Healthy discussion on limping Flacco

It's playoff time, and players are banged up, the Ravens' second-year quarterback included, but he and coaches say the injury hasn't affected his play

January 12, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The Ravens' Super Bowl run continues to get bogged down by questions about a limping Joe Flacco.

His 34 passing yards Sunday at New England tied an NFL record for the fewest in a playoff victory during the Super Bowl era (since 1966) and reinforced concerns that injuries are affecting the quarterback's performance.

Fans are calling radio shows about it. Television reporters are talking about it. If you Googled "Joe Flacco and injury" Monday, 63 articles popped up.

A day after the Ravens' jubilant 33-14 win, the persistent inquiries about Flacco's hip-quadriceps injury finally struck a nerve with the Ravens' head coach.

"He is very much healthy enough to play and to play well," John Harbaugh said before taking an ornery attitude. "The more you guys [the media] want to make of the injury situation, that's great. Make it really dire. He's really in bad shape."

Flacco's health status has been a series of mixed messages.

He favors his right leg walking onto the field, but he takes nearly every snap in practice. He doesn't always step into his throws these days, but he will scramble downfield to convert a critical first down.

From Harbaugh to Flacco to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the Ravens say the injury isn't limiting his play. But here's the bottom line: Flacco has produced the fewest passing yards of his career in the past two games. He threw for 102 yards at Oakland and followed that with 34 yards at New England (which tied the Miami Dolphins' Bob Griese, who threw for 34 yards in the 1973 AFC championship game).

Flacco acknowledged that he has a bruise on his right hip and speculated that fluid running down to his quadriceps has made it stiff. Because the AFC divisional playoff game is Saturday, his recovery time will be shortened.

"I have to make sure I take the next couple of days to give it a little rest and then get ready for Indianapolis," Flacco said. "I feel like I'll be feeling great and moving 100 percent when we get there next week."

His effort Sunday - he completed four of 10 passes and threw an interception - likely won't cut it in Indianapolis. The Ravens probably will need more passing production to keep pace with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts.

Flacco's injury won't affect the Ravens' game plan, according to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

"I refuse to let my mind go anywhere other than Joe's 100 percent," Cameron said. "I can't. This is playoff football. Joe is tough. You might be 80 percent during the week, but you find a way to go 100 percent on game day. That's just the way it is.

"That's my expectation for him, that's his expectation for himself, and that's not going to change until he retires. As long as he and I are together, my expectation is the same as his - when the game shows up, you find a way to be 100 percent and you go play ball."

There have never been any questions regarding Flacco's toughness.

He has started 36 straight games (including playoffs), which is a Ravens record for quarterbacks. It's the sixth-longest current streak in the NFL, ranking only behind those of Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler.

Flacco went through his entire rookie season without being on the injury report. This year, he has been listed five weeks with injuries to the ankle (games 7 and 12), knee (games 10 and 13) and hip (games 13 and 17).

The only time he has missed a practice in his two seasons occurred during the bye. He has never been listed on the injury report as more seriously than probable.

"You've got to understand that at this time of year in the NFL everybody's hurting," tight end Todd Heap said. "It's a matter of: Are you injured or are you banged up? And can you play through it? If you're playing through it, you're good to go. You might as well say you're 100 percent because there are no excuses in the playoffs."

New England quarterback Tom Brady, who is dealing with his own injuries, said after Sunday's game that the only way a quarterback can display toughness is to be out on the field.

"We don't hit anybody. We don't block. We don't do that stuff," Brady said. "I want the team to be able to rely on me and count on me, whether it's practice or the game."

There is a dual reason for Flacco to rebound in the divisional playoff game. He not only could silence the questions regarding his injury, but he also could redeem himself for that costly red-zone interception in the fourth quarter two months ago against the Colts.

"It'd be fun to go on the road into a hostile place and go earn a win. That's what we're ready to do," Flacco said. "They're another team that beat us earlier in the year. We felt we played pretty good against them. But we have to go in there; we have to play just like we did [Sunday] and do whatever we need to do to beat those guys."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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