Paul Domowitch: Flacco still NFL's Dangerfield

Ravens QB Joe Flacco slaps fan's hand as he leaves field after playoff win over Texans.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco slaps fan's hand as he leaves field after playoff win over Texans. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: January 16, 2012

BALTIMORE - Joe Flacco was sort of kidding, but also sort of being honest last week when he told reporters, "I'm sure if we win [the Super Bowl], I'll have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys."

In case you haven't noticed, the fourth-year Ravens quarterback is going through the Rodney Dangerfield phase of his career. He seems to think he's not getting enough respect.

Not from his team, which has been dragging its feet on a contract extension.

Not from the media, which has seen fit to dwell on his middle-of-the-NFL pack 80.9 passer rating this season and career-low .576 completion percentage.

And not from Ravens fans, who have been wondering why he's not putting up the kind of fantasy-football numbers that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees are.

The Ravens have made the playoffs 4 straight years with Flacco as their quarterback. With yesterday's 20-13 win over the Texans, they are going to the AFC Championship Game for the second time since Flacco stepped out of the 2008 draft as the 18th overall pick and into the starting lineup.

But most of the credit for this latest win, as with the bulk of the Ravens' victories this season, went to a defense that forced four turnovers and gave up just one touchdown rather than a quarterback who completed just 14 of 27 passes for 176 yards.

"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. Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last 4 years. If that was anybody else, they would be praising him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into position to win."

No quarterback in history has won more games in his first four seasons than Flacco (44). His career numbers are solid, if not spectacular: an 86.0 passer rating, with 34 more touchdown passes than interceptions.

But the postseason is where a quarterback's legacy is made. Or not made. Ask Brady or Joe Montana. Ask Donovan McNabb, who went to five conference title games with the Eagles, but will be remembered more for tossing his cookies and throwing those three interceptions in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Yesterday's win was Flacco's fifth in eight playoff starts. But he has been more game manager than playmaker in most of those games. He has just a 66.2 postseason passer rating and a 53.1 percent playoff completion rate. Just six touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

But things can change in a hurry. If he can go up to Foxborough next Sunday and match Brady completion for completion and help the Ravens upset the Patriots, people will be falling all over themselves to heap praise on the pride of Audubon, N.J., and the University of Delaware.

For that to happen, though, the Ravens' offensive line will need to do a better job of protecting Flacco than it did against Houston. He was sacked five times. Fumbled on the first of those five, only to be saved by his left guard, Ben Grubbs, who fell on the loose ball and salvaged a Billy Cundiff field goal that put the Ravens up, 10-3, 9 minutes into the game.

"We knew they had a good front seven that could create a pass rush," Flacco said. "There were a few times today that they had a good pass rush, and they were able to get to me just by bringing four guys."

"That's not what you want, obviously," coach John Harbaugh said. "But I thought Joe did a great job under fire. That's a really good pass-rush team. It's a premier pass-rush team, and we didn't do a great job always of blocking them. But I thought Joe did a really nice job of protecting the ball in the pocket, stepping up and making a couple of nice throws."

Flacco completed just six of 15 passes for 80 yards in the first half. But two of those six completions went for touchdowns. Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones muffed a punt 4 1/2 minutes into the game and the Ravens' Jimmy Smith recovered it at the Houston 2. After a Ray Rice run gained just 1 yard and Flacco came up empty on a quarterback sneak, he hit the team's No. 3 tight end, Kris Wilson, in the end zone for a touchdown.

The play didn't start off well. Flacco bumped into fullback Vonta Leach as he spun around to execute a play-fake to Rice. But he managed to stay on his feet and got the ball to Wilson.

"When I came around, the [pass rusher] was a bit up a little bit, otherwise I would have let the play draw out a little longer," Flacco said. "That's why I tried to get the ball out of my hands as quickly as I could and put it on [Wilson's] back shoulder. He actually ended up making a really nice catch on it."

Flacco's second touchdown pass - a 10-yarder to wide receiver Anquan Boldin - came late in the first quarter following the first of two interceptions by cornerback Lardarius Webb. That one gave the Ravens a 17-3 lead.

The Ravens came into the game figuring they wouldn't need a big offensive explosion to beat Houston. They were going up against a rookie quarterback - T.J. Yates, who spent much of the season as the team's third-team signalcaller. They felt if they could slow down the Texans' star running back, Arian Foster, they would be fine.

Foster rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown, but 95 of those yards came in the first half. After the Texans fell behind, they had to rely on Yates more than they had planned, and the Ravens' opportunistic defense picked him off three times.

The Ravens won't be able to count on getting the Patriots to cough up the ball four times next week, and they won't be able to count on them scoring just 13 points. On the plus side, the Patriots' defense isn't nearly as good as Houston's, particularly against the pass. New England is 31st in the league against the pass, which means it's time for Rodney Dangerfield to step up and be counted.

"I would anticipate, against the team we're about to play, we have to do a better job offensively [than we did today] in terms of numbers and stats and points," said Harbaugh, whose team had just 11 first downs and 227 total yards, and converted just four of 16 third-down opportunities.

Said Flacco: "As an offense, as an offensive guy, I would think [we have to play better against the Patriots]. We have a good defense, but the way they've played all year, the way they've played in the past, they put points on the board. So I think as an offense, you have to go in there and put points on the board, too."

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