Ravens' Flacco looks forward to homecoming against the Eagles

Posted: September 13, 2012

BALTIMORE - It takes a lot to rattle Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, but don't ask him about getting tickets for Sunday's Eagles game.

The Audubon High School graduate grew up a few miles from Philadelphia's professional stadiums, and for the first time in his five-year NFL career, he will play a regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field when the Ravens visit for a 1 p.m. matchup.

So the player who remains calm even while facing the fiercest of pass rushes doesn't want to deal with the expected onslaught of ticket requests.

"I try to stay out of that," he said, laughing.

That's for family to take care of. Flacco's business is playing the old hometown team.

"This is going to be pretty cool," Flacco said after engineering a 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Ravens' opener Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium. "I didn't necessarily grow up a fan of the Eagles, but I grew up watching them every Sunday."

The 27-year-old Flacco appears ready to reach a new level in the quarterback stratosphere. He is a player who has taken his share of hits on and off the field but has remained oblivious to the criticism.

"It's well-documented how calm and unflappable he is," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "Nobody is impressed less by Joe's success than Joe."

Flacco opened with a sterling performance, completing 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the win over the Bengals.

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Flacco has started every game for the Ravens - 65 in the regular season and nine more in the playoffs - since they took him at No. 18 overall in the 2008 NFL draft out of the University of Delaware.

With Monday's win, Flacco's regular-season record is 45-20. Flacco is the first starting quarterback since the NFL merger in 1970 to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, and his 44 regular-season wins were the most by a quarterback in his first four seasons.

He has been described as a game manager who didn't always manage the game correctly. Of course, that criticism came from outside the Ravens organization. His teammates are squarely behind Flacco.

"I think he's going to prove to everybody why he is a top quarterback in the league," two-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice said.

Added coach John Harbaugh, the former Eagles assistant: "Joe Flacco is going to be a great player. Joe Flacco is a great player. Joe Flacco has been a great player."

Yet Flacco, who threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions last season, said he doesn't have to prove anything to anybody. And he said he isn't coming into his own because, in his mind, he already has.

"I think I play good every year. I think I play good every game," he said.

He didn't say that in a boastful manner but in his usual matter-of-fact style. It's all part of keeping things simple.

In June, Flacco and his wife, Dana, had their first child, named Stephen after Flacco's father. While some insist that becoming a parent changes them, Flacco said that doesn't apply to him.

"I don't feel different, but it's just so cool," he said. "I always dreamed of starting a family."

Last season, Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC championship game that the Ravens lost at New England, 23-20. Look it up.

Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Brady was 22 of 36 for 239 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.

Had Lee Evans not dropped that pass in the end zone on the final drive or had Billy Cundiff not missed that last-second 32-yard field goal that would have tied the score, who knows how Flacco would be viewed?

All he has done in his career is win, and now the Ravens are using an up-tempo offense that gives him more responsibility while taking advantage of one of the best arms in the NFL.

"It's been so much fun," Flacco said.

He hopes it continues this weekend.

"All my buddies are Eagles fans," he said. "It definitely has that rivalry feel to it when you are going back and playing the hometown team; that is fun."

Flacco is in the final year of his contract, but he maintains he is not concerned that an extension hasn't come his way.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome dismissed any notion that this is a distraction.

"He is more focused than I have seen him, and it's not an issue," said Newsome, a Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end.

So why does he remain unsigned?

"We don't discuss contracts," Newsome said politely.

However, after Monday night's game, Harbaugh said, "Pay him whatever he asks for. Pay the man."

Newsome does discuss what he believes is the ceiling for Flacco, one that the quarterback hasn't reached.

"This is his fifth year, and if you would have told us [on draft day] that he would not miss a start and play in the playoffs every year, we would have been happy with Joe Flacco," said Newsome, considered by many one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL. "But what we have seen, there is a lot more to come."


Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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