Joe Flacco. That is a name Ravens fans are loving. Most of all, it's a name I am loving. The rookie quarterback has 1,813 yards and eight touchdown passes.
Most importantly, he's led the Baltimore Ravens to a 6-4 record. Last year, Kyle Boller, Steve McNair and Troy Smith amounted to a 5-11 record.
A 6-4 record isn't the best in the league, yes I know, but it's phenomenal considering what he has overcome.
Joe Flacco was born on Jan. 16, 1985, in the town of Audubon, N.J. Audubon has a population of just 9,182. The town of Silver Spring, Md. (where I live), has a population of 76,540. Flacco was raised in a very common American home. He had two parents and grew up in a middle class neighborhood.
At 14, he played junior varsity football for Audubon High. At 15, he found himself as the starting quarterback on a very good team. He was a two-time New Jersey All-Group II, All-South Jersey, and All-Colonial Conference first-team selection.
In a three-year stint for the varsity squad, he threw for over 5,000 yards. As a senior, he threw for 2,020. Along with his fair share of accomplishments, he led the baseball team to a state title and was on the honor roll multiple times.
After all this, he was just the 33rd best New Jersey high school prospect. He had it all: we knew he had arm strength, he stood 6'7". What could be holding him back? I'll never figure it out. Flacco earned a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, a rather weak football program.
It could be good for Flacco. He would be close to home, could get some considerable playing time early. Wrong. He didn't play very much, going 1-for-4 with 11 yards, backing up Tyler Palko. For those of you who remembered Palko, he's currently a free agent. Tyler was a bench warmer for New Orleans last year. Talk about bittersweet.
After two years without a large amount of playing time, Flacco transferred to the University of Delaware, about two hours from his home.
As a junior, he immediately became Delaware's quarterback. He passed for 2,783 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. However, Delaware was just 5-6 and Flacco's leadership was a problem.
He said, "I'm gonna be the same way on the field that I am off of it."
I like that in a guy, but that presents problems as a quarterback.
His leadership was not questioned last year as a senior. He threw for 4,263 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. He led the Blue Hens to an 11-4 record and he averaged 104.2 passes per interception!
In just two seasons of play, he was ranked second in Delaware history in passing yards, with 7,046.
Flacco was considered among the top two quarterbacks in the draft class, flopped with Matt Ryan of Boston College. Flacco now really had it all: the obvious arm strength, the decision making, leadership and size.
He stands 6'7" now and weighs a burly 235 pounds. He showed he was no joke in the College Football Challenge.
In the challenge, he made throws of 74, 72 and 71 yards. All three throws would beat the maximum of other competitors, including Matt Ryan and Chad Henne.
After the Ravens traded up to the No. 18 pick, Joe Flacco received the most important call in his life thus far. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome called, asking "How would you like to be a Baltimore Raven?"
Flacco agreed, and that's when it started. Being a Ravens fan, I wanted Flacco. But not with the No. 18 pick. I thought Joe would be a second-round pick. We had one and early because of our 2007 5-11 finish.
I saw Flacco in the College Football Challenge, and I thought "Damn, he's got an arm on him." But I didn't think we'd get him. I didn't think, "Yeah, let's go after an unknown from Delaware instead of trading up for Matt Ryan." When we got him, I thought it would be high risk, high reward.
But the adventure isn't over. I saw him in the preseason face the defending AFC Champion Patriots. Man, oh man, it was brutal. Flacco was 0-for-3, showed terrible mobility, was sacked twice, and almost intercepted. Then I thought, "That was a stupid move on our part."
He improved by the standards the next week against Minnesota in a 23-15 loss, going 10-for-15 with 74 yards. He looked a lot more poised. However, I didn't think he'd be the starter, I thought he'd be the third-string man.
Fortunately, Kyle Boller got hurt (fortunately for Flacco, the Ravens, and their fans, anyway.) Flacco looked better, but he would be the worst starter in the league—by far. He was 18-for-37 with 152 yards and one touchdown against a terrible Rams team.
The worst part about it? It was against St Louis' backups! And we thought their starters were bad.
In the last week of preseason play, Flacco was 8-for-13 with 72 yards against Atlanta. Note: Matt Ryan was 2-for-7 with 17 yards. Fortunately for us, Troy Smith was sidelined a week before with tonsillitis, an injury that would force Flacco to start. Thank the Lord for tonsillitis!
Flacco would be the starter. Luckily, it was going to be against Cincinnati. This would be a confidence game. It would up his confidence if he did well and won. Even if he did badly, it was doubtful we would lose, so a win regardless would help a rattled rookie.
Flacco didn't perform badly and Baltimore didn't lose. He had 15 completions in 29 attempts, threw for 129 yards, no touchdowns or picks and ran for a 38-yard touchdown.
After a win against Cleveland, Flacco would travel to Pittsburgh. I thought "OK. If he can do well here, Ozzie pulled off another genius move." It was on Monday Night and was his first start in Pittsburgh, this time as a member of the Ravens and not the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Flacco was amazing. He was 16-for-31 with 192 yards and one touchdown. He even led the Ravens to a tying score with just five minutes left. The Ravens lost, 23-20.
Flacco struggled the next two weeks. He had bad games against Tennessee and Indianapolis. He was 18-of-27 with 153 yards and two interceptions. He followed it up by throwing for a career high 241 yards against Indy, along with three interceptions.
At this point, I'm thinking, "OK, we're going 3-13 this year. The best we can do is to get Flacco some confidence." I was wrong. The next four weeks, he was 61-for-99 with 805 yards and six touchdown passes.
More importantly, the Ravens won all four games, moving to 6-3 under a rookie from a Division I-AA school.
The Ravens played the Giants last week. You had to expect Flacco's Ravens would lose this one. They did, 30-10. Flacco was 20-for-33 with 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions were not as ugly as the previous seven he threw against various teams.
The first one was a throw intended for a Ravens receiver that missed by a millimeter, enough to land in the hands of Aaron Ross. The second one was a pass that should have been a eight yard gain for Derrick Mason. The pass was juggled, and it landed in the hands of Aaron Ross—again. Ross took it back 50 yards for a touchdown.
It's not just through the air that Flacco has succeeded. He has two rushing touchdowns, caught a 43-yard pass in what could be the play of the year and has been blocking.
More memorably: in week one, the Ravens were playing the Bengals. After Derrick Mason handed the ball to Mark Clayton on a wide receiver reverse, it's in a football fans mind: "Joe: stay out of the way." Joe's courageous self didn't stand for it. He blocked 6'1", 240 pound Bengal LB Dhani Jones, knocking him to the ground! Wow.
This is only the beginning for Joe, as Jon Harbaugh has said.