OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Joe Flacco has been making headlines this postseason for what he hasn’t done.
In two games, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback has completed only 44 percent of his passes, thrown for one touchdown and is averaging 148 yards through the air.
Nothing special there.
Yet Flacco has not fumbled or been intercepted, and that’s the biggest reason why he is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two playoff games. He’s no Joe Montana, but the man known in Baltimore as “Joe Cool” has outplayed quarterbacks with longer resumes and far more experience.
Chad Pennington threw four interceptions in Miami’s 27-9 loss to the Ravens, and Kerry Collins was picked off in the red zone last week, a key play in top-seeded Tennessee’s 13-10 defeat.
Although he’s careful with the football in his hand, that doesn’t mean Flacco is conservative to a fault. He threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason in the first quarter at Tennessee, and directed a 51-yard drive in the closing minutes that resulted in Matt Stover’s winning field goal.
“I don’t care what anybody says. I’m going to go out there and make as many plays as I can,” Flacco said Wednesday. “If it’s not there, I’m not going to be dumb enough to try to take the play anyway. I’m going to do what I can to make sure it’s a safe play. … I’m looking to hit the play over the top, and if it’s not there, I’m going to check it down.”
It’s a sound strategy, especially because the Ravens (13-5) possess the second-ranked defense in the NFL. So, when Baltimore faces the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the AFC championship game, Flacco’s No. 1 priority – by far – will be to protect the football.
“It’s an important part of our game,” he said. “If you’re not converting, not scoring touchdowns, at least you’re living for the next set of downs. You punt the ball away and let the (defense) take care of it. We’ve done that pretty well the first couple of games.”
Former Ravens coach Brian Billick won a championship for Baltimore in 2001 by combining a suffocating defense with a take-no-chances offense run by Trent Dilfer. Asked to assess the play of Flacco in the postseason, Billick told Fox Sports Radio, “Obviously, Flacco is playing above what you’d expect as a rookie. I don’t want to say he hasn’t impacted the game, but he hasn’t lost the game compared to Eli Manning and Kerry Collins, and some of the turnovers they’ve had.”
Flacco has thrown only five interceptions in Baltimore’s last 13 games. It is no coincidence that the Ravens are 11-2 in that span. He may be a rookie, but the guy just doesn’t make the kind of mistakes that cause a team to lose.
“I don’t necessarily know what makes him special at doing that. That’s just who he is,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I hear what they say about him, in that he has a calm demeanor. I think that works in his favor.”
Tomlin and the Steelers have faced Flacco and the Ravens twice this season, winning both games. In the latter matchup, on Dec. 14, Flacco was 11 for 28 for 115 yards and two interceptions in a 13-9 defeat. Long before that, however, Tomlin realized Baltimore’s rookie quarterback was going to be a factor in this rivalry for years to come.
Playing on the road in his third NFL game, Flacco guided the Ravens on a 76-yard drive to knot the score at 20 and force overtime.
“I think at that point I realized we were going to have to deal with this guy for a long time,” Tomlin said.
The intensity will increase when the teams meet for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Flacco doesn’t intend to let the pressure get to him.
“I know that it’s different, but you can’t let yourself think that,” he said. “You can’t go out on the field and say, ‘Wow, what am I doing out here?’ You’ve got to act like you’re supposed to be here. That’s what being a quarterback is. You have to act like you’re going to get the job done.”
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