Flacco says Reed's comments ‘not that big a deal'
Derided by veteran free safety Ed Reed and accused of losing his composure against the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco downplayed the controversy Wednesday. Flacco said he has spoken to the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year after initially being flummoxed by Reed criticizing him during a national radio show following the Ravens' 20-13 victory over the Texans.
"I talked to Ed about it," Flacco said. "It was a little funny to me. I was a little caught off guard, but it is what it is. We talked about it. It's not really that big of a deal. "When I first saw it, I was like, ‘What's going on? It's not really that big of an issue. I don't really take things that bad. It's Ed, it is what it is."
Reed implied that he may have been trying to motivate Flacco, who passed for two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.1 quarterback rating despite being sacked five times against the Texans.
Flacco has become a frequent punching bag locally and nationally despite the Ravens (13-4) winning the AFC North title and passing for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions heading into Sunday's AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.
Reed implied Wednesday during an ESPN interview that he was attempting to motivate Flacco. He wasn't made available to local reporters. "Always a method to my madness," Reed said. My teammates, I think they know and understand me as a player and as a teammate. I don't think they would take out of content what I said. If they do, it has to be motivation to prove me wrong. "I don't think I offended Joe in any way. I talked to him on the phone, left a message. He texted me, told me, ‘I'm cool.' He's cool about it. No big deal."
Since Reed has a lot of credibility, though, Flacco may draw additional heat after a Pro Bowl defensive player and teammate ripped him. "I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit by that defense," Reed said during a Sirius NFL radio interview. "They had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball.
"I don't know how much of the play-calling, he could have made audibles or anything like that, checks or whatnot, man, but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past. It was just kind of like they was telling him to do, throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys. And he can't play like that." Already busy this week game-planning for Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, Ravens coach John Harbaugh took some time to meet with Reed to address his remarks. And Harbaugh acknowledged that the timing and how Reed's comments came across could stand for improvement.
"I understand where Ed's heart at, and all our guys when they say things," Harbaugh said. "We're together all the time. We know each other. We understand where each other is coming from. I'm sure there are some things he would have liked to have said a little better.
"If you look at the whole context and hear the tone of his voice, I think the message he was trying to communicate was a good message. Obviously, things could have been [said differently], the way you read them and stuff like that, I'm sure he's not too happy about that. I understand what he's talking about. We know each other, we understand each other." Flacco continues to be a lightning rod for criticism despite winning on a consistent basis and not missing a start since being drafted in the first round four years ago out of the University of Delaware. He has gone 44-20 in the regular season, and 5-3 in the playoffs.
"I think I'm more shocked just how people can speak about somebody who is just a flat-out winner," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "There's no one side to anything. There's no one player that makes one team great. It takes a team effort. What Joe has come in and done for us, I told people from Day One when I first saw that kid throw a football, I said that kid is special." Reed also criticized the offensive line during the interview.
"We're not worried about it, I'm sure Joe's not, I'm sure Ed's not," offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. I'm sure it might've gotten twisted up a little bit how everybody's trying to blow it up. Ed's behind Joe all the way.
"Ed wouldn't do anything to be detrimental to the team a week before we play the AFC Championship game. It's in one ear and out the other. Not worried about it, worried about New England." Outside of the Ravens' locker room, at least one NFL voice believes that what Reed said can have an impact on team chemistry. During a conference call, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young weighed in on the Flacco-Reed situation.
"A little different in that Ed is one of the voices in the locker room that self-polices," Young said. "They have a great locker room and they have guys that self-police, so pretty substantive Ed said it. So, I think it's going to be pretty meaningful and should put a red flag up. Because it's from Ed, it's not from left field and it's not going to cause more than Joe to straighten up.
"Like, ‘hey, Ed said it, I have to deal with it, and it must have something to it or he wouldn't have and I'd better a big boy and better play better.' I think Joe is going to stabilize a little bit, because who wants to hear Ed Reed say something bad about you. Also, Joe will see like, ‘Hey, it's like Ronnie Lott saying something, better deal with it.' And I think Joe is a tough kid. He'll figure it out." Lewis wasn't the only player to stick up for Flacco.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been an outspoken figure in coming to Flacco's aid.
"I don't have to stick up for Joe, man," Suggs said. "His reputation speaks for itself. I just say what people seem to forget sometimes. We've never been kind of like anybody's favorite. "I think he fits right in with us kind of with our persona, kind of the flashy, flamboyant persona. He's right there in the locker room with us. We're a different kind of group with some special cats around here." Flacco has obviously tired of being targeted so often for scrutiny.
The New Jersey native would prefer to get to a point where his play doesn't require defending. "I think that is the team we are," Flacco said. "I wish those guys didn't have to come to my defense on all kinds of things. I don't really think they have to. The way things are talked about, it just makes it that someone has to come out and say something."
Should the Ravens advance to the Super Bowl and win it to claim the second Vince Lombardi trophy in franchise history, will the reputation of their quarterback improve?
