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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Unflappable Flacco shrugs off drops, achieves statement victory

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Take away the drops, and Flacco's stats are 7 of 10 for 92 yards on the final drive. (US Presswire)  
Take away the drops, and Flacco's stats are 7 of 10 for 92 yards on the final drive. (US Presswire)  

PITTSBURGH -- Joe Flacco doesn't get happy, doesn't get mad, doesn't seem to register emotion like a human being registers emotion. He plays football with bland detachment, like a librarian stacking books instead of a quarterback trying to avoid James Harrison.

And that ticks some people off. They don't get it. They can't relate to it. It's spooky to watch, but when it works -- and it worked Sunday night -- it's beautiful to watch. Beautiful and still spooky, because normal people don't handle stress like Joe Flacco handles it.

But a normal person, even a normal NFL quarterback -- even a very good NFL quarterback -- wouldn't have been able to handle the stress Flacco handled Sunday night. There might be only two other quarterbacks in the NFL who could have led the game-winning drive engineered by Flacco on Sunday night, a 92-yard lesson in perseverance that gave the Ravens a last-second, 24-20 victory against the Steelers in a pivotal AFC North game.

Those two other quarterbacks are named Brady and Rodgers, by the way.

Flacco doesn't have the Super Bowl bling of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he has that ability. His window is closing in Baltimore -- star defensive players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, not to mention star receiver Anquan Boldin, are in their 30s and can't play at this level for too much longer -- but the window is open this year. And if the Ravens get it done, I promise you this comeback in Pittsburgh will be seen as the launching pad.

This was the kind of victory that can catapult a team into the stratosphere, and the AFC is there for the taking. Unlike the NFC, with the Packers clearly the dominant team, the AFC has no frontrunner. Well, it had no frontrunner until Sunday night, when the Ravens emerged from the pack thanks to their maddeningly cool, sometimes downright cold, quarterback. Joe Cool? Joe Freezing.

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He needed every sub-zero degree of body temperature he could muster on a final drive when he was facing 92 yards, the crowd, the Steelers and the butterfingers in his own huddle. And he was facing all of that with only 2:24 to play.

"Joe was the same in the huddle every single play," Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said. "He's the same person he always is."

Before that drive was done, three different Ravens would drop passes from Flacco -- including Smith, who couldn't reel in a 37-yard pass in the end zone with 35 seconds left. The first drop, though, was by running back Ray Rice, who botched an outlet pass with 1:30 left and the Ravens on their own 42. Two plays later, on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 49, Flacco hit Boldin for 10 yards.

"Nobody blinked," Rice said of the drops. "Joe Flacco is going to put the ball in the right place."

After Flacco's fourth-down pass came a short completion to tight end Ed Dickson, then the drop in the end zone by Smith. This was the second ball Smith dropped on the night, the first coming in the second quarter on an out pattern that hit Smith, who wears No. 82, between the "8" and the "2." Had Flacco been throwing a lawn dart, it would have pierced Smith's sternum. It might have killed him.

Flacco? He didn't even look angrily at Smith. Flacco never looks angrily at anyone. He looks sleepy, like he can't be bothered or doesn't even care, although that's obviously not the case. But it is how it looks, and like I said, it's spooky.

So anyway, after the drops by Rice and Smith, Flacco locked in on his best receiver, one of the more sure-handed receivers in the NFL -- Boldin. On second-and-10 from the Steelers' 26, Flacco found Boldin open over the middle hitting him in stride with 16 seconds left at the Steelers' 10.

CBSSports.com Grades
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
A
Let's see, allow the home team to climb from a 10-point hole. Prevent them from kicking a field goal or maintaining possession to seal the outcome. Then drive 92 yards in the final 2-plus minutes against the NFL's No. 2 defense. That's making a statement.
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
C
They climbed from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over to the defense with 92 yards behind it. Pass defense continues to be problematic, especially if the rush doesn't dominate. And failing to try that late field-goal could haunt their home-field dreams.
By Chuck Finder
RapidReports Correspondent

Boldin dropped it.

Had a doctor strapped a blood-pressure sleeve on Flacco's right arm, at that moment, it probably would have registered 110 over 70. Which is perfect blood pressure. Or maybe it wouldn't have detected any numbers at all. Ice water doesn't generate much pressure, probably. Who knows?

All we know is this: On the next play, the play after Boldin's drop, on third-and-10 from the Steelers' 26, with 16 seconds left and the crowd of 64,851 standing and screaming and the temperature dropping to 40 degrees, Flacco threw a laser into the back of the end zone to the same guy who dropped a potential touchdown moment earlier. This time, Torrey Smith held on.

This time, Joe Flacco showed some emotion. He smiled. May even have screamed. Forgive him, but this was an exciting moment.

The Ravens are now 6-2, tied atop the AFC North -- and all of the AFC, come to think of it -- with the surprising Bengals, a team Baltimore still must play twice. The Ravens have swept the Steelers, meaning Pittsburgh will have to catch the Ravens and then pass them outright to finish ahead of Baltimore in the playoff race.

Don't put anything past the Steelers, though. This is one tough, tough team. They were playing with a makeshift core of linebackers, without receiver Hines Ward after a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit by Ray Lewis early in the second quarter, and with a new punter. But they nearly won this game, rallying from a 16-6 deficit in the fourth quarter, taking a 20-16 lead on Ben Roethlisberger's running 25-yard strike to Mike Wallace with 4:59 left.

After a Baltimore three-and-out, the Steelers had the chance to run out the clock or pad their lead. They reached the Ravens' 29 when Mike Tomlin made a passive-aggressive choice that didn't work at all. Faced with a 46-yard field goal, he hesitated before sending out the kicking team, sending them out so late that Pittsburgh was called for delay of game -- taking the decision out of his hands.

At that point, a punt was the prudent choice, and the Steelers punted. And it worked, with injured Daniel Sepulveda replacement Jeremy Kapinos killing a punt at the Ravens 8.

Now a touchdown would win it for the Ravens. Still, Tomlin liked his odds.

"I made the decision to make them work the length of the field," Tomlin said. "Ultimately, that was probably the best option for us."

Against 28 or 29 quarterbacks, that would have been the winning option. But Flacco's not normal, man. He was dreadful most of the game on first and second downs, when the pressure's low. But on third down, with no margin for error? He was incredible on third down, leading the Ravens to a 14-of-21 conversation rate. That touchdown pass to Smith? That was third down. And it was to Torrey Smith, the most buttery of the Ravens' butterfingers. Flacco's cool like that. He's cold.

"It's not my job," Flacco said, "to get down on Torrey.".


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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