Ravens-Falcons preview: Flacco and Ryan had similar flight paths

November 10, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

ATLANTA — — The paths of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan cross Thursday night for the first time since they were the top two quarterbacks of the 2008 NFL draft.

It was 31 months ago when the Ravens reportedly made an aggressive push to move ahead of Atlanta and grab Ryan with the second overall pick. Unable to do so, the Ravens dropped back into the bottom half of the first round before moving up to take Flacco with the 18th pick.

But the selection of Flacco as the Ravens' franchise quarterback shouldn't be considered a fallback option, according to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. There were Ravens officials who actually had Flacco graded higher than Ryan.

"We thought highly of Matt. Obviously, we saw the upside and potential in Joe," Cameron said. "You can only pick one. But there's no doubt we picked the right one."

It's difficult to argue that either team made the wrong decision. Flacco and Ryan helped turn losing teams into playoffs ones as rookies and have strong-armed their teams to the best records in the NFL this season.

While the prime-time game between the Ravens (6-2) and the Falcons (6-2) marks their first game against one another, Flacco and Ryan have long been running stride for stride. They were born four months apart (Flacco is the older one) and grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs (40-some miles separated the homes of Flacco in New Jersey and Ryan in Pennsylvania).

Both started their professional careers with a bang. Flacco and Ryan are two of nine rookie quarterbacks to start an NFL playoff game and they did it in the same year. But Flacco has enjoyed more postseason success, winning three playoff games.

Both have produced eerily similar career numbers. Flacco has a 26-14 record with an 85.8 quarterback rating. Ryan has a 26-12 mark with an 85.7 rating. Flacco has completed 61.5 percent of his passes, and Ryan has connected on 60.4 percent of his. They've both thrown 30 interceptions.

And both even share similar nicknames based on poise beyond their years: Joe Cool vs. Matty Ice.

"I think both of these quarterbacks are going to be stars in this league," said Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL most valuable player who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. "I think we saw in their first year how good they were going to be. As the teams continue to get better and continue to put pieces around them, those guys are only going to get better. In a couple of years, we'll be talking about them as a couple of the elite quarterbacks."

Too close to call

Entering Thursday night's game, the national perception is that Ryan is better than Flacco at this point. In a poll of 20 media members across the country, 17 took Ryan over Flacco but a majority couched it by saying it was by a narrow margin.

Ryan is considered the more polished quarterback right now. Flacco is believed to have a higher ceiling.

"The great thing about Joe that I like is he's not trying to be better than Matt Ryan or anybody," Cameron said. "I still believe — and no one will change my mind on this — Joe's potential is limitless."

Flacco hasn't really watched Ryan play and doesn't seem interested in doing so. His answer to most questions comparing him to Ryan was "I don't really care."

Does Flacco even take pride in the fact that two young quarterbacks have done so well from the same draft class?

"I'm sure someday we'll look at that, and hopefully we'll both have a couple of Super Bowls — or I'll have them all and he won't have any," Flacco said with a smile. "I think maybe one day we'll look at it like that, but we're still young. I mean, this is our third year, and we're just out there each week trying to play well. I know I'm not really thinking too much about that."

According to NFL observers, Flacco gets the nod over Ryan as far as arm strength, durability and size.

He's the NFL's highest-rated quarterback since Week 3 (108.6 rating), throwing 11 touchdowns and one interception. His streak of 129 passes without an interception is his career best and ranks third-best in Ravens history.

"There's a reason why they brought the guy in as a first-rounder," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "For him to do what he's doing at this point in his career, it just shows how long the guy is going to play the game. He's athletic, smart and he's able to take a hit. I love playing with him."

Ryan stands above Flacco in terms of clutch play and leadership that is reminiscent of Tom Brady, according to league observers.

He has the NFL's second-best completion percentage (69.2) in the fourth quarter when his team is either leading or trailing by seven points. And without a Ray Lewis-type figure on his team, Ryan has been the one to rally his teammates.

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