Flacco on the rise since first Titans game

OWINGS MILLS -- During the Baltimore Ravens' disappointing loss against the Tennessee Titans earlier this season, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had yet to master the art of looking off defenders. Flacco stared down his primary read on a couple of sideline patterns, resulting in two interceptions in the Ravens' 13-10 defeat Oct. 5 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It was a tough game," Flacco said. "I turned the ball over a little bit more than I would have wanted to. It was a tough, hard game. I think both teams are better at this point."

Flacco has improved markedly since posting the third-lowest passer rating of his career with a 50.4 against the Titans when he completed 18 of 27 passes for 153 yards, no touchdowns and no sacks.

He was picked off by Tennessee cornerback Nick Harper and free safety Michael Griffin with a potential third interception by linebacker David Thornton overturned because it was determined that Thornton didn't maintain control of the football before tumbling out of bounds.

"A couple of those in that game, I don't even know what I was thinking," Flacco said. "Kind of just bonehead throws. Kind of gave them one real easy, but you definitely learn from it. There are times when you've got to throw the ball out of bounds and live for the next down. That's what I took out of those."

Since that stretch where he threw seven interceptions and one touchdown in the first five games, Flacco has thrown 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

Now, the Ravens and Flacco are feeling much more confident heading into Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game against the top-seeded Titans.

"I don't think he throws interceptions as much as he did early," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You're never out of the woods when you're going against a good football team in terms of protecting the football.

"You can't really categorize it as looking a guy off or not looking a guy off. He's just become a better quarterback every successive week, but it's a new challenge this week."

LOOKING BACK: Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was flagged for a memorable roughing-the-passer penalty in the first game, a controversial infraction where he seemed to hit Titans quarterback Kerry Collins on his shoulder instead of his helmet, which the officials ruled.

The penalty kept the Titans going and led to Collins' game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler in the final two minutes.

"Everybody talks about the play, we didn't particularly lose the game on that one play," Suggs said. "Could it have ended the game? Yeah, but they still sustained the drive. There were still plays where we could have gotten off the field, and we didn't. So, it's going to be a fun game."

Suggs said he won't hesitate to aggressively rush Collins because of the penalty.

"It was a fluke play," he said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to try to help my team get the win. If our front four is having a good game, we do well."

TRAINING ROOM: Tight end Todd Heap missed practice because of the flu. However, Heap said he injured his back following Sunday's 27-9 win over the Miami Dolphins. Under NFL rules, the Ravens and Titans aren't required to file an injury report until today.

However, Heap is expected to play Saturday.

"He's OK," Harbaugh said. "Just bumps and bruises. It's early. It's a quick turnaround for some guys. So, we decided to keep him in the training room."

Reserve linebacker Antwan Barnes (strained pectoral muscle), who didn't play against the Dolphins, wasn't present during the early portion of practice open to reporters.

Titans center Kevin Mawae essentially ruled himself out for the game because of a right elbow injury suffered last month, telling NFL Sirius Radio: "No, I'm not going to play this week."

Although Titans coach Jeff Fisher told Tennessee reporters that Mawae is day-to-day, quarterback Kerry Collins seconded what Mawae said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters.

"I wish he was out there with us this weekend," Collins said, "but I think Leroy Harris is stepping in and will do a great job."

Titans defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch only worked about half of Tuesday's practice session, but are expected to play Saturday.

PREFERRED GAME: Suggs made a case that the Ravens-Titans rematch is a much more compelling game than if the Dolphins had advanced to the divisional round.

"No disrespect to Miami, but who really wanted to see Miami play Tennessee or Pittsburgh?" Suggs said. "Nobody was really getting hyped up for that. Everybody wanted the best teams in the AFC to play each other, just like everybody wants the best teams in the NFC to play each other."

TEAM CONCEPT: Harbaugh pointed out the contributions that several overshadowed players like safety Jim Leonhard and offensive tackle Willie Anderson have made this season.

"That's what a team does," Harbaugh said. "We've got 53 guys on this roster that are very, very valuable to our football team. So many times from a media perspective or whatever, you look at the so-called stars and we don't believe in that.

"In the locker room, on the field, everybody is a star or nobody's a star. Our team is the shining star. That's what our guys have been talking about all year. Different guys rise up at different times."

QUICK HITS: Fisher didn't sound too amused that former Titans, cornerback Samari Rolle, wide receiver Derrick Mason and fullback Lorenzo Neal, are playing for the Ravens. "I don't think it's funny at all," he said. "But, no, you guys have to ask them. If you guys want to find out about 2000, ask your guys. They were on the other side. They'll tell you how it felt in the locker room." ... Harbaugh joked that safety Ed Reed could line up at wide receiver. "Absolutely, it's a possibility this week," he said. "You could see it." ... Harbaugh wasn't in the mood to entertain a question about Fisher's significant edge in experience over him as a rookie coach. "No, I haven't given that any thought whatsoever," he said. ... It looks like rookie safety Tom Zbikowski has supplanted return specialist Yamon Figurs as the primary kickoff returner, taking over those duties for the past two games. "Tom, he's secured the football," Harbaugh said. "He's taken it north and south. He's got a record in college for being a good returner and we're hopeful that we can make some plays on kick returns." ... Harbaugh praised defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who's a candidate for jobs with the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions. "Rex is a great coach across the board," he said. "He's a tremendous motivator. I think he does a great job of including very single player in the defensive room in the game plan. That's a gift. Plus, he's got a great mind for football and he's a fundamentally sound coach." ... Governor Martin O'Malley has directed that "GO RAVENS" banners be hung on state government buildings.

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