"I don't care," Flacco said. "I will be wearing a ring, and we will be holding a trophy. The perception probably won't change, but it does not really matter."
Pressuring Brady is Ravens' top priority
Left to his own devices, unflustered or even worse untouched by pass rushers, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is like kryptonite to even the mightiest defenses.
Sacked only 32 times during the regular season as New England surrendered the ninth-fewest in the league, Brady piled up 5,235 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and was only intercepted a dozen times. Given the luxury of time, Brady has the accuracy, the arm strength and the talented targets to carve up a defense like a butcher.
"You have to pressure Brady," Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "If you let him stand there, he's going to kill you." The Denver Broncos were his latest victim, falling 45-10 to the Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff game as Brady delivered six touchdown passes to tie a postseason record as he was only sacked once.
Now, Brady is the Ravens' problem as they prepare for Sunday's AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.
And the Ravens' pass rush been languishing lately with only 10 sacks in the past six games since a nine-sack performance during a Nov. 24 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
They recorded zero sacks against the Houston Texans during a 20-13 AFC divisional playoff win, no sacks in a Dec. 18 loss to the San Diego Chargers and only three sacks in the past four games.
Although the Ravens finished third in the NFL with 48 sacks for the season as Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs registered a career-high 14 sacks with seven forced fumbles, they can't afford to leave Brady unscathed. "You've got to stop them," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You've got to find a way to stop them and control them, and you can't just let them go up and down the field on you. That's true for any game."
The Ravens will need to knock Brady down repeatedly and prevent him from getting the football out of his hands, likely requiring some creative blitz packages in order to contain Brady. Brady has a bevy of receivers that includes: wide receiver Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns) and tight ends Rob Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns and Aaron Hernandez (79 catches, 910 yards and seven touchdowns).
"How important is it to get pressure on the quarterback?" Suggs said. "Well, you don't want, particularly this guy, to get into a seven-on-seven matchup with your defensive backs, especially when they have a 6-foot-12, 260-pound tight end [Gronkowski] that runs about a 4.5. "You don't want him back there just like, ‘Oh, we're just going to play catch today.' You don't want him to get in his zone. I think pressure is going to be crucial, but it's always crucial. Particularly, when you are playing these type of quarterbacks, it's pivotal." Suggs has one sack in the last four games and was shut out against the Chargers and the Cleveland Browns.
For his career, though, he has traditionally fared well against Patriots left offensive tackle Matt Light. Suggs has 19 tackles in five games against the Patriots, a sack in three consecutive games against them with two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Suggs' forced fumble and recovery on a Brady sack led to a Le'Ron McClain touchdown run during a 33-14 AFC wild-card playoff win over New England two years ago.
And the Ravens will need to duplicate that success against the Patriots again this week. "That's one of the big focuses, of course," defensive end Cory Redding said. "Stop the run, eliminate deep shots and get on the passer. Especially with Tom Brady, you really have to get some pressure around him, get him rattled a little bit, get him off the spot." The Patriots' second-ranked offense is averaging 428 yards per game, 317.8 through the air and 32.1 points per game.
New England has won nine consecutive games. "If you watch SportsCenter, you've seen their offense," Johnson said. "They can hurt you in 100 different ways. They use their personnel groups really well, whereas most teams, when they go two tight ends, it's usually a somewhat running formation or at least a balanced formation. They can do anything.
"They can go in diesel, which is a two-tight end look, two receivers and a back, and they can spread them all out and make them look like five-wide and can be just as efficient if it was five-wide because their guys are so athletic. It's a big predicament for us. It's a challenge, but it's what you like, because we can be a challenge, too."
Notebook: Pollard, Brady rehash hit that caused knee injury
Bernard Pollard crashed into New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady nearly four years ago, causing severe damage to the left knee of one of the most iconic players in the game.
The impact of the legal hit shredded Brady's anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season and triggering a major change in the NFL rulebook governing contact with quarterbacks. "You can't control what happens on that field," said Pollard, who was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs at the time. "At any time, at any second, something bad can happen. And that's what happens in this game every week, somebody goes down. It just so happened to be Tom Brady and everybody made a big deal about it."
Now, Pollard is the starting strong safety for the Baltimore Ravens' AFC championship game against the Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Following the 2008 season, the NFL competition committee passed the so-called "Brady Rule." That made it illegal for a defender on the ground to intentionally lunge at quarterbacks' knees or an even lower aiming point unless they were blocked or pushed into the passer.
"The rule is if you go down there, they're taking change out of your pockets," said Pollard, who has consistently emphasized that he never intended to hurt Brady. "That's the pretty boy, that's the man of the NFL. That's Mr. Do-It-All. So, everybody is going to hold that against me but I don't care. I don't play for men. "I don't play for no woman. I play because I'm given the gift to play this game. And in this sport, you can't say, 'Go out there and hit somebody full speed with equipment and everything else on,' and say, 'Be careful.'" When Brady was reminded about the painful encounter with Pollard, he certainly hadn't forgotten what happened.
