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Thursday, January 14, 2010
Will Flacco step up in Indy?

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco played more of a game manager's role last week as the running game dominated.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was the ultimate game manager during last week’s 33-14 victory over the New England Patriots in an AFC wild-card game.

Flacco’s stat line: 4 of 10 passing, 34 yards, one interception and one all-important win.

The performance also made history. Flacco’s 34 passing yards were tied with former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese for the least by a winning quarterback in the postseason. Yet the Ravens (10-7) still won comfortably by 19 points.

In all likelihood, things won’t be as cushy for Flacco on Saturday when he faces the Indianapolis Colts (14-2) in the divisional round.

The Colts have the NFL’s best record, and league MVP Peyton Manning likes to air it out and score points -- particularly in Lucas Oil Stadium dome.

At some point in these playoffs, Flacco won’t be able to hand off the ball and let others do the heavy lifting. There is a good chance that ends this week, as Flacco probably will be asked to match Manning with big scoring drives and key throws of his own.

Can "Joe Cool" do it?

"Oh my gosh, there is no question," Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson said in a telephone interview. "He’s made them this year in some clutch games, and he’s made them in some clutch games a year ago. So there is really no question in my mind that he can -- and he will. We were very fortunate we didn’t need him to this past week."

Compared to his rookie season, the Ravens have put more trust in their second-year quarterback. Flacco has improved in every major statistical category this season, such as passing yards (3,613), completion percentage (63.1) and touchdowns (21). He also had regular-season games where he threw 47, 43 (twice) and 36 pass attempts, which was uncharacteristic for Baltimore.

But as the playoffs came closer, the Ravens reverted to their old identity of pounding the football and fewer attempts for Flacco.

Baltimore ran the ball a season-high 52 times for 234 yards and four touchdowns in the win over New England. Behind the running game and a solid defense, the Ravens were up 24-0 after the first quarter and took the air out of the football the rest of the game.

Joe Flacco
The Ravens proved they do not necessarily need flashy stats from Joe Flacco to win.
"Quarterbacks like to throw the ball and do it that way, but it doesn’t matter," Flacco said this week. "When you’re in the playoffs, [you want to win]. Come on, we were up 24 points after the first quarter. Do you really think we’re going to throw the ball 30 times? I don't think so.

"So the bottom line is we believe we can do either thing to win the football game, and if that's what it's going to take, that's what it’s going to take."

The NFL has morphed into a pass-heavy league that is dominated by big-name quarterbacks. All eight quarterbacks currently in the postseason either have a Pro Bowl on their resume or were former first-round picks. That includes Flacco, who was selected by the Ravens No. 18 overall in 2008.

With that comes the expectation for flashy playoff statistics, which Flacco doesn't have. In four postseason games, he has thrown for 471 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

That’s probably why Flacco doesn’t get enough credit for his stellar 3-1 postseason record. But in only two seasons, Flacco has three more playoff wins than more highly publicized quarterbacks Carson Palmer (none), Aaron Rodgers (none) and draft mate Matt Ryan (none) combined.

"People are talking about the great night that Rodgers had [with] Green Bay, but no offense to that, he's sitting at home," Jackson said. "Our guy is still playing. I’m sure all those guys would trade all those nice passes and good-looking passing stats for the opportunity to keep competing to get to the championship game.

"What we talk about around here is winning. We’re willing to whatever it takes to win, whether it’s throwing it 50 times or running it 50 times."

Look for Baltimore to test Indianapolis' 18th-ranked defense first with the running game. But the Ravens feel their offense is versatile enough to take shots with Flacco if needed, particularly playing in a dome Saturday. He's had three 300-yard passing games this season.

Flacco, who is battling a hip ailment but wasn’t listed on this week's injury report, will turn 25 Saturday. But he aims to keep everything low key.

"I don't celebrate my birthday, are you kidding me?" Flacco said. "That'll be after the season is all over, and maybe we'll do something for it."

A fourth playoff win, regardless of the statistics, is probably the best birthday gift Flacco could give himself.