacco kept his on. He did little special against the bruising Titans defense all day - but he also didn't commit the big mistake, or even many little ones.

Of course, we're way past the point of referring to Flacco as a "rookie," except to describe his experience level. The Ravens ask him to play like a pro, period. So, with the game on the line with 4:17 left, the Ravens treated it like ... well, like any other drive.

Flacco didn't bomb the Titans into submission. He didn't have to. He ran the offense, handed off and watched Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain run. Oh, and clicked on the two biggest passes of the night, on third-and-two to Todd Heap for 23 yards and his only catch of the game and 8 yards to Mark Clayton to set up Matt Stover's game-winning field goal with 53 seconds left.

In the huddle, on the sideline and throughout the drive, Derrick Mason said: "Everyone was poised. I think our motto all year in the fourth quarter had been: Put it on the offensive line. We'll go as you all go."

Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown also gave credit to the Ravens' line - but, on Flacco, he added: "He's going to be a good one. The guy kept his poise all day."

Poise. From the rookie, not the vet. Which is why the rookie, not the vet, gets to play one more week and try another drive, like any other drive.

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

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