Could Flacco emerge as the starter?

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' quarterback quandary took another perplexing turn, leaving the team still in the starting blocks in determining a regular-season starter as the preseason finish line approaches.

Due to Troy Smith's bout with stomach flu and Kyle Boller's sore throwing shoulder that sidelined the Ravens' top two quarterbacks in a 24-10 road loss Saturday to the St. Louis Rams, the Ravens will need their final exhibition game to make a pivotal decision.

Instead of getting a start that might have allowed him to seize the job, Smith was unable to hold down fluids and rookie Joe Flacco was forced to play the entire game when Boller couldn't throw during warmups.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't rule out the possibility that Flacco could be reinserted into the competition.

When asked if Flacco would now be considered for the position, Harbaugh replied: "We'll see. That's a fair question. I just don't know the answer."

Smith is expected to be healthy enough to play in the the Ravens' preseason finale Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons as he tries to convince the coaching staff he should start the Sept. 7 season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Harbaugh indicated that Smith may start against Atlanta.

Smith was far too ill to play against the Rams.

"I think he would have played with any type of sicknes s, but he could not do anything," Harbaugh said. "He could not move, he couldn't speak. He fought like crazy, but he just couldn't do it.

"It pushes us back. We had a hope or a thought that might have been answered with Troy, but he did not have an opportunity to show that, but we will make that decision as we go."

Boller couldn't lift his right arm over his head Saturday after absorbing a rough hit against the Minnesota Vikings a week ago.

Meanwhile, the team is awaiting the coaching staff's decision.

"It's a lot of pressure on those guys competing," center Jason Brown said. "It's a strong competition, and the best man is going to win the job. It's up to our coaching staff and scouts to make that pick."

In his unexpected starting debut, Flacco completed 18 of 37 passes for 152 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The first-round draft pick from Delaware got off to a rough start, but settled down in the second half to engineer a crisp scoring drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Harbaugh had recently said that Flacco had been eliminated from contention to start the opener. The other first-round quarterback, Atlanta Falcons rookie Matt Ryan, was named the starter Sunday.

"I'm going to prepare myself to be ready at any time," Flacco said when asked if he felt ready to be a starter. "That's what you have to do as a quarterback. The next time I get the opportunity, I'm going to make the best of it."

The Ravens don't want to rush Flacco, but the rookie displayed a lot of composure after completing just 4 of 13 passes for 33 yards in the first half. After halftime, he completed 14 of his final 24 attempts for 119 yards.

"I was a little jacked up at the beginning of the game, not that you guys could tell," Flacco said with a smile. "I was a little amped up. It was my first start and it was exciting for me.

"I had to calm myself down a little bit as the game went on and I felt like I did. I felt like the whole game experience and getting out there and playing four quarters in a row was good for me."

In a seven-play drive to open the second half, Flacco completed all four throws for 61 yards. Every reception, including a 30-yarder, was caught by Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

On Mason's touchdown catch, Flacco's delivery was spot-on.

"My job is to catch the ball and his job is to throw the ball, and he made my job look easy with the way he delivered the ball," Maso n said. "He showed a lot of poise. I think he had a grasp of everything. I thought he played a lot better in the second half.

"He made my touchdown catch look easy. He threw the ball where only I can get it. That shows you the maturity. The future for him is very bright."

Flacco misfired on his first attempt to Mason in the first half on a wild third-down throw, but wound up completing six passes for 85 yards to the veteran wideout.

"He really did get comfortable and started getting the ball out quicker, saw some things, made some real accurate throws near the end there and had some zip on the ball," Harbaugh said. "You could see him growing throughout the course of the game.

"What is his learning curve? I think his learning curve is ramping up. You saw it from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. He made a lot of progress."

Although Flacco completed passes to nine different targets, he finished with a pedestrian 68.8 quarterback rating as Baltimore totaled just 209 yards of total offense and 10 first downs. The Ravens converted just 1 of 13 third downs.

"He had a chance to make a couple big plays," Harbaugh said. "When he looks at the tape, he is going to feel like, 'If I just put the ball on the money, we have a chance to win the game.'"

Overall, though, the game offered an extensive scouting report on Flacco. The Ravens maneuvered in the draft, trading down then moving back up to acquire&nb sp;him with the 18th overall pick.

"It was a really good chance for me to get in there and get my feet wet," Flacco said. "There were things I would have liked to have done better. It was a great learning experience."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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