"Certainly nothing you take for granted because you never know, this could be your last day," Brady told New England reporters. "To have the opportunity to play in a game like we're playing in this week and prepare for a game like this is something that is exciting for all the players involved. When you don't have that opportunity, it sucks."
Since that game, Pollard has only squared off one time with Brady.
Playing for the Houston Texans, Pollard intercepted Brady as his team defeated the Patriots, 34-27, two years ago. "We're dogs with no leashes, that's how it is," Pollard said. "We're not trying to be malicious. We're not malicious. We're not trying to be dirty players, but this is the game. We tackle guys for a living. We know and understand that at any time you can go down, and that's what happened."
INJURY UPDATES: Every player practiced Wednesday for the AFC North champions. The Ravens listed only one player on their official injury report as Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed was limited with a sprained left ankle. Inside linebackers Jameel McClain (sprained medial collateral ligament) and Brendon Ayanbadejo (strained right quadriceps), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (leg) and offensive tackle Michael Oher (knee) aren't on the injury report. "Injury-wise, everyone has been in here working hard the last couple of days," Harbaugh. "It looks like we're in pretty good shape. There may be one or two guys that will be close, but we feel pretty good with where we're at with that." Meanwhile, Brady didn't practice due to a left shoulder injury.
Fourteen Patriots were limited, including: wide receivers Deion Branch (knee), Wes Welker (knee), offensive tackles Marcus Cannon (ankle), Nate Solder (concussion) and Sebastian Vollmer (back, foot), linebackers Dane Fletcher (thumb), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Brandon Spikes (knee) and Tracy White (abdomen), Safety Patrick Chung (knee), tight end Aaron Hernandez (concussion), safety James Ihedigbo (shoulder), offensive guard Logan Mankins (knee).
Cornerback Kyle Arrington (foot), center Dan Connolly (groin) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (shoulder) participated fully.
SUGGS, BRADY MENDING FENCES: Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is done trading barbs with Brady, at least this week and recently. Suggs has delivered a few verbal shots to the star quarterback in the past with Brady responding by pointing out the Ravens' 1-6 record against the Patriots.
"I guess the genesis of that was the incident in '09, when I almost hit him below the waist," Suggs said. "That's when it all started, but you grow and mature. As you all can clearly see, I'm not the same guy that I was in '09. I'm definitely 20 pounds lighter.
"We had a lot going on, that defense. I'm pretty much over it. I respect him. Like I said before, when it's all said and done, they are going to speak on three quarterbacks: Johnny [Unitas], Peyton [Manning] and him." Given the chance to make fun of Brady for being a spokesman for UGG boots, Suggs took a pass.
"I heard they are really comfortable," Suggs said with a smile. "I'll take some. I'll send him some Ball So Hard gear."
Suggs has been giving out "Ball So Hard University" T-shirts to his teammates, including running back Ray Rice.
BELICHICK PRAISE: Patriots coach Bill Belichick singled out Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis for compliments.
He referred to the perennial Pro Bowlers as "two of the greatest players to ever play the game," telling New England reporters it would be difficult to place "anybody even in their class, let alone above them."
Belichick and Reed have something of a mutual admiration society and the Super Bowl winning coach has worked with Reed at the Pro Bowl before. Referencing Reed's pass deflection to seal a 20-13 AFC divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans, Belichick said: "They throw the Hail Mary to the other side and he comes all the way across the field and makes the play, really kind of a game-saving play. Those are the kinds of plays he makes. He probably covers more field back there as a single safety than most teams can cover with two.
Can't say I've ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary."
ROSTER MOVE: The Ravens signed offensive lineman Garrett Chisolm to the practice squad.
QUICK HITS: There are weather forecasts of snow and freezing temperatures for Sunday's game in Foxborough, Mass., at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens, who practiced indoors Wednesday, vow they'll be prepared. "We practice with wet balls," Harbaugh said. "We go outside in the rain. We practice in the cold and stuff like that. We think we're an all-weather team. We think we're built for any kind of conditions." …
Quarterback Joe Flacco indicated that he audibled into a passing play during the fourth quarter out of a planned running play, which has drawn criticism because the Ravens had a lead and were trying to run out the clock. "The third down was a pass play," Flacco said. "The second down was a run play. They brought an all-out blitz. We had a little thing with Anquan [Boldin] out there for that. Having looked back at it, I probably would have handed the ball off. Hey, I honestly was not thinking about it that much. I was thinking, ‘Hey, let's go score a touchdown here and put the game out of reach.' It did not work out that way, but we still won the football game."
Harbaugh praised defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who has led the Ravens to 48 sacks after recording 27 sacks last season. "Chuck has done a great job," Harbaugh said. "Chuck is a great coach. The rest of the staff has done a great job. Our players respect our coaches a great deal, and our coaches respect our players. It's more of a peer relationship in a lot of ways at this level, and they've done a great job working together. Chuck is a great example of that. Obviously, it's been reflected in the way those guys have played. So, I'm really proud of him and I'm proud of all our coaches."
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