November 11, 2012
Sure, it came against an Oakland defense that is one of the worst in the NFL, but Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense needed this confidence-booster heading into Pittsburgh.
After throwing for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco sat on the floor of the media conference room at M&T Bank Stadium with his back against the wall. He wore a black Ravens hat pulled down over his eyes. His long legs were stretched out and his head was cocked slightly toward the floor or maybe his white tube socks. Nothing about his body language suggested that the Ravens had just scored the most points in a single game in franchise history. But once Ravens coach John Harbaugh finished answering questions about his team's most complete performance of the season, Flacco, who was replaced by Tyrod Taylor for mop-up duty, sprung to his feet and took his turn at the podium. It was the most action he had seen in nearly an hour.
But before exiting the game, Flacco led the Ravens on eight scoring drives as the offense picked up 22 first downs and 45 points on their first 11 possessions. He connected with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson over the middle and up the seams. He dropped two 47-yard bombs to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. He kept Anquan Boldin and Tandon Doss involved, too. And he flung four completions to Ray Rice, who scored a touchdown Sunday but otherwise didn't find much running room. The Ravens converted just five of their 12 third-down plays, but Flacco moved the chains when it counted early in the game. Of course, it comes with the caveat that the Ravens did it at home, where they are now averaging 36.8 points, against a Raiders defense that has allowed 97 points in the past two weeks.
Since I can usually find less trivial things to talk about, I try to stay out of the debate about whether Flacco is an elite quarterback. But the cold, hard facts argue that he is among the league's finest quarterbacks at his home stadium. In his five home games this season -- all Ravens wins -- Flacco has completed 65.3 percent of his attempts for 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. And his 107.4 passer rating at home is among the NFL's five best. Maybe he really loves marching bands? But as we know, Flacco has not been able to replicate that success away from the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, as the Ravens are averaging 17.5 points per game on the road.
"I have no reason for it," said Smith, who caught two of Flacco's 33 attempts Sunday for 67 yards and two touchdowns. "You can't say crowd noise because sometimes the other team's places are quiet. You can't say it's game-planning because we're running the exact same plays. For whatever reason, we're just not getting it done. I have no clue. ... It's like night and day almost. It's weird, but we'll get it right."
As expected, Flacco stoically downplayed questions about whether this blowout win will give them a confidence boost when they needed it most, with the Ravens traveling to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh this weekend for the first of two games in three weeks against the rival Steelers. "Eh, I don't know," Flacco said -- which is his equivalent of Ray Lewis saying "that's the bottom line" 52 times at "the end of the day."
But even after an offensive outburst like this, there will be plenty of questions this week about Flacco's and the offense's ability to produce on the road. They will keep shrugging off the questions because they are still searching for answers. If the Ravens want to win the division, they need to find them soon.