FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So the Baltimore Ravens achieve the improbable by beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at home. Great. But now the question: How do they achieve the impossible and beat the Colts in Indianapolis with a quarterback on one leg?
My guess? They don't.
I know, the Ravens came this close to knocking off the then-undefeated Colts in late November ... and would've pulled the upset had they just gained three feet in three successive cracks from the Indianapolis 1 or not thrown an interception down the stretch.
But that was then, this is now, and now their quarterback is not the same guy he was that afternoon.
Joe Flacco is saddled with a sore right hip that some tell me is worse than he's letting on. Flacco said it's no big deal. So did his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and his head coach, John Harbaugh. Moreover, all insist it doesn't have an impact on Flacco's game.
But if you watched him operate in Sunday's 33-14 defeat of New England, you might have drawn another conclusion. He threw 10 times. He completed four. And when he hit a 17-yard pass to Mark Clayton early in the fourth quarter, it doubled his yardage for the afternoon.
You heard me: Baltimore won by throwing for 34 yards.
In short, Flacco was an ordinary Joe, and, I'm sorry, that won't cut it next weekend because when you play Indianapolis, you generally wind up playing tennis with league MVP Peyton Manning. Not only that, but Manning is not hurt, and he and his teammates had the weekend off.
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But Manning is not the issue here; Flacco is, and I don't know how the Ravens beat the best team in pro football if his condition isn't improved in six days.
Flacco insisted his passing wasn't impaired and that he could make all the throws and drops he had to make. Plus, as he pointed out, he scrambled for a first down. But the numbers don't lie. If he were healthy why, did Baltimore go out of its way to avoid the pass?
"What we do is based on who we're playing," said Cameron. "The game plan went the way we wanted it to go, and the conditions were a little different. We were throwing the ball pretty good there [early in the season], and people changed their cover structure against us. Now they've gone to more of a two-shell defense, which helps your running game.
"I don't want to be stubborn. If they're going to give us the pass we'll take the pass. And if they're going to play the defensive backs back, we're going to run the football. And that's what's going on. What's really changed is how people are defending us."
OK, I buy that. But I think what has really changed now is that Baltimore relies less on Flacco out of necessity.
There is no question you go with what is working, and what was working Sunday was the offensive line. It didn't push the Patriots off the ball as much as it overwhelmed them. So the Ravens kept dialing Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, and it worked. I get it.
What I don't get is how little they turned to Flacco ... unless, of course, he can't make the throws he can when healthy. I wouldn't know because he threw only 10 times.
"Joe did what he had to do to win the game," said Harbaugh.
Precisely. He handed off and stayed out of the way. But tell me how the Ravens win if he does that again next weekend. On second thought, forget it. I know they can't. So tell me how much different ... or how much better ... Flacco will be, because he will have to do something if Baltimore is to pull a second successive upset.
"I felt pretty good, especially when I got out there with the adrenaline going," said Flacco, whose 10 attempts were a career low. "Obviously, I was a little stiff, but I felt like what was asked of me ... what is asked of a quarterback ... I was able to do everything. The way the game played out, we were able to hand the ball off and run downhill."
|Joe Flacco does some scrambling on his sore hip, rushing six times for 5 yards. (AP)|
Flacco said he could throw 30 times now if he had to, and I suspect he might have to next week. What I also suspect is that we'll get more of a gauge of just how much the bruised hip is hurting him.
"You've got to understand that at this time of year in the NFL everybody's banged up," said tight end Todd Heap, "and everybody's hurt. It's a matter of: Are you injured, or are you banged up? And can you play through it? If you're playing through it, you're good to go. You might as well say you're 100 percent because there are no excuses in the playoffs."
I get that, too. What I don't get is how the Ravens beat Indianapolis if Flacco doesn't feel better or throw more. He wasn't sacked Sunday and he was barely pressured, so that will help. What won't is playing an opponent that can run up the score in a hurry -- with the Colts producing 27 or more points in five of their eight home games.
It's one thing to ask your quarterback not to screw up and basically not lose the game for you. But it's another to turn to him for big plays, and if that happens next week I don't know that Flacco can respond ... primarily because he might be incapable of doing what the Ravens need him to do, and, yes, I mean that literally.
Look, Flacco didn't have to make big plays Sunday because Tom Brady is not Tom Brady. Not now he isn't. I don't know how badly the guy is hurt, but I do know he's not the same quarterback we've seen in previous playoffs. So the Ravens could coast once they were comfortably ahead, confident Brady couldn't rally his teammates.
But that won't be the case against Manning, which means, like it or not, Flacco plays a role next time out.
"Joe is one tough kid," said Cameron. "He's been injured a lot this year, and he keeps playing through it."
And he will keep on playing through it. But playing through an injury is not the same as playing through the Indianapolis Colts. If Flacco doesn't feel better than he does now, the Ravens' season is over.