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Flacco's Solid Showing


Through it all, Joe Flacco stood tall – both figuratively and literally.

Maybe it was the extended time bought in the pocket by returning offensive linemen Adam Terry and Jared Gaither, or maybe he's just becoming more confident through his extended experience.

But Flacco was able to do Thursday night what he hadn't been able to do in his first three games, stay on his feet.

With Terry and Gaither back in the lineup after battling ankle injuries, the Ravens' line clicked early on, and Flacco was the biggest beneficiary of it.

"They were incredible," Flacco said of the unit. "I felt like I was standing back there and nobody was within 10 yards of me. I felt ridiculously protected."

After getting sacked an average of two times in his past performances, Flacco extended time to throw and made the most of it.

On his first attempt of the game, after standing in a never-closing pocket, Flacco found Ray Rice between the hashmarks for a 5-yard gain. Even though it was only a short gain, it was a clear statement of how the rest of the drive would proceed.

On the next play, Baltimore faced a third-and-4 situation. Flacco once again stepped back to throw. Rolling to his right, Flacco found wideout Mark Clayton on the opposite sideline for a gain of 9 yards and a first down.

The Flacco-to-Clayton combination seemed to work well for the signal-caller, as he went to the four-year veteran early and often.

That connection came up big again on the next set of downs. On third-and-9, Flacco found a wide-open Clayton, this time on the right side. Losing his coverage on the cutback, Clayton caught the ball on the right numbers and cut inside the field, picking up 12 yards and another Ravens first down.

"Joe was solid throwing the ball today," said Clayton, who made three first-down grabs. "We made some big plays on third down, and that was an area we were trying to work on. He seems like he gets more comfortable as the drive goes on."

The Ravens drive would eventually stall out and force a punt from the Atlanta 47 on a drive where Flacco went 4-for-7 for 27 yards.

The second drive was less productive, as Flacco completed his only pass.  It was capped off by a Le'Ron McClain run up the middle that drew a measurement, but was ultimately ruled short of the first down.

Flacco's biggest success would come on the final series of the first quarter – what would end up being his final and most successful drive of the game

Taking over on his own 31-yard line, Flacco came alive against the Falcons' secondary. Calm and poised under center, he found Clayton on a short pass to the right side. Clayton caught the pass in stride, turning the ball out to Baltimore's 43 for a 12-yard gain.

On the very next snap, he connected once more, but this time on a deep pass over the middle as wideout Demetrius Williams got in the mix on a 22-yard hookup.

It set up the Ravens' best scoring opportunity of the night.

Flacco took his spot under center from Atlanta's 6-yard line and lofted a perfect fade to Williams in the back corner of the end zone. While the ball sailed over Williams' outstretched hands, it was an otherwise impressive drive which saw the offense march down field 57 yards in only three plays and three minutes.

As Flacco jogged off the field for the last time Thursday night to make way for a Matt Stover field goal, the Ravens' were left with the familiar realization that red zone execution needs improvement.

"It was disappointing not to close drives," Flacco said. "I said it before this preseason: We have to score touchdowns."

Although he didn't get the end result he had hoped for, Flacco had to feel pretty good about his showing. But as he made way for newcomer Casey Bramlet only two minutes into the second quarter, one had to wonder if he had done enough to compete for a starting position.

"I don't worry about that," Flacco said. "The coaches worry about that. All I can do is go out and practice every day and act like I'm a starter, and go out there to the field and play like I am. I think I've done a pretty good job."

Typically, most teams like to establish a starting quarterback within the first two preseason games. With the arrival of Casey Bramlet from San Diego, theoretically, now there are four quarterbacks in the mix.

Before last week's game against St. Louis, most would have considered it a two-horse race between Kyle Boller and Troy Smith, but that was before Boller hurt his shoulder and before Smith's tonsils became infected.

After the Ravens' preseason finale, Flacco's ability to show substantial improvement through experience made a statement that the rookie belongs in the conversation.

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