As a rookie, he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times in a loss to Pittsburgh. Against the Patriots eight months ago, he completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He had the potential game-winning touchdown dropped by Lee Evans with 30 seconds left.
Now in his fifth season, Flacco has been entrusted to run a Peyton Manning-style, no-huddle offense. That takes a combination of talent, smarts, and poise - not to mention a coaching staff willing to put its trust in the quarterback.
In his season debut Monday, Flacco led the Ravens to a 44-13 win over Cincinnati. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He spread the ball around, making great use of tight end Dennis Pitta while still getting running back Ray Rice plenty of touches.
So Flacco is not Brandon Weeden, the jacklighted rookie the Eagles dominated last week in Cleveland. He is not going to overthrow wide-open receivers in the end zone, as Weeden did. And he is not going to allow the defense to load up on stopping the run, as Weeden's clear inability to challenge them allowed the Eagles to do.
Of the four quarterbacks the Eagles beat in their season-ending, four-game run last year, only Mark Sanchez started for his team in Week 1 this year. Stephen McGee, who replaced Tony Romo after one series in Dallas, isn't even in the league. Miami's Matt Moore and Washington's Rex Grossman inspired their teams to take quarterbacks in the first round of this year's draft.
The Eagles, of course, had no control over who was under center for the opposing offense. After a miserable three-quarters of a season, culminating in a humiliating loss in Seattle, they had to regroup. And they did. That was the first step: to become competent.
It is a longer way from mere competence to excellence, and that is the gap the Eagles hope they have closed. One game against the Ravens won't settle the matter for good, but it will at least provide some useful evidence.
For starters, we'll see what areas of the Eagles defense John Harbaugh's offensive staff believes can be attacked. The Browns staff, led by former Andy Reid proteges Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress, was just trying to get an overmatched rookie through his first game alive and with his confidence intact. The Browns barely succeeded.
Will the Ravens try to pound the Eagles' undersize front seven with a bushel of Rice?
Will they use Pitta and slot receiver Anquan Boldin to test the middle of the Eagles defense?
Will they try to speed up the game to catch the Eagles with mismatched personnel on the field?
Will Flacco try to take advantage of the Eagles' aggressive front four with some misdirection and some screen passes?
The answer to all of those questions is probably yes. It is what any worthy offensive coach would likely try to do, given the Eagles' personnel, system, and track record from 2011. It's what the Dolphins and Cowboys and Browns did try to do. They just didn't have the quarterback to do it effectively.
The Ravens do, which is one reason this is a big test for the Eagles defense. The other reason is also a quarterback - Michael Vick.
It is safe to say the faithful at Lincoln Financial Field will be quick to react to Vick's performance. If he is good right away, the crowd will be relieved and rally behind him. But if he struggles (a distinct possibility against a very tough Ravens defense), the fans could be calling for rookie Nick Foles.
Either way, the Eagles defense can help with a big performance. Nothing gets Philadelphia fans going like a dominant defense swarming and rattling an opposing quarterback. Putting pressure on Flacco can help take the pressure off Vick, who admits he often tries to do too much. A big game against the Ravens would help make the case that this Eagles defense is what it says it is.
Real, not fool's, gold.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster, and
his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan