Gene Sweeney Jr, Baltimore Sun
January 1, 2012
1. The Ravens are clearly going all in with Joe Flacco, and he's eventually going to get a big contract extension. That's the right move. But in year five, it's time for him to make The Leap. That doesn't mean putting up video game numbers, but it does mean he needs to play great football most of the time, not just some of the time.
For the third straight year, a lot of the questions at the annual State of the Ravens address were about Flacco. And that's understandable, because he remains a fascinating, polarizing topic, whether you're a supporter or a detractor. Amongst fans and media, it was popular to say that Flacco regressed a bit this season, simply because his numbers dipped a bit, but the Ravens clearly don't view it that way. Owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome all but assured fans Wednesday that they plan to lock Flacco up long-term, and they weren't disappointed at all with the way he performed this year.
"Did Joe improve? Yes," Newsome said. "And he improved after we took away some weapons he was accustomed to in Derrick [Mason] and Todd Heap. ... There's no doubt that Joe improved. The thing that I like about Joe -- and I think in the end, when you're in this business -- you are judged on one thing: winning. Joe wins. If he continues to win, if one pass is caught, he'd be in a Super Bowl. And I think he's going to win Super Bowls -- a lot of them. And I hope to be a part of them. He has improved. But the thing that you cannot knock about Joe is that he's a winner."
For the most part, Flacco's detractors don't have much ammunition right now, because if Lee Evans secures the football in the corner of the end zone in the AFC championship game, the Ravens are anxiously preparing for the Super Bowl right now. But keep in mind too that a lot of things broke the Ravens' way in 2011, and Flacco will absolutely need to play better in 2012 if they're going to get back to the AFC championship game and this time break through. That's not a criticism of him, it's just a reality. The schedule appears to be significantly harder in 2012.
Flacco had some great games this season, but he also had some ugly games. And while those ugly games tend to get blown out of proportion by the national media and some of the fan base, it's still time to eliminate those ugly games -- like Jacksonville, when he could barely muster a first down -- from his resume. That's almost as important as playing lights out on the road against Pittsburgh.
A lot of Ravens fans have spent the past year fantasizing about how much better Flacco might play in a different system, with a different offensive coordinator, but we know now that's not going to happen. Flacco and Cam Cameron are married to one another, and that's not going to change, and fans may not like it, but they eventually have to accept it, and just hope the two of them can continue to make progress.
Bisciotti said something Wednesday about Flacco I thought was interesting. He said he believes a lot of the criticism has to do with the fact that Flacco has such a reserved personality, and I think there is a lot of truth to that statement.
"It's perceived as a weakness when you're young," Bisciotti said. "And yet, we had John Unitas here [in Baltimore], and he didn't scream and yell at people either. A lot of people take offense that Joe doesn't get mad at wide receivers, literally, when the TV camera is on them and they drop balls. And Joe said, 'I don't expect them to yell at me when I throw at their ankles sometime. That's just part of the game, and they're not going to get over it quicker if I yell at them.' That's just not good enough for people. They're like, 'Bad answer,' and I'm thinking that was a pretty good answer. People want to see fire in their athletes. We know Joe has it, but should we get him a coach and tell him to fake it and be a 'rah-rah' guy and the next thing, he's focused on something other than what we want him to focus on?" ... I think he is going to be extremely successful, and I think he's going to have rings, and I think he's got 10 years of his prime to show it, and I think that he will be rewarded for his personality in the long run, and hopefully our fans will, too."