Facing uncertain reception from home crowd, Flacco looks to bounce back

Ravens' third-year quarterback has drawn ire of some fans for poor performance vs. Bengals

September 25, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Joe Flacco and the Ravens play their first game at M&T Bank Stadium in 29 days Sunday, when they face the winless Cleveland Browns.

Whether they're friendly confines for the Ravens quarterback remains to be seen.

A rocky start to the 2010 season has caused some fans to go from "Wacco for Flacco" to "Wacco at Flacco."

On sports talk shows the past week, people have called for his benching. On message boards, they have referred to him as "Joe Fake-o."

All this over-the-top criticism has gotten Joe Cool a little heated.

"It definitely [ticks] you off," Flacco said. "I'm out there playing hard. It was one game, one loss. Everybody plays bad games, and I'm going to have more bad games. But the majority of them, I'm going to play well, and I expect myself to. You've just got to bounce back, keep your head up and know that you have the ability to do that."

As strange as this would have sounded earlier this month, Flacco is being treated more like Kyle Boller than a playoff-winning quarterback.

After two games, against defenses both ranked in the top five a year ago, Flacco is first in the NFL in interceptions (five) and last in quarterback rating (41.2). He is coming off his first career four-interception performance, which occurred in last Sunday's 15-10 loss at the Bengals.

Flacco has quickly moved on rather than dwell on those dreadful flashbacks. In his mind, that game was over as soon as he left that locker room in Cincinnati.

"There's not much you can do about it after the fact," he said. "It was one bad game out of 16. We've got 14 left, and in the long run, that one loss isn't going to matter too much. We expect to have a lot of wins and [to] go out there and play well a lot of times. Nobody likes it. I don't like it. But you've got to get over it. If you don't get over it, then it'll kill you for the rest of the year."

Flacco's 39-game body of work suggests he's still the Ravens' quarterback savior, not the scapegoat.

He had the fifth-most-productive first two seasons in NFL history with 6,584 passing yards, which ranks behind Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe and Jeff Garcia. He is only the second quarterback since the 1970 merger to win playoff games in his first two seasons (Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger was the other). And he's the third-winningest quarterback since 2008, trailing only Manning and Drew Brees.

Based on that history, it's understandable why coach John Harbaugh has resisted playing backup Marc Bulger and has remained resolute in his defense of his 25-year-old starter.

"You want to put the best guy out there that you feel gives you the best chance to win from week to week," Harbaugh said. "That's why we feel Joe [Flacco] is our guy."

Flacco has never struggled as he did in Cincinnati. But it's not the first time he has faced struggles.

His high school football team never had a winning season. In college, he had to transfer from Pittsburgh to Division I-AA Delaware when he wasn't given a chance to compete for the starting job. Even as a rookie with the Ravens, his first five games produced one touchdown and seven interceptions.

Each step of the way, Flacco took every setback like a sack. He just kept getting up and continued to fight.

Battling through adversity, especially game to game, often defines quarterbacks in this league.

"That's what makes NFL quarterbacks, because you're staring at a game within six or seven days," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "So, no matter how you perform, you've got to get back to work, and you've got to go back out there and perform. [The] first thing they do is handle success, and then you've got to be able to handle adversity. It makes you or it breaks you."

Concerns would increase if Flacco fails to rebound against the Browns, a team he has regularly dominated. He is 4-0 against Cleveland with a quarterback rating of 95.9.

"Trust me, everybody in this locker room has confidence in Joe, and I think he still has confidence in himself," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "Everybody is entitled to one bad game. Just because a person has a bad game doesn't mean you write him off because I strongly believe that he's going to come back and have a great game this week."

No one has pointed a finger at Flacco because the players understand the fault must be shared. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection, and the receivers didn't come down with passes as they did in the season opener.

"I think the quarterbacks get too much credit when things go well," wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said, "and they take way too much of the blame when things go bad."

Even a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown this season still has Flacco's back.

"We've got a ton of confidence in the guy," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "The only person that has more confidence than us is him."

Growing pains

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