Pressure falls on Flacco as Ravens’ postseason run begins

Going into the Ravens’ first-round postseason bye, linebacker Terrell Suggs was asked a question about Joe Flacco and where the fourth-year quarterback stands compares to his fellow postseason-bound signal callers.

“I think his play is kind of going to play out, and Joe will show you all where he’s at,” Suggs responded. “We’re only going to go as far as he takes us, and I think there’s no gray area in that. We’re going to ride Joe all the way to Indianapolis.”

In a lot of ways, Suggs’ words were merely meant to show his support for Flacco, to make it clear that he has his quarterback’s back. The Ravens clearly won’t need to “ride” Flacco to the Super Bowl like the Packers will Aaron Rodgers or the Patriots will Tom Brady.

Flacco won’t have to go out and throw for 450 yards and four touchdowns every week during the playoffs, because he has a well-rounded roster supporting him and ensuring that, if he has a rough day, the Ravens can still grind out a win. He’s aware of that, as are his teammates.

“Obviously, Joe is a big part of what we do,” center Matt Birk says. “He is our quarterback, he is our leader, but we’ve got other guys, and we pride ourselves on being pretty balanced on offense. It’s really not all on him - it’s not all on anybody. We’re a team. Everybody just has to pitch in and do their part. We don’t need anybody to be Superman out there. We just need everybody to do their job and take care of their business.”

Joe_Flacco-fist-pump-tall.jpgObviously, Birk is right. The Ravens’ third-ranked defense will continue to make Flacco’s job easier, as the veterans on that unit have a penchant for stepping up when it matters and delivering in the clutch. Flacco also can lean on workhorse running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage this season and scored a franchise-record 15 touchdowns.

But while Flacco has help around him, Suggs’ comments about the Ravens “riding” their quarterback make perfect sense. At some point during the Ravens’ postseason run, you have to believe that Flacco will need to make a big play in a crucial moment to get his team over the hump.

It might be a game-winning touchdown pass late in regulation, like the one he threw to Torrey Smith in the Week 9 win at Pittsburgh. It might be a key throw to convert a third down and keep the clock moving in the fourth quarter, which could pin a dangerous quarterback like Brady on the bench. It might entail Flacco leading a methodical drive down the field to set up a clutch field goal to tie or win a game.

If the Ravens are to make it to Indianapolis and have a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, Flacco will need to step up in at least one such moment, and possibly more than that.

For his part, Flacco says he chooses not to think about all the “what ifs” that come with playoff football. He understands that a lot of the criticism that he’s received over his four years in the NFL will disappear if he’s able to take the Ravens on a Super Bowl run, but insists that stuff doesn’t go through his mind as he prepares for games like this Sunday’s against the Texans.

“It’s tough to really think about the results, like what’s going to happen if you do go out and win this game, win the next game, win the Super Bowl,” Flacco said. “It’s tough to really think about what people are going to make of it if that happens. It’s our job - it’s my job as a quarterback - to take it one game at a time and put our team in the best chance to win a game, or give us the ball with a chance to win the game at the end of the game. And I think that’s all I can do every week, is come in here and do that and play my best.

“I think when it’s all said and done, yeah, playoffs are a big part of what makes great players, but if we were to think of what would happen if we lose, what would happen if we won, then it would make me (and) it would make our team go out there and play more tentative, because we would be thinking about the results, the fallout of what could possibly happen. And we don’t need to be thinking about that; we need to be thinking on the task ahead, and that’s winning the football game.”

The Ravens aren’t built to be the type of team that relies on its quarterback to dominate week-in and week-out. Flacco won’t be asked to throw the ball 50 times per game in the playoffs - at least we hope not - and his stat lines won’t have to be gorgeous for the Ravens to advance in postseason play.

But while the pressure might not be on Flacco to carry his team, the pressure is certainly still on. And all of us will be watching to see how the four-year veteran responds.

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