Sports columnist Mike Preston talks about Ray Lewis' comments on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco not having passion for the game. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
As Joe Flacco fielded questions from reporters in front of his locker following Friday's practice, several of his Ravens teammates standing nearby shouted support for the veteran quarterback. Defensive backs Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle both yelled, "I got your back, Joe."
Two days before the Ravens face the surging Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in a matchup of division-leading teams, Flacco found himself answering questions about comments his former teammate Ray Lewis made Thursday on Fox Sports I. Lewis, who played with Flacco for his final five seasons in the NFL, questioned the quarterback's passion for football.
"It's a little surprising coming from Ray, but it's been something I've dealt with probably back before high school," Flacco said. "It's just part of my personality. When things are going good, it's questioned as if it's a good thing. When things aren't going as well as you might like them to be, it's always a question as to whether my personality ... fits what an NFL quarterback should be. It's not anything I'm not used to. But it is a little bit different coming from Ray."
Flacco, who once joked that he didn't understand "90 percent" of the things Lewis said during his trademark pre-game speeches, essentially took the high road, and was noncommittal when asked whether he'd even bring the comments up with his former teammate.
"Yeah, he hasn't been [around], but he was here for a while. So, you want to be able to listen to what he says and all that," Flacco said. "I know he hasn't been here for a while. We want him to feel a part of this place. We want him to come around. I don't know how much that plays or doesn't play into it."
Flacco said he was made aware of Lewis' comments by coach John Harbaugh after the quarterback reported to the team facility. Flacco made it a point to watch the interview because he knew he'd be asked about it by reporters following practice. While Flacco took the comments in stride, Lewis' remarks clearly struck a nerve with other Ravens.
"It's just odd that you hear Ray Lewis saying something. Joe Flacco won you a Super Bowl, did you forget about that?" Weddle said. "I don't know. It is what it is. We love Joe. He's our guy. He's a great teammate, professional, leads, everything you want. It's kind of irrelevant. We don't really care what the outside thinks. For an old teammate to say that, it's just like, 'Don't you have something better to talk about?' I guess he didn't."
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. also defended Flacco, who is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Flacco has thrown nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions and his 78.3 quarterback rating ranks 29th in the NFL.
"You don't play this game this long and be able to accomplish some of the things that Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, all the great guys that have played with the Baltimore Ravens that I've admired, you don't play this long without having a drive or a passion for the game," Smith said. "[Lewis'] opinion is based on his opinion. That's a great Hall of Fame linebacker. That's all."
When Harbaugh stopped by the team's cafeteria Friday morning, he noticed Flacco having breakfast with outside linebacker Matthew Judon and several other rookies. He used that as an example of some of the things Flacco does out of the public eye that fans and reporters don't see.
"Every single guy does their thing in a different way, but every single guy here cares deeply and works very hard and wants to be great at what they do. That's how I look at it," Harbaugh said. "I think as a leader, you have to understand that. You have to understand no two people are the same. No two people react the same way, express themselves the same way. Everybody does it a little differently."