The sight of Joe Flacco face down at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday was another moment of frustration in an arduous three weeks for the Ravens’ quarterback.
Flacco couldn’t catch Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris as he returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, leaving Flacco flat on the turf in the first half of the eventual loss.
During the Ravens' three-game losing streak, Flacco has committed six turnovers on three interceptions and three fumbles in defeats to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Broncos.
While the miscues have piled up, Flacco didn’t duck responsibility yesterday.
“All of it,” said Flacco when asked if he shoulders the blame for what's unfolded. “It starts with the quarterback, and that's the position that's looked at. You have to go look at yourself and see what you can do better in order to make everybody else around you a little bit better and in order to get our team to win.”
Flacco is under the radar this season more than ever. He is heading into the final games of his expiring rookie contract, yet he is optimistic a deal will get done when the time is right.
The sides were unable to come to an agreement in August after the Ravens offered a lucrative, multi-year contract to Flacco that was rejected with talks eventually being tabled between Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, and Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' vice president of football administration.
“Yeah, I always am [optimistic],” Flacco said. “This is a great organization and you’re always upbeat about that.”
Flacco is expected to be named the Ravens' franchise player, barring a breakthrough in contract negotiations after the season. The unresolved contract situation isn’t something Flacco dwells on, he said.
“I’m sure it’s back there somewhere, but it’s not something I’ve really thought about or really considered,” Flacco said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a topic of conversation during the season. I kind of made that clear in my own mind at the beginning of the season.”
Teammates say they haven't noticed any difference in Flacco's confidence level despite some occasional body language on the field and sidelines that would suggest otherwise.
“He's always confident,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “He's a confident player, tough as nails.”
Unlike New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has earned two Super Bowl rings, Flacco hasn't been able to advance beyond two AFC championship games.
He has garnered respect, though, from his NFL colleagues.
“Joe's been a good player, makes a lot of plays, and he's turned into a guy who seems like a good leader,” Manning said during a conference call Wednesday. “Last year, they were right there, a play away from making the Super Bowl.”
But Flacco has struggled the last three weeks.
It was Flacco who didn't step up in the pocket and got the football ripped out of his hand by Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison for a fumble that led to a game-tying score on Dec. 2.
Another strip sack the following week along with an interception while under pressure set up a pair of Redskins field goals during the Ravens' 31-28 overtime loss.
And Flacco launching an errant throw intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin provided the opening for Harris' interception return for a touchdown during the Ravens' 34-17 loss Sunday. It was a crushing 14-point swing that the Ravens couldn't overcome.
Although the errors are mounting for Flacco, who has had an uneven season with 3,475 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for an 86.2 quarterback rating, he insists his belief in himself hasn't been broken.
“I'm confident, our team is confident,” Flacco said. “These are tough situations, but it's about how your stand up. You can't blink. I don't know if we've necessarily been in this kind of situation in the past, but we've dealt with things that are similar and we know how to move forward and push through.”
If the Ravens defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Sunday, they can clinch a second consecutive AFC North division title.
However, this has been an especially tough stretch for Flacco heading into a pivotal game. Flacco has topped the 200-yard passing mark just once during the past three weeks, finishing with 254 yards against the Broncos. And he completed a season-low 47.1 percent of his throws against the Steelers in a Dec. 2 loss.
Now, Flacco's heading into his second game under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell after the firing of Cam Cameron one day after being beaten by the Redskins.
“We had to go through a lot of adversity this year,” running back Ray Rice said. “Joe being Joe, he’s responded to it really well, I think. It’s not easy going through a change the way that we’ve been through this late in the season. With the way that Joe has handled it, obviously, he is still Joe.
“The quarterback is the toughest position in the game. I just think with that amount of pressure, he has handled it really well. Joe’s still a great quarterback. Joe’s our quarterback, and we are always going to defend him to the end.”
Flacco is the Ravens' all-time leader with 17,290 passing yards and 100 touchdowns, but has been erratic at times this season and often lacked accuracy on deep throws. He has failed to connect with wide receiver Torrey Smith during the three-game skid despite targeting him frequently for a total of just five completions for 67 yards in that span.
Nonetheless, Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who has witnessed Manning's growing pains and continued inconsistency, sees a capable passer in Flacco.
“Joe is a very talented quarterback,” Coughlin said. “He’s an outstanding deep-ball thrower. He shows great courage in the pocket. He’ll step up and throw the ball in the face of the rush. He does have the ability to move around the perimeter, and he will run if he has to.
“I see a good, young quarterback who’s grown in the system that they’ve developed, that John [Harbaugh] and his staff have developed there in Baltimore. He seems to be getting better all the time.”
Flacco is aware that his teammates and coaches are looking for him to provide leadership during this rocky stretch.
“I think we all just have to keep our heads up, and it starts with me,” Flacco said. “I think it starts with me keeping my head up and just keeping that positive attitude.”
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