Flacco to start against Texans

OWINGS MILLS -- The rock-star treatment was in direct contrast to the low-key personality of Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, but the noise was welcomed by the quiet first-round draft pick. Flacco was in the huddle during the third quarter of the Ravens' 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals when he started hearing the chants of, "Lets Go Flacco!"

It's a cheer that Flacco and a quarterback-starved town are hoping will become a staple at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Yeah, I thought I heard it, but I wasn't sure," Flacco said. "I thought, 'Why would they be doing that?' Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time."

As the 16th different starting quarterback in franchise history, the Ravens are banking on Flacco ending their long-running carousel under center in the 13th year of their existence.

Judging from first impressions, Flacco has quickly won over fans who had grown accustomed to more problems than solutions at quarterback.

The 23-year-old scored a touchdown on a 38-yard bootleg run and knocked down linebacker Dhani Jones with a block to spring wide receiver Mark Clayton for a 42-yard touchdown on a snazzy double-reverse. Flacco's touchdown run was the longest by a rookie making his debut in NFL history.

Flacco has done enough to earn a second start against the Houston Texans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, coach John Harbaugh announced Monday.

However, Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether Flacco will remain in place for the remainder of the season. It's considered unlikely, though, that Flacco would be benched unless he struggled mightily for an extended period of games.

"Flacco will be the starter this week," Harbaugh said. "None of us have a crystal ball, but he'll be the starter against Houston. I would say there were a lot of things he did well, but nothing that surprised us.

"We expected him to do those things well that he did. All of us had the question mark: 'Would the game be too fast for him in the first game?' And it wasn't, and that was a good thing to see."

Flacco completed 15 of 29 passes for 129 yards with no touchdowns, but made more of an impression with his footwork and toughness as he led the Ravens on three scoring drives.

Plus, he didn't commit a turnover.

Five years ago when former starter Kyle Boller started as a rookie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he completed just 22 of 43 passes for 152 yards, one touchdown and an interception for a 57.5 quarterback rating as the Ravens lost 34-15.

It's an ugly history for rookie quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino are among the few success stories, but Flacco is hoping to set a precedent.

"I don't pay attention to that," Flacco said. "I've got a great team around me, and I've got 52 other guys that are behind me. When you have a team like that, it gives you a lot of help. They were able to give me a lot of confidence going into the team."

Forced into the starting lineup due to Boller's season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder and Troy Smith's scary bout with a tonsil infection, Flacco and the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan became the first rookie quarterbacks to start a season-opener Sunday since Boller's rocky debut at Pittsburgh in 2003. They are the first rookies drafted in the first round to win a season opener since the Texans' David Carr in 2002.

"I think he had already earned a lot of confidence because of the way he had conducted himself and the way he prepared," Harbaugh said. "Our guys were not surprised by the way he handled himself, but certainly by winning the football game, the players were excited for him."

Flacco's composure has convinced teammates that he's ready for the rigors of an NFL season. One precocious moment was when he had the presence of mind to audible before his rambling touchdown run when he saw that the Bengals' defense was stacked up for a running play.

Other more subtle examples were how he would throw the football away rather than take a sack. He didn't force plays that weren't there, which is usually how turnovers happen.

"Joe was unbelievably poised, extremely confident," Clayton said. "His confidence is from his preparation. He worked hard, prepared well and did an excellent job of running the offense."

Flacco remained grounded Monday, not seeking out interviews following a light practice. He yawned loudly when he entered the locker room.

His teammates offered Flacco some reminders Monday that he's still a rookie.

"In true NFL and Ravens fashion, he was brought down to earth by the players on a regular basis today," Harbaugh said. "They were letting him know that it's a team game. He's receptive to that because that's the kind of guy he is. He had a lot of fun with it."

Flacco's demeanor in the huddle was described by teammates as business-like as he called the plays and operated the offense in a relaxed manner.

"Joe is the most laid-back, cool guy I've ever been around," said fullback Le'Ron McClain, who helped Flacco's cause with a career-high 86 yards on 19 carries. "I know he is going to do big things with this offense. He is just calm. There is no panicking."

NOTE: Harbaugh was doused with Gatorade twice Sunday as he won his first game as head coach since taking over for former coach Brian Billick, who was fired in January.

"It's good to be 1-0," he said. "A win in this league means so much, but the first one is probably a little bit special. For those guys to do that and kind of accept me as a Raven, that's how I felt, the players were accepting their coach as a Raven and the coaching staff as a whole. That was very meaningful."

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

Ravens Insider Top Stories