Flacco proving to be no ordinary Joe in Ravens' wild playoff ride
The Ravens were outgained by 180 yards and yet did enough to pull the upset
Joe Flacco is the first rookie QB in NFL history to win two playoff games
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Playoff football has a pretty simple truism: The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins.
If that's the case, then Baltimore should have won this game 38-10.
Instead, Tennessee made this one interesting by outgaining Baltimore by 180 yards, running 19 more plays and possessing the ball for eight more minutes.
Tennessee lost the game by fumbling five times, turning it over twice in the red zone, getting penalized 12 times for 89 yards and, in general, looking more like the 12th seed in the AFC than the first.
The Ravens' 13-10 win (Recap | Box) was a terrific, if slightly sloppy, AFC division playoff game in the cold central Tennessee mist Saturday evening. And once again, the moral of the story is Baltimore has a quarterback playing so far over his head that he'd be towering over Yao Ming if this were basketball.
In eight playoff quarters, rookie Joe Flacco is a pedestrian 20 of 45 (44.4 percent) for 296 yards and one touchdown. Game-manager, right? I'll get to that fallacy in a second. But in 18- and three-point playoff victories in his first two postseason games, Flacco hasn't thrown an interception, been sacked or fumbled.
He's played both playoff games on the road, entirely with silent snap counts. That limits, if not eliminates, his ability to change plays at the line. To have not turned the ball over or taken a sack in eight quarters on the road would be ridiculous for Tom Brady. For a rookie like Flacco, it's downright amazing.
Last week, it was Chad Pennington, the wily vet, who threw four interceptions to hand Baltimore the game. On Saturday night, it was two more wily vets, quarterback Kerry Collins (a red-zone pick) and tight end Alge Crumpler (lost fumble at the Ravens' 6), who contributed to the Baltimore cause. Who will it be in the AFC Championship Game?
A couple of points to clarify from important plays late in the game:
The Ravens got away with a delay-of-game on a vital play down the stretch. On 3rd-and-2 from their own 32 with 2:32 left and the game tied at 10, Flacco took the play clock beyond zero before getting the snap off. I tried to do a one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi in the press box when the slo-mo replay was coming over CBS, but it was too hard. By any measure, however, at least one second appeared to click off the game clock while the play clock was frozen at zero. Flacco took the snap and threw a high bullet to Todd Heap, who, atoning for an earlier drop, caught the throw for a 23-yard gain. I told Flacco it appeared the Ravens got a major break. "Did we?'' he said, smiling in the locker room afterward. "It's pretty hard to hurry up a play like that when you're going silent snap-count all game.''
Coach John Harbaugh told me the league tells the teams they have one-half second after the play clock hits zero, because the official has to see the clock hit zero and then look back at the ball to see if it has been snapped. That had to have been more than a half-second. A pool reporter asked referee Terry McAulay about the play, and he said: "Here's what we do. The back judge [Robert Lawing] is responsible for that. He has the clock. When it hits zero, which is high here [meaning the positioning of the play clock, on the two end-zone scoreboards], he goes to the ball. So there is going to be a natural delay from zero to getting the ball. And when he gets to the ball, if it is being snapped, we don't call it. There can be a natural delay.'' Lawing would have had to turn his head slowly to have missed this one.
McAulay didn't see Flacco's foot hit the back line with 7:35 left in the game, which would have been a safety, obviously. Flacco rolled to his right in the end zone on 3rd-and-10 from his own 1, and he came close to stepping on the end line as he threw an incomplete pass. Jeff Fisher came up screaming that Flacco stepped out of bounds. It's not a reviewable play, and McAulay said it was his call and his judgment that Flacco didn't step out. "There was green, or whatever the color was, between the end line and his foot,'' McAulay said.
Flacco was pretty sure he didn't step out, too. "I think my foot wrapped around and came back inbounds,'' Flacco said. "I almost pulled a Dan Orlovsky.'' That, of course, was in reference to one of the dumbest plays in quarterback history, when the Detroit quarterback stepped a couple of yards over the end line at Minnesota this year and kept going, blithely, like nothing was wrong.
And so the sixth-seeded Ravens live to fight another day -- either at Pittsburgh or San Diego -- for the AFC Championship next Sunday. This is a very good defensive team, obviously, but one that can be thrown on. And this is an offense that might sputter for three or four drives in a row but then hit a deep ball from Flacco. It's not an unbeatable team, but it is a club that can win any game it plays, anywhere it plays it. "This is the first time since I've been here that we've been a complete team,'' said Baltimore's Terrell Suggs. "There's something special going on here.''