By Kevin Cowherd The Baltimore Sun
Go ahead, tell me who’s under more pressure today than Joe Flacco.
All the Baltimore Ravens quarterback has to do in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots is this:
Show a certain teammate (and maybe teammates) that he doesn’t get rattled in big games.
Prove to some Ravens fans that he has what it takes to win a championship.
Convince the naysayers in the national media that he’s a pretty good quarterback who can take the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
Score enough points in the madhouse of Gillette Stadium to keep the Ravens in the game against one of the best quarterbacks of all time and a high-powered Patriots offense featuring dual monster tight ends with speed and flypaper hands.
Whew. Anything else on Flacco’s plate today?
Is he supposed to cure cancer, too?
Restart the Mideast peace talks?
Make the remaining Republican presidential candidates play nice on the campaign trail?
Poor Flacco. The guy can’t win sometimes. And having Ravens safety Ed Reed call him out a few days ago isn’t going to help.
If Flacco has a good game today against the Patriots, his critics will say: “See? What the guy needed was someone like Ed Reed to light a fire under him. That Reed — he’s a genius.”
And if Flacco doesn’t have a good game, they’ll say: “See? Ed Reed was right. Flacco gets jittery out there. Plus he’s got no grasp of the offense.”
You’d think the fact that he helped the Ravens to a 12-4 regular-season record would make the critics back off.
You’d think the fact that the Ravens are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year with Flacco at quarterback would give him more credibility.
But it doesn’t seem to work that way for the big guy.
The Flacco bashers have this intense, visceral dislike for the man. You’ve heard all the knocks. He’s too laid-back, too indecisive, makes poor decisions, can’t throw into tight windows, freaks out when the pocket breaks down, and blah, blah, blah.
So I don’t expect the critics to back off no matter how Flacco plays today in Foxborough. And I give him credit for keeping his cool in what has been a tough week, having to answer endless questions about Reed’s comments while preparing to play the biggest game of his career.
On Thursday, he and Reed even put on that little dog-and-pony show for the media, mock-cursing each other as they took the field for practice and then laughing about it.
Apparently it was designed to show everyone: “See? We’re good. No hard feelings here. Just a couple of bros getting ready for Sunday.”
And on Friday, Flacco seemed loose enough when he met reporters, quickly deflecting a question about whether the past week had been any different for him after a teammate somehow decided this was a good time to publicly rip his quarterback on the radio.
“Not really,” Flacco said. “I mean, it’s just another game and we’re preparing for it. Our preparation is the same every week. We’re coming out here and approaching this week just like any other, and getting ready to go play a big game in a tough place to play.”
Sure, just another game. Just another week like any other. And if you buy that, I have a nice cruise off the Tuscany coast I could sell you.
Now we’ll see how he plays today up in Foxborough.
Me, I don’t see the Ravens pulling this one out without a big game from Flacco.
Sure, Ray Rice might be the biggest key of all for the Ravens’ offense. He gouged the Patriots for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries when the Ravens played New England in the playoffs two years ago.
And it was Rice’s electrifying 83-yard score on the first play from scrimmage that plunged Gillette Stadium into an uneasy silence and set the tone for that game.
But the Ravens don’t win today unless Flacco comes up big.
If you believe, as I do, that Tom Brady, the gunslinger quarterback for the Patriots, could put up a lot of points, then the Ravens have to answer with Flacco’s arm, not just Rice’s punishing runs.
If the offensive line gives him time, if the Patriots’ pass rush isn’t pounding him to the turf the way the Houston Texans did five times last week, if the Ravens receivers can get open and hold on to the ball, the game may be Flacco’s to win.
I know, I know … a lot of “ifs” there.
A lot riding on Flacco’s shoulders, too.
Only the hopes and dreams of an entire franchise and its fans, that’s all.