Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday. He still has yet to miss a start since joining the Ravens. (James Lang, US PRESSWIRE / November 11, 2012)

The rib and shoulder injuries that have sidelined Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger indefinitely are a vivid reminder of how fortunate the Ravens have been to have Joe Flacco under center.

More than halfway through his fifth season in the NFL — all with the Ravens — Flacco has never missed a start. That's 73 regular-season games and nine playoff contests, and the combined 82 starts are the most to begin a career by a quarterback in league history.

Flacco's ability to avoid serious injuries has not been lost on Coach John Harbaugh.

"[H]e is durable," Harbaugh said. "He's just a tough guy, and we've protected him pretty well over the years."

The value of a No. 1 quarterback was re-emphasized this week with the injuries to Roethlisberger and concussions suffered by the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick and the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith.

Smith is reportedly close to being cleared for practice and could be available for the 49ers' game against the Bears on Monday night, but Jason Campbell and rookie Nick Foles are expected to start for the Bears and Eagles, respectively.

Flacco acknowledged feeling blessed that he has yet to suffer a major injury.

"I probably think about how fortunate I am to still be standing, but it's the name of the game, so I don't put too much thought into it," he said. "It's just the way it is. Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with a head injury like that. Hopefully, I have a lot of football left, so you never know. It's a crazy game. It's a game we all choose to play. Sometimes things like that happen — hopefully just not too often."

Flacco has persevered through minor bumps and bruises and the occasional sprained ankle. The worst injury was a deep bruise on his right hip that affected his throwing mechanics in the Ravens' 33-14 victory over the New England Patriots in an AFC wild card game on Jan. 10, 2010.

"I never thought I wasn't going to go, but I definitely had a tough time moving around that week," Flacco recalled. "At times in practice, it was tough to have my legs underneath me. I could drop back and throw pretty comfortable, but moving around here and there was definitely a little tough that week."

This season, Flacco has been sacked 19 times, tied for the 15th most in the NFL. And according to Pro Football Focus, he has been hit six times as he's thrown a pass, which is tied for the sixth-highest mark in the league.

Running back Ray Rice said keeping Flacco upright is a priority for the entire offense.

"Our goal as an offensive group is not to get Joe hit, and we take pride in that," Rice said. "But even when he does get hit, you always look back and check on him, and he's getting up. He's ready to roll. That says something about our quarterback because quarterbacks, obviously, when guys are coming free at him — by him throwing the ball and everything – he's really unprotected. … Usually when you get a hit on a quarterback, it's one of those free shots. And [Joe has] taken a few of them, but he's able to bounce back, and we take pride in protecting him."

Tyrod Taylor is the only other quarterback on the Ravens' active roster. But like Kyle Boller (2008), Troy Smith (2008-09) and Mark Bulger (2010), Taylor has yet to make a start.

But Harbaugh expressed confidence in Taylor — who has thrown five passes in his career — and Dennis Dixon, a member of the team's practice squad.

"Tyrod has done a great job. Dennis Dixon is here," Harbaugh said. "Those guys are always prepared for their opportunity as well. At any position, at any time, you are ready for the next guy to go in and play."

Flacco said durability is part of the job requirement.

"You want to go out there and you want to show up for your teammates every Sunday, and you do everything you can to make sure that happens," he said.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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