Ravens 24, Bengals 16

<b>5. Back in July, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0000012410" title="Joe Flacco" href="/topic/sports/football/joe-flacco-PESPT0000012410.topic">Joe Flacco</a> told the world he felt he had become a "pretty damn good quarterback" and he wanted the pressure of winning and losing to fall squarely on his shoulders in a big game. That real moment is about to arrive, and I think it's fair to say we still don't know how he's going to respond. </b><br>
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At some point during this playoff run we're about to witness, it's going to be on Flacco to pick up his team. He's going to have to match a quarterback like <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT000789" title="Tom Brady" href="/topic/sports/football/tom-brady-PESPT000789.topic">Tom Brady</a>, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT000000873" title="Ben Roethlisberger" href="/topic/sports/football/ben-roethlisberger-PESPT000000873.topic">Ben Roethlisberger</a>, <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT000008732" title="Drew Brees" href="/topic/sports/football/drew-brees-PESPT000008732.topic">Drew Brees</a> or <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT00008904" title="Aaron Rodgers" href="/topic/sports/football/aaron-rodgers-PESPT00008904.topic">Aaron Rodgers</a> score-for-score. Flacco doesn't have to play at that level every game, or on every drive. He shouldn't be expected to, in fact. But for the Ravens to win it all, he'll have to do it at least once. He's shown he can do it in the regular season. He proved two years ago with a furious rally against the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORSPT000048" title="Minnesota Vikings" href="/topic/sports/football/minnesota-vikings-ORSPT000048.topic">Minnesota Vikings</a> on the road, and he did it again this year in Pittsburgh.<br>
<br>
But the playoffs are a little different. The hits are a little harder, the blitzes a little quicker, and the pressure is suffocating. How he responds will say a lot about his long-term potential. Is he a pretty good quarterback with a relatively low ceiling, or does he have potential for greatness?<br>
<br>
I still don't know. Flacco played an efficient, cautious game against the Bengals Sunday. He didn't take a lot of risks, but he did make some plays within the confines of <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT008392" title="Cam Cameron" href="/topic/sports/football/cam-cameron-PESPT008392.topic">Cam Cameron</a>'s conservative approach. He threw a beautiful corner route to <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0012888" title="Dennis Pitta" href="/topic/sports/football/dennis-pitta-PESPT0012888.topic">Dennis Pitta</a> for a touchdown, and threw a perfect ball to <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0012404" title="Lee Evans" href="/topic/sports/football/lee-evans-PESPT0012404.topic">Lee Evans</a> down the middle of the field that Evans somehow managed to drop. He managed to have his most accurate game of the season 15 of 19 (78 percent) despite 25 mph winds.<br>
<br>
But how will he react if Brady and the Patriots force a turnover, drive down the field on a tired Ravens defense and grab a 21-7 lead in the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="EVSPR000104" title="AFC Championship Game" href="/topic/sports/football/afc-championship-game-EVSPR000104.topic">AFC Championship</a>? One thing I do really admire and like about Flacco is, despite all the criticism he's had to hear the past three years, he's still a little baffled that people think he's not the kind of player who rises to the moment. He really does want the ball in his hands in that situation. He's convinced he has greatness inside him.<br>
<br>
I'm eager to find out if he's right.<br>
<br>
<i>kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com</i><br>
<i>twitter.com/kvanvalkenburg</i>

( Reuters photo / January 2, 2012 )

5. Back in July, Joe Flacco told the world he felt he had become a "pretty damn good quarterback" and he wanted the pressure of winning and losing to fall squarely on his shoulders in a big game. That real moment is about to arrive, and I think it's fair to say we still don't know how he's going to respond.

At some point during this playoff run we're about to witness, it's going to be on Flacco to pick up his team. He's going to have to match a quarterback like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers score-for-score. Flacco doesn't have to play at that level every game, or on every drive. He shouldn't be expected to, in fact. But for the Ravens to win it all, he'll have to do it at least once. He's shown he can do it in the regular season. He proved two years ago with a furious rally against the Minnesota Vikings on the road, and he did it again this year in Pittsburgh.

But the playoffs are a little different. The hits are a little harder, the blitzes a little quicker, and the pressure is suffocating. How he responds will say a lot about his long-term potential. Is he a pretty good quarterback with a relatively low ceiling, or does he have potential for greatness?

I still don't know. Flacco played an efficient, cautious game against the Bengals Sunday. He didn't take a lot of risks, but he did make some plays within the confines of Cam Cameron's conservative approach. He threw a beautiful corner route to Dennis Pitta for a touchdown, and threw a perfect ball to Lee Evans down the middle of the field that Evans somehow managed to drop. He managed to have his most accurate game of the season 15 of 19 (78 percent) despite 25 mph winds.

But how will he react if Brady and the Patriots force a turnover, drive down the field on a tired Ravens defense and grab a 21-7 lead in the AFC Championship? One thing I do really admire and like about Flacco is, despite all the criticism he's had to hear the past three years, he's still a little baffled that people think he's not the kind of player who rises to the moment. He really does want the ball in his hands in that situation. He's convinced he has greatness inside him.

I'm eager to find out if he's right.

kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com
twitter.com/kvanvalkenburg

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