- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

OWINGS MILLS, Md.

After fielding questions behind a microphone at a team media session the other day, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason introduced the next guest.

“Once again, as I say every week,” Mason dramatically intoned, “the man of the hour, Joe Flacco.”

The Ravens’ rookie quarterback sensation unfolded his long frame from the golf cart where he waited his turn and walked to the mike. He wore a black T-shirt promoting the “Beltway Battle” - Sunday night’s nationally televised game between the Ravens and the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium. Clearly, he was taking one for the team.

“They made me wear it,” he said with a hint of a smile.



It was about as publicly animated as Flacco allows himself to be, the quote as lively as he gets. The man of the hour remains cool in the spotlight.

“He has an unbelievable demeanor,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who took the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Flacco out of Delaware with the 18th pick in April’s draft.

“He’s never too down, and he’s never too up,” Newsome said. “He’s very even-keeled. And the thing that impressed me, when I spent as much time as I did with him, is Joe is very sure who Joe is. That’s a maturity a lot of people don’t have at this age. I think that has helped him progress this year.”

Just like a grown-up quarterback, Flacco knows the value of taking his linemen to dinner every week. And he makes sure to spread the credit around.

“The guys I have around me have been great all year,” he said. “From the very first day, I’ve come in and they’ve given me the confidence to play and be myself. Anytime you have the surrounding cast of guys like we do on our offense and on our defense to help me out the way that they have been, it kind of makes my job as easy as possible.”

Flacco has helped jolt a previously dormant offense to life. After a 5-11 record in 2007 cost coach Brian Billick his job, the 8-4 Ravens are AFC playoff contenders under John Harbaugh. Defined by defense and the running game seemingly forever, the Ravens finally appear to have an impact quarterback.

“Each week, as he becomes more comfortable with the offense, you see them giving him a little bit more,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

“He’s the type of guy that you don’t have to hold back,” Mason said. “You can go ahead and unleash the whole offensive playbook for him.”

Flacco has the highest passer rating in the league since Oct. 19, a stretch in which the Ravens have won six of seven games and averaged a league-best 30.6 points. The club has a good chance to exceed the 24.4 points a game in 2003, the most since the team moved from Cleveland in 1996.

“He’s doing a wonderful job,” Redskins coach Jim Zorn said.

Flacco’s size belies his athletic ability. Against Oakland, he ran and threw for a touchdown and caught a 43-yard pass from Troy Smith.

“He’s a big man who moves around like a guy who is 6-3,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said afterward. “I think those guys are hard to find.”

Flacco started his college career at Pittsburgh backing up Tyler Palko. When that got old he transferred and played two seasons at Delaware, a perennial power in the Football Championship Subdivision.

He did well during Senior Bowl practices, had a strong predraft workout and stood out at the NFL Combine, where Zorn and others said he had the strongest arm. Because of that, plus his size and lack of a so-called big-time background, there were (and are) comparisons with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

Flacco was the second quarterback selected, preceded only by No. 3 pick Matt Ryan, who this season has posted a 91.2 passer rating for the Atlanta Falcons. But whereas Ryan was named the starter almost immediately, Flacco began the season third on the depth chart behind veteran Kyle Boller and Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner. After Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and Smith got sick during training camp, the Ravens had to start Flacco in the opener.

It was rough at first, and at one point linebacker Terrell Suggs told an Atlanta radio station that Smith should be the starter. Even though the interview was taped, Suggs later backed off, claiming he meant there should be “multiple packages” that use both Flacco and Smith. Regardless, Harbaugh soon unveiled the “Suggs package,” with Smith and Flacco playing together. It resulted in Flacco’s long catch from Smith.

“He’s a heady guy,” said CBS analyst Rich Gannon, another ex-Delaware quarterback who played 17 years in the NFL. “The most impressive thing is the way he’s been taking care of the ball the last five or six weeks. He’s playing beyond his years.”

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