Simply un-Flaccable

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI - The vocabulary is different in the locker room. Everywhere else - the press box, the message boards, the sports bars - they talk about Joe Flacco and quickly note that the quarterback is only a rookie.

But in the locker room, you barely hear that word.

"He's not a rookie anymore," running back Willis McGahee said. "He's a vet, and that rookie season is over with."

In the Ravens' 27-9 playoff win over the Miami Dolphins yesterday, Flacco's statistics weren't demanding exclamation points, but they didn't really have to. His coaches and teammates were looking for something else: the calm, cool and unflappable demeanor that could lead a team through the pressure-packed gantlet that is the NFL playoffs.

"There was nothing different about Joe today than the rest of the year, which was great to see," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Because you never really know."

Flacco became only the third rookie quarterback to win a playoff game and the first to do so on the road. In all, only six rookie quarterbacks had even reached the playoffs before this season. Fellow rookie Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons lost, 30-24, at Arizona on Saturday.

Against the Dolphins, Flacco's 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the third of his career. On the day, though, he posted his worst completion percentage of the season (.391) and was 9-for-23 for 135 yards.

"There were a handful of throwaways we had to do today," Flacco said. "And we had a couple where we had them beat deep and we missed them at the end of the game. We didn't connect there, but we will make sure to connect in the future."

During the regular season, Flacco's nerves rarely got the best of him, but as everyone in shoulder pads is quick to tell you, the playoffs are a whole different season. Or at least, they're supposed to be.

"It was pretty much the same," Flacco said of yesterday's game.

He certainly could have been rattled early. On the game's opening drive, the Ravens moved comfortably downfield, reaching the Dolphins' 38-yard line before fullback Le'Ron McClain lost a fumble.

"You've got to overcome those things if you want to win playoff games," Flacco said. "It's going to happen. You've just got to put your head down and move on to the next play. That's what we did."

On the next possession, Flacco led the Ravens to the Miami 5, settling for a field goal but establishing that the rookie's confidence was never rocked.

Perhaps more important than any other statistic, Flacco didn't throw any interceptions and the offensive line in front of him didn't allow a sack.

His poise in the pocket drew rave reviews from both offensive and defensive teammates yesterday, as it has for most of the season. Terrell Suggs said Flacco is "playing some of the best football I've ever seen right now."

"He's playing like a leader," Suggs said. "He's playing like a champ."

Similarly, coach John Harbaugh praised his quarterback, noting that at this stage of the season, Flacco looks like anything but a rookie.

"He made some tremendous throws," Harbaugh said. "Very poised in the playoffs. I thought our offensive line did a great job protecting him, allowing him to hold the ball, which he was willing to do. He wasn't antsy at all. He made some really good throws, managed the game well. He didn't turn it over, obviously, which is big. He just played playoff-winning football."

Which is all the Ravens can ask.

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