Laid-back Joe Flacco leading Ravens to wins

November 04, 2010|Kevin Cowherd

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not here today to trash Chad Henne.

Chad Henne is a perfectly fine young quarterback.

He might also be great to his mom, kind to animals and a tireless giver to charity.

But there can be no disputing this: He's no Joe Flacco. Not at this stage of his career, anyway.

OK, where's Flacco at this stage of his career?

Well, he's hardly a finished product. He has a lot to learn. But all he has done since he came into the league is win.

Last year, he became just the fourth starting quarterback since the AFL- NFL merger in 1970 to reach the playoffs in his first two years in the league.

You might have heard of the other three. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers is one. Bernie Kosar of the Cleveland Browns is another.

Oh, and the third is some guy named Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins.

Flacco is also third on the list for most wins by a starting quarterback (28) since 2008, trailing only the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning (33) and Drew Brees (29) of the New Orleans Saints.

But this year Joe Cool has really stepped up his game, no small reason why the Ravens have one of the league's best records at 5-2.

In fact, going into Sunday's home game against the Dolphins, he's the hottest quarterback around.

Since the Ravens' 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 19, when he threw four picks and absolutely stank up the joint, Flacco is the NFL's highest-rated passer at 105.0.

Over that time, he threw nine touchdown passes with just one interception while completing 103 of 159 passes.

Not to make you dopey with stats, but he's also thrown 102 straight passes without an interception.

By the way, if you think that's a Ravens record, it's not. The Ravens record is 175 passes without an interception, held by the immortal Eric Zeier, who quarterbacked the team in the late 1990s.

Don't worry if you've never heard of him, Dolphin fans. Zeier's so anonymous, his mom doesn't even remember him.

What the Ravens coaching staff loves about Flacco is that he's one of the hardest workers on the team, the consummate gym rat who practically lives at the team complex during the offseason.

Are you kidding? A big off day for Flacco is to hit the weights, find someone to throw passes to and then watch endless reams of film on something scintillating like, oh, the Steelers' cover-2 defense.

Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' crack PR guru, recalls leading a tour group around the team's complex on a fine spring afternoon last May. Suddenly they heard noise coming from the indoor practice field.

When he went to investigate, Byrne found Flacco throwing passes on the nearly dark field to a half-dozen players, including wide receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.

"What are you guys doing in the dark?" Byrne asked.

"Actually, it's helpful," Flacco replied. "It's like catching a ball during a night game."

Yeah, the guy really knows how to live it up with his pals.

After his terrific 2008 season, when NFL fans voted him their rookie of the year, Flacco actually stayed away from the complex for a month.

When he finally returned, Byrne asked him: "Did you go anywhere?"

"Yeah," Flacco said. "I stayed on the couch at my parents' house. My mom made me some food."

In fact, Flacco's big offseason trip that year, which he made just before OTAs started, was to -- drum roll please -- Minneapolis.

He went there to hunt pheasants with backup quarterback Todd Bouman. They say you haven't lived until you've seen the photo of Flacco, the ultimate Jersey guy, trying to smile while holding a dead pheasant as far from his body as humanly possible.

In his three seasons with the Ravens, Flacco has earned the respect of teammates by being a tough leader and an accomplished playmaker on the field.

But the Ravens also love him because he's a regular guy in the locker room.

Case in point: During the bye week, Flacco went out and got this wild "faux-hawk" haircut, complete with lines etched on the side of his head and an outline of the state of New Jersey shaved on the back.

Yes, New Jersey! You could even see a small cloud of pollution over the Meadowlands. Unless that was just some lint stuck to his head.

Normally, Flacco wears his brown hair in the drab, close-cropped style of, say, a 16th-century monk.

But a couple of Ravens were about to host a Halloween party for charity. So, Flacco got wild and crazy with his hair -- inspired, he said, by the reality show "Jersey Shore."

Sure, that may have been the first time any rational human being admitted to being inspired by that squalid little TV show.

But when you're going as good as Flacco, you get to do things like that.

As long as you keep winning.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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