All sorts of numbers get thrown around in the never-ending debate about Joe Flacco's e-word credentials.
His completion percentage. His yardage total. His quarterback rating. His won-loss record. His red-zone efficiency. I could go on.
But one number you almost never hear is zero. The old goose egg doesn't seem to fit into anyone's calculations.
Zero is the number of games Flacco has missed in his five seasons as the Ravens' quarterback. Shoot, zero is practically the amount of snaps Flacco has missed. He barely ever leaves a game, only when the Ravens are far ahead, as they were last Sunday.
Having started every game, 73 in a row, since joining the Ravens in 2008, Flacco is closing in on the franchise record for consecutive starts – 80, held by linebacker Jarret Johnson. Flacco would surpass that if he makes it to the first game of 2013.
In a city that knows a thing or two about consecutive games streaks, you would think there is a high appreciation for Flacco's durability, which fosters offensive continuity, among many things. But the subject seldom comes up. That needs to change.
Sunday night at Heinz Field, the Ravens will face a Pittsburgh team scrambling to keep its season going in the right direction in the wake of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder and rib injuries, suffered Monday night. The Steelers are still tough enough without Ben to win Sunday if things go right for them, but let's not downplay this development. Las Vegas has slashed the Steelers' Super Bowl odds. Even Hines Ward says they're in trouble if Big Ben is out for long.
In a balanced league with a razor-thin margin between winning and losing, a serious injury to a quarterback can wreck a team's season. Even an injury that only knocks a starter out for a few games, or even just part of a game, can wreak havoc.
Roethlisberger wasn't the only quarterback to go down last week. San Francisco's Alex Smith, Philadelphia's Michael Vick and Chicago's Jay Cutler all suffered concussions and had to leave games early. The Steelers were the only team among those to win without their starter, but they won't have it easy Sunday. This will be the third Baltimore-Pittsburgh game Roethlisberger has missed since 2009 and the Ravens won the other two. (He missed one with an injury and the other when suspended.)
But the point is while all the drama plays out across the field Sunday night, Flacco will quietly start again, as he always does. When he met with reporters this week, I asked if he had ever gone through a week leading up to a game with any doubts about his ability to play Sunday.
"No, never," he said.
The closest he ever came, he said, was after he suffered a hip injury in the final regular-season game in 2009, before the Ravens took on the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
"I never thought I wasn't going to go, but I definitely had a tough time moving around that week," Flacco said. "At times in practice, it was tough to have my legs underneath me. I could drop back and throw pretty comfortable, but moving around here and there was definitely a little tough that week."
The Ravens defeated the Patriots, with Flacco completing just four passes, before being eliminated in the next round.
Win or lose, Flacco has never come close to being knocked out of a game, even just for a series, despite absorbing his share of brutal hits, as every quarterback does. It's a pretty amazing feat when you consider how many other signal callers have gone down.
What makes him so durable? Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Flacco has never been taught to shield his body and roll a certain way as he goes down. None of that technique is in play.
"He's just a tough guy, and we've protected him pretty well over the years," Harbaugh said.
That's it, I guess, he's just a big, tough guy who takes a hit and gets up. Never misses a game, barely misses a snap. Makes it seem like no big deal. But it is.