Byrne Identity: The Bigger The Stage, The Better Flacco Performs

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Ravens Won't Be Intimidated In Pittsburgh

"So, you're telling me there's a chance."

That's what Jim Carrey said to Lauren Holly in the movie "Dumb and Dumber."

That's also what inside linebackers coach Don "Wink" Martindale said to John Harbaugh just before kickoff last Sunday against the Browns.

Yes, the Ravens had a chance to make the playoffs. And they did with a victory over Cleveland along with Kansas City's triumph against the Chargers.

Ravens Fans, welcome to the postseason for an NFL-best sixth time in the last seven years. Pretty cool and a nice way to warm this early January chill.

And, "chill" is a word I think of when I look at Joe Flacco. Joe Cool. Never flustered, and, seemingly, at his best in the biggest situations.

Joe's first NFL road game as a rookie starter in 2008 came at Heinz Field (Sept. 29). He faced a Steelers team that was the defending AFC North champion and a team that was on its way to the Super Bowl title later that season.

He was confronted by a Dick LeBeau defense with a reputation for eating up rookie QBs, along with causing confusion for the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Of course, there was that crazed, raucous Steelers crowd and the song "Renegade" blaring from the speakers.

Could our rookie quarterback handle all of this? How would he react? Could he keep us in the game? What could he do in that environment with the game on the line? He hadn't faced anything like this at the University of Delaware.

Joe did just fine.

With the help of his 4-yard touchdown throw to tight end Daniel Wilcox, the Ravens took a 13-3 halftime lead. But the Steelers scored the next 17 points and owned a 20-13 late fourth-quarter lead when, in a din that could cause hearing damage, Flacco calmly directed a touchdown drive that tied the game at 20. During that 9-play, 76-yard series, Flacco hit the feisty wide receiver Derrick Mason with completions of 15, 10 and 35 yards. Fullback Le'Ron McClain capped the scoring march with a 2-yard touchdown run.

The Ravens lost that game, 23-20, in overtime, but, if there were any doubts that Flacco could lead us to the promised land, most were erased that night before the nationally-televised audience.

Flacco Leads

Joe isn't the saber-rattling, helmet-butting leader fans see with Tom Brady. Flacco does it other ways. At halftime of last Sunday's game with Cleveland, the score was tied 3-3. When assistants finished talking to their groups in the locker room, John Harbaugh brought the team together in a huddle and told the Ravens to go do what he knew they could – beat the Browns. Flacco stepped to the middle of the huddle, and with force, offered this encouragement.

"Let's go win the freaking game." (He didn't use the word "freaking.")

We trailed 10-3 entering the fourth quarter, before Joe produced a perfect quarterback rating (158.3), completing 8 of 9 for 161 yards, including touchdown passes to wide receivers Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken.

In the locker room afterward, Harbs exclaimed in the team huddle: "Joe, you put us on your shoulders."

Indeed, Flacco did.

Torrey was asked about Joe's halftime "speech." "You can't expect anything long from Joe, but the delivery was powerful."

That's what Flacco does. He delivers. He doesn't call a lot of attention to himself. He never calls out teammates, at least publicly.

I edit the video we allow to be made public when NFL Films "mic's" players, including Joe. Flacco is remarkably calm during games, even in tight situations. We've all seen quarterbacks after an incompletion angrily motion to a receiver indicating a wrong pattern or blown assignment. That's not Joe.

A few seasons ago, Joe threw an interception with a ball that appeared to sail over Mason's head. It was a key play in a big game. The camera followed Flacco to the sideline. Standing next to Mason, and without turning his head, Joe said: "Mase, that route's not that shallow. You need to be up field a little." You then heard Derrick say: "My bad Joe. I blew it. My bad."

Here's what Flacco said to Monday Morning Quarterback's Jenny Vrentas last month: "You're the one guy, no matter what is going on – you have to stay with it and be the guy they can look at and say, 'Ah, Joe looks alright. Let's go.' That definitely can come in handy in certain situations."

Like Pittsburgh.

"Joe is confident and leading without telling people he's doing it," Dennis Pitta, Joe's good friend, said yesterday. "Joe loves to compete in everything. He definitely believes in himself and doesn't really care what others think of him or how they look at him. I don't think we'll ever see Joe demonstrating on the field, 'Look at me, I'm in charge.'

"The other thing about Joe is that he is calm," Pitta continued. "He's calm on the field. He's calm with his family. He's one of those guys who doesn't let things get to him."

(By the way, Pitta is "feeling good" and looking forward to playing again next season.)

Tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, Joe will tie Tom Brady for the most career playoff starts (14) in a quarterback's first seven seasons. He'll also become the first quarterback in NFL history to start playoff games in six of his first seven seasons.

Here are some other great stats on Joe, stolen from ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley: Flacco's nine playoff wins are four more than any other NFL quarterback since 2008; his 18 touchdown passes in the postseason are the most; and his 105.0 quarterback rating in the playoffs since 2010 is better than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brady.

We're ready to go to Pittsburgh. It won't be too big for Joe. We're excited with this opportunity.

"We've been there in that environment for big games at night. There will be no surprises," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh told the team on Tuesday morning that, "We will go to Pittsburgh standing on a rock solid foundation of men of character. We earned this. Let's go play like Ravens."

Voice From The Outside

NFL.com's Adam Schein, who is no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his opinions on all things NFL, said this on Monday: 

"Here's the case for the Ravens as a sleeper playoff team. It certainly wasn't pretty on Sunday, but Baltimore survived a largely sloppy outing to defeat Cleveland. Consequently, John Harbaugh's team is back in the playoffs. And I don't think it will be one-and-done.

"Baltimore and Pittsburgh will clash for the third time this season. And it will be great to see these arch rivals locking horns. The teams – and the fans – share rare hatred and pure disdain for each other. And the Ravens will be ready."  

No doubt. Let's beat the Steelers.

Happy New Year!

Talk with you next week,

Kevin

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