An emergency situation: Flacco starts, 'OK' in loss

The Baltimore Sun

ST. LOUIS - On a night when its top two quarterbacks were sidelined before the game with medical issues, the Ravens' offense looked just as unhealthy.

Outside of an impressive drive to open the second half, highly touted rookie Joe Flacco received an unforgiving crash course as a starting quarterback in last night's 24-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams, overthrowing open receivers and getting passes batted back at him.

With Troy Smith out with a stomach virus and Kyle Boller nursing a shoulder injury, Flacco appeared as if he was just notified that he would make the unexpected start, completing 18 of 37 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. The 18th overall pick in this year's draft settled down in the second half, but he still led the Ravens to only 209 yards of total offense and 10 first downs.

"It felt good," Flacco said. "It was a really good chance for me to get in there and get my feet wet. There are things that I would like to do better. But it's a great learning experience."

This was supposed to be the game in which the Ravens would learn whether Smith would take control of the quarterback race. But he couldn't suit up after battling flulike symptoms for two days and remained at the team hotel last night until the fourth quarter.

The Ravens (1-2) would have wanted to go with Boller, but he couldn't throw in warm-ups because of a shoulder injury. Boller didn't practice all week because of the injury, which occurred on a hard hit in the second preseason game.

That meant the Ravens had to hand the ball to Flacco, who had played two quarters in the preseason and didn't practice at all with the starting offense last week.

"I was a little jacked up at the beginning of the game, not that you guys could tell," Flacco said with a smile. "It was exciting for me. As the game went on, I felt like I calmed down."

After stumbling in the first half, Flacco put together his best drive after halftime.

He connected on all four of his passes for 61 yards, throwing each time to Derrick Mason. Two plays after a 30-yard throw to Mason, Flacco found him for a 15-yard touchdown.

Flacco's first touchdown pass of the preseason - which came with the Rams' starting defense on the field - helped the Ravens close to 17-10 early in the third quarter.

"[The touchdown] felt good, and really that drive felt good," said Flacco, who believes the ball was saved by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

In the first half, Flacco misfired on nine of 13 passes, throwing high several times. He was penalized for intentional grounding on a poorly run screen play. And he tried to force the ball twice to covered receivers on his first trip in the red zone.

"Joe did OK in there without much preparation this week," coach John Harbaugh said. "He'll settle down as he plays more."

The Ravens' best scoring chance in the first half was the result of special teams, when rookie Tom Zbikowski partially blocked a punt.

Starting at St. Louis' 20-yard line, the Ravens had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Matt Stover to tie the score at 3 in the first quarter. The Ravens took two shots from the 4-yard line, but Flacco made risky passes to blanketed receivers Mason and Mark Clayton, both of which were incomplete.

Another problem was the inability to sustain drives. The Ravens failed to convert on six third-down tries in the first half.

The Ravens' offense wasn't the only concern inside the Edward Jones Dome.

Their usually strong defense once again failed to hold up with their backup cornerbacks on the field.

Picking on Frank Walker and Corey Ivy, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Those were the first touchdowns in the preseason by St. Louis' first-team offense in Scott Linehan's three seasons as coach.

Rookie Keenan Burton beat Walker for a 4-yard touchdown in the second quarter that put the Rams ahead 10-3.

Then, with less than a minute before halftime, Walker was called for pass interference in the end zone. That set up Bulger's 1-yard touchdown pass to Travis Minor, giving St. Louis a 17-3 halftime lead.

The Ravens wrap up the preseason Thursday night, when they play the Atlanta Falcons at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Next: Ravens vs. Falcons, 7 p.m. Thursday

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