Byrne Identity: Flacco Faces Adversity

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JOE FLACCO FACES ADVERSITY
There are a lot of reasons I like Joe Flacco as the Ravens' starting quarterback – the most important one being that he'll give us opportunities to win championships.

But I also understand the scrutiny Joe is receiving right now from some media and fans. It all goes under that football umbrella that states: "Head coaches and quarterbacks receive too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses."

No doubt, Joe needs to play better than he did in Cincinnati for us to win. That's not my opinion. That's Joe's. He said it to coaches and players on the sideline at the end of the Bengals' game. He said it to reporters after the loss and repeated it Wednesday when reporters asked him again about the game.

Quarterbacks can and do have bad games. How about Mark Sanchez against us in the season opener? He looked and played badly. And, the Jets' world came crashing down. Want some entertainment? Go back and read what the New York media wrote about Sanchez after the Ravens beat the Jets. Then go and read what was written about Sanchez after he threw a career-high three touchdown passes in the Jets' 28-14 victory over the Patriots and Tom Brady last Sunday.

Same thing with the Falcons' Matt Ryan, taken ahead of our Joe in the first round of 2008…I saw an NFL Network analyst take a swipe at Ryan after the Falcons did not score a TD in the season-opening 15-9 loss at Pittsburgh. "Maybe we've put Ryan in the upper echelon too fast," the former player said. Wonder what the guy said this week after the Falcons ripped the Cardinals, 41-7, last Sunday with Ryan completing 21 of 32 for 225 yards with three TD passes.

Many longtime reporters have communicated that quarterback is the hardest position to play in all of sports. I'm sure the six starting NFL quarterbacks who already have been benched just two weeks into this season agree. Heavy is the crown on the NFL's starting QBs. The spotlight is always on, and opinions about their play are constant, sometimes harsh – and varied.

Joe's not making excuses about last Sunday, nor is John Harbaugh or Cam Cameron – or even T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who stood up after the game and said: "I could have helped Joe by making three catches on balls he threw me. I've caught balls like that before." But, all interceptions are not the fault of QBs, just like every long TD pass you see against the defense is not the fault of the guy who is closest to the receiver.

At last Saturday's production meeting with the CBS-TV talent broadcasting our game against the Bengals, play-by-play anchor Bill Macatee asked Joe: "Do you ever get angry or mad?" Flacco gave a quizzical look, and said: "Of course. Like I was angry that I fumbled on the first play against the Jets. I don't care what happens, I have to protect the ball."

Macatee pushed and said: "How about anger at a teammate for missing a block, running the wrong route or dropping a pass?" Joe looked over at me with a face that said: "Do I have to answer that?" Rich Gannon, a former league MVP and 16-year NFL QB, interceded and mentioned a play from the Jets' game that resulted in a Flacco interception.

Joe's answer said a lot about the young man: "You won't see me throw a teammate under the bus. I'm not going to embarrass someone. I can mention it in the huddle, on the sideline, sometime during the week. The guy knows he made the mistake. I don't have to point it out for the fans and cameras so they know it wasn't my fault. I can make the same point to the guy without letting the whole world know. Plus, if I did something like that, my family would be all over me. I don't think acting like a baby when everyone can see it is the way to lead.

"When I see a quarterback do it, I don't like it," Flacco continued. "I don't see a guy being a leader. I see a guy calling attention to himself and undermining his teammate. Like I said, you can make the same point away from the cameras."   

Last Tuesday (9/21), John Eisenberg, the respected columnist and author, wrote that Flacco is "supremely confident, mentally tough…a stand-up guy, unafraid to fail. My experience is that good things happen to stand-up guys who don't lateral blame." Better written and better said than I could do, but couldn't agree more.

FLEXIBLE JOEAt that same production meeting before the Bengals' game, Gannon praised Flacco to Cam Cameron for surviving the first play of the Jets' game. "I've seen a lot of quarterbacks after a play like that in a big-time environment just fold. Your quarterback didn't," Gannon said.

Cam replied that Joe is tough and then told this story about the play: "When Joe took the hits, I did have concern. They sandwiched him pretty good. I didn't see the fumble and turned to Marc [Bulger] to ask if we lost the ball. Marc was gone, and he came back with his helmet. He didn't think Joe was going to be able to get up.

"Joe came over to the sideline, and we're both asking him if he's okay, and Joe being Joe, said 'I can't believe I lost the ball on our first play,'" Cameron explained. "Marc and I asked him again if he was okay, and Joe said he wasn't hit that hard.

"When we came out for the start of the second half, they were showing first-half highlights on the big boards, and they showed the hit on Joe from two angles. Joe saw it and turned to us and said: 'Hey, I really did get hit.' Again, typical Joe, no big deal at the time, he's always moving on to the next play."

And, like Joe, we now have to move on to the next game – our home opener against the Browns. Cleveland comes to M&T Bank Stadium at 0-2 after losing to two currently undefeated teams: Tampa Bay and Kansas City – 17-14 at Tampa and 16-14 to the Chiefs. The Browns' defense did not give up a touchdown to the Chiefs. (Oh boy, just what we need – another good defense in the AFC North.) That said, we can't wait to get in front of our fans this Sunday. It has been awhile. Make some noise, have some fun, and let's beat those Browns.

Talk with you next week.

Kevin

Kevin Byrne , a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.

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