Irving, Texas — Irving, Texas - Joe Flacco might have cleared his final hurdle in becoming a big-time quarterback last night.
The rookie out of the University of Delaware won a big game to help keep the Ravens' playoff hopes alive.
That was the final knock on Flacco. When was he going to win a big game against a really good football team? He didn't win against the Tennessee Titans. He failed against the Pittsburgh Steelers twice and played just as poorly as the rest of the team in the rout by the Indianapolis Colts.
But it was different last night, and it doesn't get any bigger than playing Dallas on the road with playoff aspirations on the line for both teams. This was the last regular-season game ever played at Texas Stadium, and the Cowboys brought back some of their legendary old-timers, including Tony Dorsett, Randy White and Mel Renfro.
But Flacco was not fazed. He didn't have outstanding numbers, but he made great plays under an unrelenting pass rush. When he didn't have time, he bought time holding the ball until the last minute.
Next to Derrick Mason, he was the Ravens' best and most courageous offensive player on the field.
Ravens center Jason Brown had a tough time with Cowboys nose guard Jay Ratliff. There were some running plays on which Ratliff pushed Brown 2 to 3 yards into the backfield and then worked down the line of scrimmage to make the tackle.
Maybe Brown should spend less time being a media critic and more time preparing to stop big nose guards like Ratliff.
Playing with pain
You wonder how much more pain Mason can endure. Every time he made a catch in the first half, he had to be helped off the field. Usually, when players have a shoulder problem, you can put a harness on it.
But with receivers, a harness doesn't allow them to fully extend their arms. To see Mason run a pass pattern with one arm and to catch that third-period touchdown pass from Flacco was remarkable.
While Mason was playing with pain, Dallas receiver Terrell Owens continues to prove that he is one of the most selfish players to ever play the game.
Not only did Owens short-arm a pass over the middle in the first quarter in fear of getting hit by Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but he also stopped running pass patterns late in the second quarter when he wasn't the primary target.
The Cowboys were booed when they walked on the field at the end of the first half, and no one deserved it more than Owens.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo should become a punter. Some of his long passes had more hang time than kicks by the Ravens' Sam Koch. Romo seems to be intimidated by Owens and throws him the ball when he isn't even open.
I always thought quarterbacks were leaders and supposed to take charge in the huddle. The Cowboys, at times, seem to be a rudderless ship without a head coach or a quarterback.
The Ravens couldn't score a touchdown in the first half, but they got a big lift from Koch. He had two punts and averaged 51.5 yards. Both punts pinned Dallas deep in its own territory.
Dishing it out
The hit of the game occurred early in the third quarter. Cowboys running back Tashard Choice ran 7 yards off left tackle and finished the run by bowling over Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington.
Washington was hit so hard, he did a backward roll and ran off the field holding his back.
A little luck
There can be no more complaining about the Ravens not getting their share of breaks.
With 6:02 left in the third quarter, Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry came within inches of picking off a pass from Flacco and returning it 74 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
On the next play, running back Le'Ron McClain fumbled and it should have been recovered by Dallas safety Ken Hamlin, but he failed to fall on it cleanly. Henry also had a chance at recovering it, but it slipped through his arms into Mason's.
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It's even better to be both.
One of the best Ravens calls of the night was Flacco faking a handoff to the right, and then keeping it and bootlegging for 14 yards and a first down with 9:54 left in the third period. The call of the game, of course, was the fake field goal on which Koch, the holder, kept the ball and got a crucial field down late in the third quarter.
The Ravens don't have the greatest impact players at the skilled positions on offense, but at least they come up with different ways to manufacture points. I kept waiting for Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to come up with something innovative, and it never happened.
Note to Garrett: If you want to beat the Ravens, you do it with quick, timing pass patterns.
Listen to Mike Preston every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).