How cool is Joe Flacco? Ice cool.
We've seen it here since the 1st day he walked into our training facility in Owings Mills the day after we made him our 1st-round pick in 2008. We've saw it in his 3rd NFL game at Pittsburgh on a Monday night. We saw it when he became the 1st rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two playoff games. We saw it last Sunday against the Broncos. We see it in practice and around our building every day.
Whatever that "it" is that makes quarterbacks special – Joe has it. We're not hoping he has it. We're not waiting to see it. He's got it. He is good, and he is "Joe Cool."
We know it took us awhile to really hit it at the QB position. We all know the litany of throwers who have started for the Ravens. Some of them have been okay. Some have gotten us to the playoffs. One, who didn't start until the 9th game of the season, got us to the Super Bowl and was instrumental in us winning the championship. We've drafted starters, and we've signed free agents from other teams who became our signal callers.
It never quite worked the way we wanted…until now.
Joe is the real deal.
Clearly, Joe has the "measurables" the best quarterbacks have to have. And, oh do we measure…intelligence, height, strength, speed, quickness, hand size, social skills and on and on. Joe has all of these: he's very smart – both book smart and common sense; he's almost 6-6; he's strong; he has "AFC North hands" – big mitts that can control the ball in wet and cold conditions; he runs fast, and he's also very quick; and teammates look at him as a leader, plus he's fun to be around.
But, to be honest, we've had QBs before who had these "measurables." What makes Joe different than previous Ravens QBs? What separates players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees from others? It's the "it." It's the calm in the storm. It's the ability to process what you see in a hurry and then deliver the ball to the right guy. We've seen that the sum of the parts doesn't always equal the whole when it comes to playing quarterback. (Certainly the 6-foot Brees does not have all the "measurables," but he does have the "it.")
That cool under pressure – with the ability to make something happen in the chaos – is what separates the average, the talented, the good and the elite. Think of Joe's throw to Todd Heap in the final minutes of the playoff victory at Tennessee last season. (It was an absolutely wild scene: deafening noise, an attacking hellacious defense, clock ticking, game on the line for a rookie QB.) I've been told by the likes of Cam Cameron, Marty Schottenheimer, Marvin Lewis, Bill Belichick and many more that playing quarterback is so difficult, and only a few can play it consistently at a high level.
I think the only ones who really know the difficulty of the position are NFL quarterbacks and some of the coaches. Watching games, even watching practices, does not give the entire picture of what a quarterback goes through on any play. Schottenheimer invited me to stand behind our offense – in Cleveland in the mid-'80s – at a training camp scrimmage to get a "better idea of what a quarterback sees and goes through."
It was chaos. It was incredibly fast. Bodies just flying around, many directed at the QB. After watching about 25 plays, with half being passes, I thought to myself: "How does he (QB) ever see anything?" It was mayhem and a little scary.
Well, Joe doesn't get scared, and he doesn't think it's chaotic. He says, "It's just football." That's Joe. Saw Joe after last week's Denver game, and I said: "Hey, great throw to Mason on that touchdown." His response: "Thanks. He was open. It's just football."
Had the chance to see Mike Nolan, now the Broncos' defensive coordinator, formerly the boss of our defense and the head coach of the 49ers, after our victory over Denver last Sunday. I asked Mike what he thought of Flacco going into the game and what he thought after. "We knew he was good," Nolan said. "But, he's better. He doesn't blink. We did a lot of things to rattle him, but he stayed strong. Most of the quarterbacks blink with all that pressure. He doesn't. He kept plays alive. He made tight throws. He's a got a chance to be one of the good ones."
Couldn't agree more with Coach Nolan. My opinion, though, is that Joe is there now, and he'll get better and better as he plays more. Flacco is one of the good ones. He is "Just Joe" as he says, but he is "Joe Cool."
OH BOY, THE BENGALS ARE REALLY GOOD
A week ago, friends and family made my stress level higher by saying the obvious: "You really need to beat the Broncos," was the message I heard over and over. And, they were right. Of course, I'm hearing the same "must-win" thing this week, only with more emphasis because the Bengals are in our division.
No doubt, this is an important game. And, there's no doubt that the Bengals are good. How good? Well, they did come to our place a month ago and beat us. And it's tough for visitors to win at M&T Bank Stadium – we have the NFL's 4th-best record since 2000. (We're 55-21 at home in that stretch – the Patriots are 1st and 2 victories better at 57-19.) Already, the Bengals have beaten the Steelers (23-20) in Cincy this season. And, the Bengals are coming off a bye. They're very healthy. Did I mention that Carson Palmer is 7-3 against us as a starter?
So why do I seem to be more stressed than the Ravens' players and coaches? (First, they can do something about the game's outcome, I can't.) But, it really goes to what John Harbaugh teaches constantly: it's not about them, it's about us. It's about controlling what we can control. And, the team controls how we prepare and how we play.
You've heard before how Harbs preaches getting better every day and being the best you can be at any particular moment, play, practice and on and on. He does say things to the team like, "Why can't we have the best Friday practice in the NFL today? And, if we do, why can't we play better than we played last Sunday against the Broncos?" His emphasis is the Ravens, not the Bengals. In the end, the Ravens' head coach will say: "The Bengals are pretty good. We know that, don't we? We're pretty good, too. Let's go show them how good we are."
Yes, we're pretty good, too. And well prepared, as are the Bengals. This is a heavyweight fight with both teams capable of landing big blows. Should be exciting and dramatic. Can't wait. Because, as the head coach says: "Why can't we play the best game we've played all season!" Let's beat the Bengals.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.