BALTIMORE -- The blitzes came quickly and they didn't stop. The Jacksonville Jaguars thought they could rattle rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Then, something strange happened.
|Flush Flacco from the pocket? Blitz him? No matter, he's cool under pressure. (Getty Images)|
On many of Baltimore's first-half offensive possessions, the Jaguars blitzed. Flacco beat it almost every time. It was a remarkable sight -- the rookie outsmarting a veteran defense.
Flacco's beating of the blitz got so maddening for the Jaguars that one Jacksonville player threw up his hands in disgust after failing to reach Flacco. As the Ravens started to roll offensively, that feeling of disgust began to spread.
Jacksonville took an early 7-3 lead, then Baltimore opened up the offense, scoring on its next three drives with Flacco completing lengthy passes including one for 47 yards. In those drives, in the face of constant blitzing, Flacco completed 12 of 13 passes. Flacco was 14-for-17 in the first half and finished 17-for-23 for the game with a passer rating of 115.8.
The haircut looks like he was just walked out of Army basic training. His arm is strong but not Elway-ian. On the surface, little about Flacco says franchise thrower. Nothing except his record and naked ability.
He'll be better than Jay Cutler -- doesn't throw as many picks. Better than Tony Romo (bigger winner), Brady Quinn, Matt Schaub, Vince Young and a number of other young throwers.
He hasn't even really learned how to play the sport, and he's already in the playoffs.
The difference between this Baltimore team and past editions is the play of Flacco. The Ravens have always possessed an explosive defense. The offense, meanwhile, used to sit by on the sideline with a dry thumb up its rear. Now, Baltimore has an offense that can do some damage.
Imagine that: an explosive Baltimore offense.
The Ravens have handled Flacco the way Atlanta has Matt Ryan. Both teams let their rookies throw downfield, and neither is coddled or overly protected. Young quarterbacks usually need a bailout plan, but in Flacco's case the playbook isn't shrunk to miniature size. Against the Jaguars, Flacco had five passes of more than 20 yards.
"He's exceeded a lot of people's expectations, but he hasn't exceeded ours," Baltimore's Derrick Mason said of Flacco. "We knew what we had in a quarterback. He's playing pretty well. This is when we need him to play even better going down to Miami."
It has been some time since Ravens fans were this ecstatic about a quarterback. Maybe it's the bad John Unitas haircut, I don't know, but the reaction to Flacco has been stunning. "Wacco for Flacco" T-shirts flooded the stadium Sunday and when his grill was shown on the large video screen, fans roared.
"All that stuff's just crazy," he said. "To go out there and just prove to everybody that we're a playoff team has been great. Now we just want to continue to show we're a Super Bowl team, the best team in the NFL."
People have waited for Flacco to fail, or maybe a better way to put it: People have waited for Flacco to play like a rookie. The Jaguars took that approach with their constant blitzing.
And that will be the key in the postseason. Will the rookie crack once the playoffs begin?
Don't see it. Like Ryan, he's special. Just ask the Jaguars.