Not your average Joe

Ravens insist they wouldn't be here without Flacco

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 21, 2012
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. - It has been four years of doubts and questions. Four years of defending himself. Four years of never being considered quite good enough. And yet, it has been four years of winning - though the winning has never gone deep enough, never far enough into the season, never been credited to the one throwing the football.

The wins always went to someone else. That left Joe Flacco defending himself, left his teammates defending him, left everyone else wondering whether the Ravens needed someone else.

As Flacco said before the Ravens beat the Texans last weekend, “I’m sure if we win [the Super Bowl], I’ll have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys.’’

That was before teammate Ed Reed criticized Flacco’s play the day after the Houston win.

It comes back to the numbers, really, especially in the postseason. It comes back to the fact that, in the minds of many in Baltimore and some in his own locker room, Flacco has yet to prove that his leadership or his play is equal to the Ravens’ defense, and that he is capable of getting the team to the title game.

The quarterback has played in eight playoff games, winning five.

While his regular-season quarterback rating is 86.0, he has a 66.2 rating in the playoff games. It is a stat bolstered by a 2010 win over the Chiefs in which he registered a 115.4 and negatively affected by his 10.0 earned in another win, over the Patriots in 2009.

And it’s not only that. His completion percentage dips from 60.8 in the regular season to 53.1 in the biggest games.

“A lot of people around the world are number-type guys and number-type girls,’’ tight end Ed Dickson said. “They look at the numbers and say, ‘Oh, well, that offense is not really that good.’ But we win games, so we must be doing something right.’’

It seems that the Ravens are. But is Flacco?

“Like I told Joe, no one wins games by themselves,’’ linebacker Ray Lewis said. “We are in this as a family; we are in this as a team. Nothing on the outside matters. What matters is what we think on the inside of this building and what we feel about him and the confidence we have in him. Everything else, you can throw out the window.

“Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last four years. If that was anybody else, they would be praising him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into the position to win.’’

Still, the credit doesn’t come.

His teammates and coaches spent the week trying to come to his defense, trying to make it clear that his performances are better than people outside the team seem to realize.

As offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said about the Texans game, Flacco “had six plays that he didn’t get a ‘plus’ [grade] on. He would say it’s probably six too many . . . I grade him very, very hard.

“The biggest issue we have from the game the other day is footwork and ball security . . . If we keep that cleaned up, that’s the stuff that matters. How Joe responds or doesn’t respond to criticism, I feel good about Joe Flacco and his response to most things.’’

Cameron added, “He played at an extremely high level against a very good defense.’’

Cameron said against Houston on 12 plays Flacco made the audible that was needed, later clarifying that Flacco had chosen the right option - out of his two or three choices on each play - 98 percent of the time.

“Joe Flacco’s a proven winner,’’ Dickson said. “He’s gotten criticism all over. That’s going to come with the territory, with the quarterback territory. In order to get your criticism to go away, you’ve got to win big games.

“And what other big game than this conference championship and Super Bowl?’’

It’s time, then. Time for Flacco to win. Time for the victory to be about the quarterback and not about the defense or the running back.

So could another win over the Patriots change his career? Could this end the questions?

“How does that saying go? ‘That question kind of insults my stupidity?’ That’s all I can say to that,’’ Cameron said. “Joe’s play speaks for itself. And this offense, this team, our defense and our special teams, we have a style that we think fits who we are.

“We have a style we think fits this division. We think we have a style that fits this town, this conference, and that’s what it’s all about. We know, obviously, Joe is a big part of our style. This division is a Fu Manchu kind of division. It’s not a clean-shaven one for sure. We’ve got a style, and we like it.’’

Whatever happens, Flacco will continue to ignore the harsh words, even when they come from his teammate.

“Joe does a great job of handling criticism and praise,’’ tight end Dennis Pitta said. “No one takes more criticism than him, for whatever reason, and he just shrugs it off.’’

Flacco, as wide receiver Lee Evans said, is big and strong and tough. He’s reminiscent of Drew Bledsoe, with his strong arm and ability to stand in the pocket, and his postseason numbers aren’t all that far off from Bledsoe’s.

Flacco already has played in one more postseason game and has one more win than Bledsoe, though he hasn’t yet been to a Super Bowl.

Will this be the Ravens’ year? Will it be Flacco’s?

“He’s a proven winner in the playoffs,’’ Dickson said. “It’s hard to get a playoff win in this league and that’s all he has done in the last couple years is win. We have 100 percent faith in Joe Flacco. He’s our quarterback. He’s going to get the job done for us.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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