Browns-Ravens: Shades of Elway?

Joe Flacco's arrival and subsequent performance are too reminiscent of an old Browns nemesis...

Move over, John Elway.

There's a new, young quarterback who also had his coming-out party against the Browns at Cleveland. And his name is Joe Flacco, whose Baltimore Ravens will host the Browns on Sunday at M&T Stadium.

Just as Elway brought the Denver Broncos back from the dead, driving them 98 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left in regulation to forge a 20-20 tie in the 1986 AFC Championship Game that they eventually won 23-20 in overtime, Flacco rallied the Ravens to a 37-27 win over the Browns last Nov. 2.

In addition to being the first of two straight final nails into the Browns' coffin, effectively ending their playoff chances and season – and the Cleveland portion of the career of quarterback and former Raven Derek Anderson, at least for now as a starter -- the victory super-charged the Ravens' season and the career of Flacco, then a rookie.

It was the third straight win for the Ravens, putting them at 5-3. A loss would have tied them with Cleveland at 4-4. They would lose just two more games en route to finishing 11-5 and gaining a wild-card playoff berth. Their postseason run ended in the AFC title game with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As for Flacco, he went 17-of-29 passing for 248 yards, a season-high to that point, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.6 quarterback rating. He threw just 14 TD passes with 12 interceptions all year, so it's easy to see how strong a performance it was against the Browns from that aspect.

But more so than the numbers, it was how he accumulated them, and when he did it.

The Browns had scored TDs on their first two possessions of the second half to break a halftime tie and gain a 27-13 advantage. The Ravens were teetering. They were ready to absorb the knockout punch. It appeared even more that way when, on the Ravens' next possession, the Browns backed them up into a desperate third-and-16 situation at the Cleveland 15. With the Browns fans at that end of Cleveland Browns Stadium, in the Dawg Pound, howling, expecting their team to deliver the kill, Flacco threw a 20-yard laser shot to wide receiver Derrick Mason for the first down. LaRon McClain finished off the 15-play, 79-yard drive with a one-yard TD run to close it to 27-20.

The Ravens tied it at 20-20 – hmmm, 20-20, where have we heard that score before? – two minutes later when Flacco threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Mason. Baltimore closed out its 24-0 run with 10 more points in the fourth quarter.

In the second week of the season against the Browns at Baltimore, Flacco looked very rookie-like in connecting on 13-of-19 passes for only 129 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. It was the defense that paved the way for a 28-10 Ravens victory.

But by a month and half later, Flacco had grown up – considerably.

Even if Flacco won't admit, It was clearly the dawning of a pro career that now has him as one of the young, rising players in the NFL on arguably the league's best team at this early juncture of the season.

"People always ask me when my coming-out party was last year, but I honestly don't know," Flacco, who has completed 43-of-69 passes (62.3 percent) for 497 yards, five TDs and two picks for a quarterback rating of 96.1 for the 2-0 Ravens, said in a conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday. "Against Cleveland, we had gotten behind and had to throw the ball a lot."

It was the first real test of his poise and ability and he passed it with flying colors, for not only did the he "throw the ball a lot," but also extremely well. Without him and that performance, the Ravens would not have won and their season might have nose-dived out of control, while the Browns might have started with a win to get their legs under themselves again.

Just as that effort in Cleveland day 23 years ago changed the course of two franchises, so did the one last year. Browns fans can only hope that after their team let the tiger out of his cage once again, Joe Flacco doesn't continue to hurt the club through the years as much as John Elway did.


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