What a difference a month makes.
It was exactly a month ago that Flacco first took the field in the NFL, stringing out the end of a 16-15 victory over the New England Patriots in the Ravens' preseason opener. Flacco's performance, which included a lost fumble and no completed passes, left him on the outskirts of the team's quarterback competition. Although his status as the quarterback of the future was unquestioned, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith were left to battle for the starting role.
Since then, the rookie has shown steady improvement, managing each game better than the last and protecting the football. Over his final three appearances in the preseason, Flacco did not throw an interception and only fumbled once, recovering his own miscue.
Fast forward to Sunday. With Boller out for the season with a shoulder injury and Smith sidelined due to a tonsil infection, Flacco was thrust into the starting job for the Ravens' season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The maturation process continued, as Flacco engineered a 17-10 victory to open the season.
"It was a lot of fun," Flacco said after the game. "I had a lot of help. The offensive line, the receivers, the running backs; they all did a hell of a job. And then you had the defense. They didn't give up anything all day, and they got us a couple turnovers. We played well."
By the end of the first half, Flacco already had the capacity crowd of 70,978 impressed with his poise. By the end of the game, he might as well have been Baltimore's newest rock star.
In the third quarter, with the Ravens up 10-3, the crowd spontaneously started chants of "Let's Go Flacco" as the offense took the field. The team kept the crowd energized, picking up two quick first downs that brought the Ravens down to the Cincinnati 38-yard line.
The next play called for Flacco to hand the ball off to a running back, but that plan changed somewhere along the line. Instead, trailed by wide receiver Derrick Mason, Flacco took the handoff and rolled to his right. The naked bootleg run easily netted a first down, but Flacco wasn't done.
"I started running, and I was thinking 'first down, first down,' and I got to the first down marker and I thought 'Oh my gosh, I don't think there's anybody here,'" remembered Flacco. "I just started going up the field, and then I thought 'I'm going to get in the end zone here.' I just didn't want to mess it up."
Thanks to a key block thrown by center Jason Brown, Flacco found the end zone on the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Ravens history. The crowd erupted and the players on the sideline poured onto the field to greet the University of Delaware product, whose first NFL rushing touchdown was longer than any run he had in college.
The chants did not let up until the win was in the books.
Flacco finished 15-for-29 for 129 yards. It could have been an even more eye-popping debut had some dropped passes been hauled in, but nothing was fazing Flacco on this day.
"Once you get out on the field and you're around your guys, it's just football," he said. "It's the same thing we've been doing for the last twenty years of our lives."
The chants for Flacco continued for the remainder of the game, but he was quick to point out the importance of his teammates.
"I've got a great team around me," he said. "I've got 52 other guys that are behind me and behind everybody else on the team. When you have a team like that, it gives you a lot of help. They were able to give me a lot of confidence going into the game, and we can just go out and play football."
Somewhere over the course of the past month, Joe Flacco developed into a winning NFL quarterback. His demeanor in the huddle and his play in a well-protected pocket earned the respect of his veteran teammates.
"He played like a veteran," the 12-year pro Mason commented. "He played poised. Regardless of what happened, Joe stayed in the game. It showed on the play that he scored on. He read the defense and kept the ball. He scored a touchdown, and that is what veteran quarterbacks do. He is starting to really come into his own right now."
A month ago, it would have been difficult to anticipate the type of performance Flacco put on Sunday. And while the improvement so far is impressive, it is the improvement that has yet to come that has head coach John Harbaugh, who also got his first NFL victory Sunday, excited.
"That was the beginning for Joe," Harbaugh said. "This is going to be a jumping-off point. He played well but he needs to take this week to next week and make the most improvement, maybe that he will ever make in his career. That should be his goal."
If the last month is any indication, that goal is within reach.
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