Joe Flacco was 13 yards from sending the Baltimore metropolitan area into complete panic Saturday night.
Had he managed to get the ball those final 13 yards into the end zone in the final four seconds of the preseason game at M&T; Bank Stadium, overtime might have ensued - and the 10,000-plus who had stuck around that late only to watch Michael Phelps' final Olympic race on the stadium scoreboard would have been rooting for whomever won the coin toss, even if it were the Minnesota Vikings.
The long-term repercussions were even more terrifying. Flacco would have been the new favorite to start at quarterback. March the Ravens 84 yards in the final 1:52 with no timeouts, in his second professional game and his first before the anxious, beleaguered home crowd - one that already had suffered through Troy Smith and Kyle Boller - and tie the game?
Never mind that it was the preseason and that he was playing with and against the unwashed masses of both teams' training camps. Flacco would have instantly become bigger than Trent Dilfer. Maybe bigger than Phelps.
And John Harbaugh would have been in for the worst week of his Ravens coaching career.
Never mind how much logic and common sense he would have had on his side, which he calmly dispensed anyway after the 23-15 loss was complete. It wasn't just about this game, he pointed out. It was about the entire training camp, in which Boller and Smith have proven they're more ready to start than the rookie Flacco has.
On the other hand, he said, he liked what Flacco did, including the way Flacco critiqued himself afterward.
"He said to me, 'There are five things I could do better,' " Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of guy he is. That kind of excites you as a coach."
And to be sure, Flacco at times looked like the raw kid who fumbled and couldn't complete a pass in his debut against the New England Patriots; he fumbled again Saturday while being sacked on his second snap, although it was recovered, then was sacked again two plays later. Plus, he caught a huge break on that last drive when his interception in Vikings territory was negated by a face-mask call.
With new life, Flacco got the Ravens a little farther, then flung it over everybody in the back corner of the end zone as time expired. Not including two spikes to stop the clock, he was 7-for-10 for 56 yards, twice converting on third down.
"It was kind of fun out there, getting into the two-minute drill and getting into the flow of the game," Flacco said. "I learned a lot of things [Saturday night]. ... I think it did a lot for me, and hopefully I'll get to learn a little bit more next time, in the next game."
But suppose Flacco had pulled it off?
Forget the big-picture analysis of any clear-thinking football mind. We would have Flacco, master of the game-tying two-minute drill, against Boller and Smith, masters of the three-and-out, if they were lucky. The unknown, the unsullied, the first-round pick, the future - against the recent past, as recent as about a half-hour earlier, when Boller's final throw of the night was picked off.
Don't sit there and pretend that everyone from York to Columbia wouldn't be in a frenzy today. C'mon, start him now! What have we got to lose? You're gonna sell me on Kyle and Troy being that much better than this guy?
We would have graduated, in that short a time, from quarterback competition to quarterback controversy. Face it, based on these first two games, even "competition" is a stretch. It appears it will be decided by which one, Smith or Boller, is least ineffective.
Wedging Flacco into it makes it a "controversy," though, and nobody needs that. Harbaugh definitely doesn't. He would never fall for it, anyway, but he would sure have to hear about it. It simply doesn't take much to outshine the current duo.
It takes even less to inflame the Ravens faithful, who get better and better every year reciting the parade of infamy at the position in team history.
Though Flacco came dangerously close, the faithful were left only with Phelps to truly satisfy them. Come to think of it, he's free for the next few weeks. Wonder how he would run the offense?
Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).