Flacco starting well, but so did Young

The Baltimore Sun

Not to throw ice water on the Joe Flacco story, but everyone surely is aware of who will be on the opposite sideline from him at M&T; Bank Stadium today.

Depending on how Kerry Collins does for the Tennessee Titans this afternoon - or on what the Ravens' defense does to him - Vince Young might do more than stand on the sideline with a cap on or hold a clipboard. He might end up in the other offensive huddle. There, in front of an increasingly giddy Ravens fan base (barely cooled off even after the loss in Pittsburgh on Monday night), will be the cautionary tale.

Where Young's career is headed is completely up in the air - and who would have guessed that at this time last season? Or two years ago, when he was a rookie, shocking the NFL with his leadership, poise and success at such a young age, in spite of underwhelming statistics? C'mon, sound familiar?

There's enough proof of that merely in the last meeting between these teams. Buried beneath the drama of the Ravens' wild comeback in Nashville in Week 10, of Steve McNair's return home to face the team that had once locked him out of its building, of Trevor Pryce's blocking the Titans' game-winning field-goal try after one final surge ... was the cool-headed performance of the rookie quarterback who led that surge, who wasn't supposed to have been a starter so soon but was thrown into the deep end by circumstances.

Never mind throwing water on Flacco's story. Maybe someone should hide this story from Flacco himself.

The moral? The path from newcomer to starter and true team leader is rocky for all but the rarest of quarterbacks. No two paths are alike, and no one really knows if the path leads anywhere good.

It sure looks good for Flacco after three starts, unexpected ones, ones out of necessity because of injury and illness. It looked just as good for Young, who nearly beat the Ravens in 2006 in his sixth start.

As smooth as Flacco's path has seemed, don't conclude that it will stay as smooth. He's the starter, plain and simple. And a rookie, plain and simple. And someone the franchise invested heavily in, plain and simple. And in his current position by an accident of fate, plain and simple.

John Harbaugh talked last week about balancing Flacco's need to grow into the job with the Ravens' need to win - then, without being prompted, he blended Troy Smith into the equation, saying he's going to play and contribute eventually, "to what capacity, I think events will determine."

"I'm not sure if I want to box myself in," Harbaugh continued, "but no, we haven't said, 'Hey, we're going to develop Joe at the expense of winning, for sure.' And winning is the No. 1 priority, but developing Joe is a priority. Developing Troy is a priority."

On the other side of the field, developing Young is a priority. So is winning, which partly explains why Collins is starting and why coach Jeff Fisher insisted he'll keep starting. Not long ago, of course, Young was winning and developing - then winning and not developing, then doing neither, then doing all the things that have been psychoanalyzed into little pieces over the past month.

Sometimes life seems so easy when the quarterback is so precocious at such a young age. It can be seductive. It can lead to great things. It can also lead to serious detours. May Flacco keep avoiding the detours - and may Young get steered, one way or another, back onto the path he once traveled so comfortably.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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