Entering his third postseason, it’s on Flacco to take the next step

Last night was a rough one for me, as the University of Delaware - my alma mater - blew a 19-point second half lead in the FCS Championship game and lost a shot at a seventh national title.

I thought they had it in the bag and started celebrating a bit prematurely, which made the loss all the more painful.

See, the Ravens aren’t the only team with issues holding second half leads.

Transitioning smoothly from Delaware football to a UD alum, this postseason will be a big one for Joe Flacco as he continues to evolve as an NFL signal caller.

In the Ravens’ three postseason games during Flacco’s rookie season, he was primarily a game manager, as most rookie quarterbacks are if they’re fortunate enough to reach the playoffs.

With the Ravens leaning heavily on their running game, Flacco was called on to take care of the football, make smart decisions, and take what opposing defenses gave him through the air. He completed an average of 11 passes in those three games, failed to top 161 passing yards, and threw only one touchdown to three interceptions.

A year later, during the 2009 playoffs, Flacco was limited (possibly severely so) by a gruesome and painful bruise that covered most of his right side. His mechanics were thrown off, and his movement restricted.

Joe_Flacco_Home.jpgYet again, his numbers were far from ideal. In the Ravens’ lone ‘09 postseason win, Flacco went just 4-of-10 passing for 34 yards and an interception. He followed that up by throwing two interceptions in a divisional round loss to the Colts.

Add it all up, and Flacco has averaged 132 passing yards in his five playoff starts, he’s thrown one touchdown and has been intercepted five times. He’s earned three playoff wins in two years - a legitimate accomplishment, for sure - but hasn’t put up the type of postseason performance that it will take to consistently beat top teams.

Now, after his best season as a pro, posting over 3,600 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions, the weight falls on Flacco’s shoulders to take the next step and transfer that passing success to the playoffs.

This time around, Flacco’s got the experience, he seems fully healthy (or at least as close to fully healthy as a quarterback can be at this point in the season) and he has plenty of offensive weapons to work with. He appears more ready than ever before to lead the Ravens on a deep playoff trip, and the Ravens have confidence that he’ll do so.

“I’ve seen how Joe handles pressure situations and I think everybody in this locker room is confident in how he’ll carry himself and how he’ll handle it,” tight end Todd Heap said. “I feel like he’s definitely healthier this year, but I think anytime you can add more experience and get more plays and more playoff games under your belt, that helps.”

We all know that the Ravens offense has been inconsistent as all get-out this season, and Flacco doesn’t come into the playoffs riding much momentum. He averaged 114 yards passing in his last two games, and threw a combined two touchdowns and two interceptions in shaky wins over the Browns and Bengals.

As they prepare for their sixth postseason game in three years, however, the Ravens feel good about their chances. A lot of that is because they have faith in Flacco.

Talking to various members of the offense, they believe that the experience factor is a big one come playoff time. Many believe that Flacco can build off the last two years, despite the fact that his numbers in those postseason appearances have been less than stellar.

“All these experiences for guys in their first, second, third, probably even in some cases into their fourth year - these experiences just add up to really help,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “It’s still difficult. It doesn’t make anything easy. It just gives you an opportunity to maybe grow.

“We’d like to see him do that this year, and I’m confident he will, because he’s done a lot of good things in the playoffs the last two years.”

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