Confidence has never been a problem for Joe Flacco. He started from Week 1 as a rookie out of Delaware and there were some predictable growing pains, but the task never looked too big for him.
Instead of signing a contract extension the summer before the 2012 season, Flacco turned down several lucrative offers and famously bet on himself. He then led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory months later.
But as Flacco reviewed tape from Sunday’s 26-9 loss to the Steelers, which featured yet another poor and perplexing performance from the veteran signal caller, he noticed an offense that is not playing with much confidence and a quarterback who isn’t executing well enough to put points on the board.
“Probably everyone plays their best, when their head is free and they can go out there and let it all loose,” Flacco said before Wednesday’s practice. “Offensively, I don’t think we’ve been doing that. I think our confidence level could be higher and I think the way we’ve played the last couple of weeks can definitely creep in and hurt that. We’ve got to do the best we can to make sure we continue to believe in who we are as players and who we are as a football team, so that we can go out there and play free and play the game come Sunday.”
The Ravens will face the Raiders on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum in a matchup between teams that have lost two straight games and suddenly have questions at quarterback. A back injury for starter Derek Carr, a two-time Pro Bowl player, has forced the Raiders to hand over the keys of their offense to EJ Manuel, a 2013 first-round draft pick who is 6-11 in his pro career as a starter.
Flacco, meanwhile, hasn’t resembled the quarterback the Ravens have counted on for the past decade. There have been plenty of rough stretches before, but Flacco acknowledged that the past two weeks have been one of the most difficult times of his career.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “We’re professionals and we take a lot of pride in what we do. We want to be the best. To go out there and struggle the way we have is definitely not easy. But it’s part of being in this league and dealing with adversity and still being able to get yourself up and get yourself through it.
“We just have to go out there and play. There’s always positives and negatives. Listen, I’m going to put it on me every time as the quarterback of this football team. That’s what it’s all about.”
Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have been outscored 70-16. The defense has had its problems, but the offense has struggled with the most essential football tasks. The Ravens have been shut out in the first half for two straight games with Flacco leading his team to points on just three of his past 25 possessions. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and other members of the offense have been quick to point out that what ails the offense is not just one thing.
The running game is much improved, but it’s still producing too many negative plays. The wide receivers have had several drops and have had trouble getting involved in the game. The offensive line has allowed Flacco to get hit too often the past two games. Then there’s Flacco, who is making poor decisions, misfiring on the few opportunities that he is getting and lacking patience in the pocket.
Flacco ranks last or second last among NFL quarterbacks in total passing yards (601), yards per attempt (5.1) and quarterback rating (65.0). His six interceptions are also the second most and he’s been picked off in 10 straight games dating to last year.
“I think I’ve been a little bit quick to get the ball out of my hands at times,” Flacco acknowledged Wednesday. “I think if I just hang in there and trust the process, trust the pocket, and I might have to step up and make some plays here and there. … I think you have to avoid trying to do too much when you put yourself in big holes. But at the same time, at some point, you have to try and make plays and push the ball up the field and do certain things that are going to turn the game around and get them back in your favor.”
Flacco denied his lack of patience has anything to do with a reluctance to get hit and aggravate a back injury that kept him sidelined for the preseason, or a lack of confidence in a patchwork Ravens offensive line.
“I think it’s just me rushing myself in the pocket for whatever reason,” Flacco said. “The big thing is I’m aware of it. I just have to make those changes and go into the game ready to roll.”
Flacco, 32, pays little to no attention to what others are saying outside the team facility. His even-keeled demeanor is one of the qualities the Ravens love about him and probably serves him well during turbulent times like these.
His teammates spent part of Wednesday coming to his defense and maintaining that the blame for the Ravens’ back-to-back losses should be widespread.
“You don’t like to see your teammates get looked at like that, but he’ll be fine,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “He’s a pro. We all got to get better. It’s not just him. We all have his back. He knows in here that obviously he has to play better, but we all do. We all have to help him out and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Said Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley: “Joe knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran in this league, and I’m going to stand behind Joe no matter what. That’s my quarterback. So that’s just the way that is.”
Harbaugh acknowledged that he hasn’t given much thought to Flacco’s psyche, a testament to how the quarterback has handled adversity in the past.
“He’s not going to get carried away with what the noise is. It’s not something that’s going to affect him too much, and that’s a good thing, especially as a quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to want to just get the job done. He understands that it’s a long-term type of a thing in terms of how you’re evaluated over time, and he’s been in ups and downs before. He’s going on 10 years now, and he’s had the highest moments and he’s had some of the lowest moments like any player — especially at his position — in this league. So I trust him, I believe in him, and we need to roll.”