Eisenberg: Ravens' Comeback Formula Started And Ended With Joe Flacco


Did Joe Flacco's winning performance against the Cleveland Browns include some problem areas that could be dissected and criticized? Sure. No doubt. There was the painfully slow start. There were the two interceptions.

Did the Ravens' comeback from 20 points down feature other key contributors besides Flacco? Again, sure, no doubt. The defense pitched a shutout over the final three quarters. The special teams sparkled.

But even given all that, the formula for the Ravens' comeback started and ended with their quarterback.

I don't know how many other NFL signal-callers could pull off such a great escape, but the list isn't long.

Think about what Flacco had going against him by late in the first quarter Sunday. His team was 20 points behind. His sideline was, ahem, agitated. His running game was nonexistent. His offensive line was leaking. He was having a very bad day.

Flacco didn't flinch. He just kept playing and eventually started making things happen, hitting targets, moving the chains.

Some fans have long bemoaned his resolute level-headedness, wishing he exhibited more passion on Sundays. But the flip side is he never panics. It's just who he is, a guy who runs cool rather than hot, and how useful that was when his team was melting down.

When the Browns, their fans and maybe even some of his teammates recognized that Flacco wasn't panicking, that he was undeterred, still making plays, that's when a rout became a game again.

Ravens receiver Mike Wallace, a veteran who played for three other teams before joining the Ravens this year, just shook his head.

"I've probably never been around someone as cool as Joe. Nothing ever bothers him," Wallace said. "Just the way he reacts to situations. He's like, 'Whatever. We're down 20-0. Whatever.' It's the way he makes you think, like, 'It's no problem.'"

The Ravens shrank the deficit to 11 points, then to eight, then to one in the third quarter. Flacco revealed later that he went to Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman and asked (begged?) to start throwing deeper. That meant he would wait in the pocket longer for receivers to get open, increasing the likelihood that he absorbed punishment, and indeed, he took some fierce shots, including one to his formerly injured knee that drew a penalty. But he always got up.

His teammates noticed. "When you have a quarterback who's supposed to be fragile, he just came off an ACL, and he's going to sit in there and take shots, who am I not to go and make a play?" asked Wallace, who caught two touchdown passes Sunday.

With the deep passing game unlocked, Flacco hit Steve Smith Sr. for 31 yards, Crockett Gillmore for 22, Breshad Perriman for 20. He repeatedly found Dennis Pitta, his security blanket, whenever he really needed yards. "We made a number of third down conversions (10 of 16) that were enormous," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

The offense produced points on five of its final seven possessions (not counting a one-play drive at the end of the game) and the Ravens pulled off the comeback.

It was an ugly win in many respects, and Flacco's quarterback rating for the game was just 72.3, a pedestrian figure. But if you're relying strictly on data to decipher what happened, you're missing the story.

He was hit five times. His running game never really got untracked. He made some mistakes. But he also made what seemed like a million big plays, then was so fired up about it that he addressed his teammates in the locker room after the game.

"He doesn't say much, so when he does, we should listen, because he says some wise things," Wallace said.

Flacco told his teammates – accurately, I think – that this kind of hard-fought win can toughen them up and give them a better chance in big games down the line. Then he moved on to the interview room.

"I just told those guys I couldn't be more proud. What a bunch of friggin' men," Flacco told reporters, his flame still lit.

Cool, quiet Joe would have talked all night, it seemed.

The Ravens have adopted his tough, no-nonsense personality through the years, and after a rough time in 2015, they're trying to re-establish it.

With a vintage performance Sunday, Flacco showed them what it looks like.

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