The postseason is when quarterback legends are born. The good ones become great, and the great ones win Super Bowls.
Right now, Ravens second-year quarterback Joe Flacco is trying to get a second wind. He had a good first half of the season and struggled in the second. Headed into the playoffs Sunday against the New England Patriots, Flacco has to play better.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and for the second straight season Flacco is about to compete with Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
The two youngsters among the six AFC teams are New York Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and Flacco.
"The more you experience it, the better you can prepare yourself for it, but the most important thing is that we feel that we have a good team," Flacco said about the postseason. "We think it's going to be tough to beat us, and we're looking forward to going into it taking it one game at a time."
A lot depends on Flacco. He has struggled with mechanics and has been hampered by injuries. In the past two weeks against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, he had trouble reading blitzes and preparing his offense for them.
Also, against Oakland, the Raiders took away wide receiver Derrick Mason and running back Ray Rice. At times, Flacco looked lost, completing only 11 of 19 passes for 102 yards.
This can't happen in the postseason. This is a time when quarterbacks distinguish themselves. It's the second time around for Flacco. He made significant improvement for the second straight year but not as much as expected in the second half.
"You know we were up there earlier this year, and we feel like we should have gotten one," Flacco said about the loss to New England on Oct. 4. "It's our chance to go up there and try to get it back and prove to everybody and prove to ourselves that we can beat these guys. New England is where it starts."
Barnes putting it together
It has never been a question of whether Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes could play the game, but whether he had the desire to do other things to get onto the field.
Barnes has always been athletic and among the team's best pass rushers. But he didn't want any part of playing on special teams and often committed mental mistakes that cost the team.
Since he has gotten a little smarter and vacated coach John Harbaugh's doghouse, he has played extremely well. One player who might learn a lesson from Barnes is Ravens rookie defensive end Paul Kruger.
Ellerbe steps up
I've had my eye on rookie inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe since training camp, and he just keeps getting better and better.
He was always a good run-stuffer, but now he is getting good depth on his drops, something this team desperately needs out of a linebacker. He also closes quickly on running backs on passes in the flats, and he always takes the appropriate angle.
Officials in cahoots?
OK, so the Ravens are going back to New England, and you know they are going to get hosed by the officials again.
I've never been one to believe in conspiracy theories, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets home cooking in Foxborough just as former Dolphins coach Don Shula did in Miami during the 1970s.
It's like death and taxes. The Patriots get two or three calls a game at home just because of Belichick.
Don't let go of Gregg
There has been speculation that the Ravens might let veteran Kelly Gregg go at the end of the season, but that would be a big mistake.
Gregg, who had major knee surgery a year ago, is just starting to play extremely well. By next season, that knee will be 100 percent healed and he will be a beast again.
Listen up, Parmele
Jalen Parmele has performed well as the Ravens' kickoff returner, and it couldn't have come at a better time with Lardarius Webb out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
But here's a little advice for Parmele: When you receive the ball 5 yards deep in the end zone, just down it, son.
Watch for McGahee
If Flacco continues to struggle, then backup running back Willis McGahee might become the savior of this offense.
Teams are going to be keying on Rice, and having a fresh McGahee off the bench is a great resource.
Eventually, though, teams are going to start stacking the box against the Ravens, shutting down the run, and we'll probably see the Patriots do it Sunday.
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