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Flacco, Ryan will be 'hooked together' forever

Asked on Tuesday what it means to be a "franchise quarterback," the young man who fits that bill in Baltimore responded, "You're a good enough quarterback to be wanted for a while by your team."

That's clearly the case now, with Joe Flacco being the NFL's most efficient passer since Week 3. But in 2008 — when the Ravens were tasked with finding a future franchise quarterback after Steve McNair abruptly retired and Kyle Boller, well, continued to be Kyle Boller — the player they wanted was Matt Ryan.

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Baltimore reportedly offered a barge-load of draft picks to St. Louis in an attempt to move ahead of Atlanta and select Ryan. Rebuffed, the Ravens eventually settled on Flacco with the 18th pick in the draft after the Falcons, Thursday's opponent, snapped up Ryan third overall.

"I think they'll be hooked together their entire career," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

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Forever linked, Joe Cool and Matty Ice will both be "wanted for a while" by their respective teams — which, at 6-2, are two of the NFL's finest midway through the season.

Both players are pounding on the door of the NFL’s elite quarterback club. Flacco has the superior arm and sneaky mobility, while Ryan, who can also spin it with the best of them, is a more polished, cerebral quarterback at this point in their careers.

“[Flacco] certainly has a skill set that’s probably a little bit different than mine,” Ryan said. “But at the same time ... [we’re] more similar than different.”

We are a decade away from knowing who is the better quarterback — especially since their formative years in the NFL have been so crazily similar. But it isn’t too early to tell that the Ravens selected the correct backup plan after somberly removing Ryan’s name from their draft board in 2008.

Chad Henne is again holding a clipboard after his three-pick performance in the Ravens’ 26-10 win over the Dolphins last weekend. And Brian Brohm, now a Bills backup, spent most of his Packers career praying he could be so lucky.

Flacco and Ryan can’t relate. They have started from Day One, each winning 26 regular-season games over the past three seasons (Ryan has 12 losses to Flacco’s 14). The parallels don’t end there. Their completion percentages and touchdown totals are nearly identical, and each has chucked 30 interceptions. And as cryptic as the calculations are for determining an NFL passer rating, it’s telling that a tenth of a point separates the two.

I can hear Ravens fans now: “Flacco’s 85.8 destroys Ryan’s 85.7! Suck it, Atlanta!”

Their stat lines are so Barber-brother-esque, it will be nice to see Flacco and Ryan on the field together — just to be reassured that they are in fact two different people.

Legacies won’t be forged Thursday night when Flacco and Ryan face off in the regular season for the first time. That sort of thing happens in the playoffs.

“They both have all the skills to lead their team to great heights,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Flacco backers point to his 3-2 postseason record (Ryan lost his only playoff start). Let’s be honest, though; the lasting image from the past two Januaries is the solemn quarterback staring at his cleats as he walked off an opponent’s field.

Avoiding that feeling is what drives Flacco — not a desire to one-up Ryan, the quarterback who most of the Ravens’ brain trust craved two and a half years ago.

Well, with one notable exception.

“Hopefully we’ll both have a couple of Super Bowls,” Flacco said. “Or I’ll have them all and he won’t have any.”

Check back in 10 years or so.

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