Flacco, Edwards reunited

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Only three years ago, Armanti Edwards was an archrival of Joe Flacco. Edwards vanquished the University of Delaware in the Division I-AA national championship game, leading his Appalachian State squad to a 49-21 victory over Flacco and the Blue Hens.

The quarterback who engineered an epic upset victory over the University of Michigan earlier that year outdueled Flacco by throwing three touchdown passes with no interceptions on 9 of 15 accuracy for 198 yards.

Meanwhile, Flacco completed 23 of 48 passes for 334 yards, managing one touchdown pass and no interceptions. Three years later, their respective statuses are vastly different. Flacco is an established franchise quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, a first-round draft pick who has emerged as the top passer in the NFL statistically since the third week of the regular season.

And Edwards is a third-round rookie who's learning on the job how to play wide receiver after converting from quarterback after the draft. He's still searching for his first NFL reception and has played in only one game this season.

Still, Flacco hasn't forgotten Edwards. He had a hunch they would run into each other again after that 2007 meeting. "I figured he would get a shot somewhere since he is such a good athlete," Flacco said during a conference call with Charlotte reporters. "He is able to do a variety of things and some team is going to find him very valuable, so we will see how it goes.

"Yeah, they jumped on us quick and they had a lot of speed and he was a part of that. They had a really explosive offense that year and they were able to score points and hold us down early. It was a lot of fun getting to that championship game but they didn't make it a lot of fun once we got here."

In the NFL, it's been a different story so far for the two former small-school stars. Flacco has passed for 14 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 107.2 passer rating since the third week of the regular season. He's 26-15 as a starter, never missing a game and is the first NFL rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.

Edwards isn't surprised to see Flacco's emergence. Even while leading Appalachian State to a third consecutive national title, he knew back then that Flacco had something: a rocket for an arm. "You could tell he could definitely sling it," Edwards told Charlotte reporters. "He'd be on the left hash and make the throw to the right sideline. We saw that in him." Poised and confident, Flacco has been improving each season. With the addition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin through an offseason trade from the Arizona Cardinals, Flacco has completed 61.3 percent of his throws for 2,132 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season for a 90.1 passer rating.

For his career, Flacco has passed for 8,716 yards, 50 touchdowns and 31 interceptions and an 85.8 quarterback rating. In 41 games, he has completed 754 of 1,224 passes for 61.6 percent accuracy.

"As you get older and you're in the league for longer and get more experience, it's easier to identify things and you can play faster," Flacco said. "Obviously the key to the game is pressure and things like that, but I believe you have to get to a point where you can see everything at a slowed down level so you can play faster, more comfortable and confident.

"I think the biggest thing is to play confident and the only way to do that is to make sure you know what's going on with the other side of the ball and be able to play full speed and get the ball out on time. I think that's the biggest thing, having your offense and defense down so that you can go out there and play confident and play worry free. I think no matter what, you're going to continue to get better as you go on." One thing that has separated Flacco from other quarterbacks is his ability in the clutch. He has manufactured six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Flacco nearly pulled off another one last week when he hit tight end Todd Heap with a nine-yard touchdown pass with nearly one minute remaining to stake the Ravens to a brief 21-20 lead. However, Matt Ryan came right back at the Ravens and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Roddy White to finish off a 26-21 win. So far this year, Flacco has led two fourth-quarter comebacks. He's 11th in the NFL with a 91.5 fourth-quarter quarterback rating, eighth in the AFC.

"It's kind of the guy that wants to take the last shot, the guy that wants to make the last throw, the guy that can really function under pressure," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "I think one thing I enjoy about Joe, he really rises to the occasion in those situations. I think the great ones do.

"As we all can see every week, that really is the difference in most games. A quarterback's ability to manage, especially on the road, with the crowd noise and all the different things that come up in that situation, the clock, just good, smart, competitive guys that really refuse to lose."

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