The start of something beautiful

Joe Flacco doesn't remember exactly how the first conversation with his favorite receiver, Derrick Mason, went, but the Ravens' rookie quarterback has a pretty good guess at how it played out.

"It was probably Derrick being nice and talking," Flacco said, "and I was making grunting noises."


When it comes to the personalities in the Ravens' locker room, it doesn't get much different than Flacco and Mason.

Flacco is a quiet and reserved soul who might relax by turning on the radio. Mason is a verbose and animated leader who has his own radio show.


Mason comes from Detroit and played in the Big Ten. Flacco grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and threw passes in Division I-AA.

Flacco is 8 inches taller. Mason is 11 years older.

It's kind of the Ravens' version of The Odd Couple.

But when Flacco, 23, and Mason, 34, get on the field, two teammates who have little in common somehow find common ground.

Whatever critical situation - whether it's third down or looking for a big play downfield - Flacco always seems to be looking for Mason, who leads the Ravens in total receptions (33), third-down catches (13) and plays of more than 20 yards (four).

They will try to connect again today, when the Ravens (3-3) play against the Oakland Raiders (2-4) at M&T; Bank Stadium.

"He's definitely the guy that is going to be able to win for me," Flacco said. "He's proven that throughout his career, and he's proven that this year."

Not surprisingly, Flacco's first career third-down conversion was an 8-yard pass to Mason.


In Pittsburgh, when Flacco ran to the left sideline before running to the other side of the field, he found an equally zigzagging Mason for 26 yards.

And last Sunday in Miami, when Flacco needed to convert a pivotal third down in the red zone, he hit Mason for an 11-yard touchdown.

It's a chemistry that has been built on Flacco knowing he can throw the ball even before Mason makes his break. Flacco can depend on Mason getting to the right spot and getting open.

"I think I gained Joe's trust by going out there and making plays for him," Mason said. "If the quarterback has enough trust in you, he says, 'When I need a critical play to be made, he's proven he can make it.' "

Flacco has thrown in Mason's direction 48 times, which is 21 more than he has thrown to any other Raven. The reason: Mason has caught the ball 68.8 percent of the time - which is tops among Ravens receivers.

The success rate between them is even greater on third downs. In those situations, Flacco has thrown to Mason 15 times and he has converted 11 first downs (73.3 percent).


Even though they are so dissimilar off the field, their playing styles allow them to find a happy medium.

Flacco quarterbacks with a veteran poise, and Mason runs around with a youthful exuberance.

"Look at him, he looks like he is still in his 20s," Flacco said. "He plays like he's that young. He can still run. When you go out there and play like he does against the younger guys, it's pretty incredible."

Mason has been equally impressed by how Flacco defies age.

'"When I saw him play in that St. Louis [preseason] game, I knew it was just a matter of time before this young man showed everyone that he was made to be a starter," Mason said. "The way he's handled himself through it all and the way he continues to prepare for games, it shows he's going to be a very good [quarterback] in this league."

It was in that third preseason game in St. Louis that the chemistry began.


After a miserable first half by the offense, Mason caught a 30-yard pass from Flacco on the first drive of the third quarter.

Depending on the coverage, Mason was supposed to either run deep or break off his route. When the ball was snapped, both Flacco and Mason knew to go deep.

It was the first time they were in sync, a connection that has carried over into the regular season.

"You just realize that he's going to be there for me on Sundays and make all the plays," Flacco said. "When you see that, you develop confidence in a guy. He's been giving me the confidence to go out there and do what I've been doing."

Flacco and Mason will talk and joke during meetings or out on the practice field. But it's not a relationship in which they hang out watching movies or go to weekly dinners.

Flacco, who is single, buries himself in film study at team headquarters while Mason goes home to his wife and two children.


They are just two different people who always seem to click on the field.

"That's the most unique thing about sports," Mason said. "It takes people from different backgrounds, different ethnic groups and different classes and you bring them all together and make them work together. In most instances, you form a lifelong friendship."


Today, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM


Line: Ravens by 7 1/2


Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throws to Derrick Mason more than to anyone else.

A look at how Flacco distributes the ball:

Receiver Thrown to Caught P ct.

Mason 48 33 68.8


Clayton 27 13 48.1

Heap 23 11 47.8

Williams 20 12 60.0


When it's third down, Joe Flacco usually looks for Derrick Mason.

A look at the top five third-down receivers in the NFL:


Receiver Catches Yds Avg. TD

Jason Witten, Dallas 20 222 11.1 1

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati 17 204 12.0 3

Greg Jennings, Green Bay 14 245 17.5 3

Roddy White, Atlanta 13 245 18.8 1

Mason, Ravens 13 179 13.8 1