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Joe Flacco Shakes Off Huge Hit, Plays Efficient First Game


Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap came charging, unimpeded, at Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

After missing the entire preseason and all of training camp because of a back injury, Flacco still stood in. He stood in, stood in, stood in – and he paid for it.

Flacco was crushed by Dunlap, and took a blow from another Bengals defender coming the other way as he went to the turf. It was the kind of hit that makes you cringe.

Who knows yet how Flacco will feel on Monday, but the Ravens' franchise quarterback got up, shook it off and kept chugging.

Baltimore and the entire NFL world wondered how Flacco would play after sitting out the preseason. They also wondered whether his back would hold up to the physicality of a regular-season game.

Flacco passed both tests, playing an efficient game in the Ravens' 20-0 win Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and finishing it standing.

"I feel good. My back didn't take any pain, really," Flacco said before cracking a joke.

"My chin did [feel some pain]. On one of those play-actions down on the goal line, I tried to get the ball to the checkdown [target] and got hit from both sides. So I think I'm ready to step in the ring; I've got a good chin."

Flacco went 9-of-17 for 121 yards with a touchdown and interception. His best play was a strike to wide-open wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 48-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 10-0 first-half lead.

Otherwise, Flacco spent much of his day handing the ball off. He attempted just four second-half passes. His 17 attempts were the fewest passes he's thrown in a full game's worth of action since 2009 when he attempted just 10 passes in a playoff win against the New England Patriots.

Flacco's first pass of the second half was intercepted after it went off the shoulder of running back Terrance West. After that, the Ravens turned to a strong, clock-draining rushing attack.

But with a big first-half lead and the defense pitching a dominant shutout, the Ravens ran the ball 42 times. They came into the game talking about being committed to the run game, and they more than followed through.

Flacco said it reminded him of his rookie year when he attempted a career-low 428 passes and the Ravens led the league in rushing attempts. Last year, by contrast, Flacco set a franchise record and attempted the second-most passes in the NFL (672), just one behind New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

It remains to be seen what the long-term plan will be, and the Ravens have stressed that they will throw the ball if needed, but Sunday's game certainly looked like a formula for winning.

"It wasn't that fun on offense today, to be honest," Flacco said with a laugh. "I'd rather throw for 350 and win 42-0, not 20-0. But it's fun to win, and that's the most important thing."

Even though he wasn't throwing all that much, Flacco read the Bengals defense to hit the big play to Maclin, and coordinated the rushing effort.

Flacco told Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that if the Bengals brought an all-out blitz on a key third-and-7 play in the second quarter, that he would target Maclin with a quick throw on a designed rub play with tight end Benjamin Watson.

When Flacco came to the line and saw no safeties, he said to himself, "OK, here we go," and audibled to the play. Maclin said it was business as usual in the Ravens huddle.

"Any time you get a chance to play with a quarterback like Joe, you're always going to enjoy it," Maclin said.

Fans and pundits wondered if Flacco would show any rust in his debut. Many set their expectations low. If a fan hadn't known Flacco missed the preseason, they likely wouldn't have been able to tell.

"I've played so many games at this point," Flacco said. "Once you get back out there on the field, you're back at home."

His mobility didn't look to be affected in the slightest. He moved laterally and threw on the run a couple times early in the game, including on a pair of first-down completions to running back Danny Woodhead.

The only throw that didn't look like typical Flacco was a laser he tried to rip to Maclin but left short. Flacco admitted that he didn't get his feet under him properly, but that could happen anytime. Known for his strong arm, Flacco didn't attempt a pass over 20 yards.

The scariest moment of Flacco's day was the brutal hit from Dunlap. Flacco went to the medical tent on the sideline to be evaluated, but it was for a possible concussion (his head was twisted by the sandwiching hit), not an injured back.

Flacco came out of the tent soon after and gave his teammates a thumbs up and grin.

"That's the thing about Joe Flacco. He's really tough," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I'd like to keep him cleaner, and we're working to do that, but he's a tough dude."

Check out all the best photos from week 1 of the 2017 NFL season as the Ravens battle the Bengals.

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