After one half of uninspired football Sunday, it looked as if we were two quarters away from Ed Reed saying again that Joe Flacco looked "rattled" in a playoff game. At halftime, the Ravens quarterback, who is still in the process of trying to silence his many critics, had completed just five of his 12 attempts for 108 yards, with 47 on those yards coming on a screen pass to running back Ray Rice near the end of the first half. The Ravens led, 10-6, heading into the third quarter, but Flacco, who had a potential pick-six dropped by Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis in the first quarter, had little to do with it. But with the help of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who bailed out and also ignited Flacco with his leaping 50-yard catch on the first drive of the third quarter, Flacco got hot and finished the game with 282 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12-of-23 passing. Boldin had a team-high five catches, all coming in the second half, for 145 yards and one of those touchdowns as the Ravens beat the Colts, 24-9. Flacco elevated his play when it mattered most, and the Ravens are hoping he will be able to do it again on Saturday when the Ravens travel to Colorado to take on longtime nemesis Peyton Manning and the red-hot Denver Broncos, who won 11 straight games to secure the AFC's top seed. This week, as the Ravens prepare for the Broncos, they will downplay the battle between Flacco and Manning. But make no mistake, for the Ravens to upset the Broncos, Flacco is going to have to play the game of his life. He will have to be a lot better than he was against the Colts, when Boldin made him look good with a few contested catches in tight coverage. Flacco rose to the challenge against quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last year's AFC championship game, outplaying the future Hall-of-Famer and throwing what should have been the game-winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans. That drop by Evans is a reminder that Flacco can't do it alone -- he will need good protection from his offensive line and for his receivers to get open like they did in the second half Sunday -- but they need Flacco to be at his best to advance to a second straight AFC title game. And his Ravens teammates are confident that he will be. "He comes up big in big games like this," said Dennis Pitta, who snatched Flacco's first touchdown pass. It was another inconsistent regular season for Flacco, who at times flashed the potential to be great, only to frustrate with erratic play the next game, half or drive. But throw all of that out the window. Flacco is at the point now where he can forge a sterling reputation -- and make himself a large chunk of coin -- by playing well in the playoffs. We know he is a winner, but to be the champion, he has to carry his team, which has been better of late despite a few flaws, on his shoulders past Manning and the Broncos. That means playing sharp, mistake-free football for four full quarters. We saw in Foxborough last year that he is capable of playing such a game. The Ravens will need him to play even better than that to beat Manning, who has beaten them nine straight times, and his seemingly-unbeatable Broncos.
Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox