Flacco is unflappable again

OWINGS MILLS -- There's no truth to those silly rumors about Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco being a cyborg, a robot or an alien, or in any other way lacking normal human emotions and functions like anxiousness or a heartbeat.

It only seems as if Flacco never sweats, never worries or experiences the gamut of up-and-down feelings that traditionally accompany engineering a game-winning drive in a 13-10 nail-gnawing victory over the Tennessee Titans that advanced his team to the AFC title game.

With a stoic nature unseen from even the most experienced NFL quarterbacks, Flacco has positioned the Ravens (13-5) within one step of reaching the Super Bowl by remaining calm and treating every play as if it holds equal importa nce and potential consequence.

It's a novel approach, and it's directly in lockstep with Flacco's low-key personality.

For evidence, just witness how Flacco characterized calmly connecting with tight end Todd Heap for a 23-yard completion on a pivotal third down to position Matt Stover for his game-deciding 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining.

"It's the same as any other drive," Flacco said. "We want to go out there and play our game. You still have to let it come to you. You can see you're going to get a chance, and that's all you can ask for."

That's what the uncommonly mature 23-year-old first-round draft pick from Delaware has done ever since he joined the Ravens last spring as the 18th overall pick. The Audubon, N.J., native quietly bided his time and prepared diligently behind the scenes before taking over the starting job when Kyle Boller and Troy Smith weren't healthy enough to play due to a shoulder injury and a tonsil infection, respectively.

Then, Flacco didn't get down on himself while learning on the job and throwing seven interceptions with one touchdown in his first five NFL starts.

Now, Flacco is undefeated in two playoff games against veteran signal-callers Chad Pennington and Kerry Collins. It was Flacco who remained composed while Pennington and Collins made the mistakes of throwing the football into coverage for interceptions.

As the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games, Flacco's next postseason turnover would be his first.

"You read his eyes and there's nothing to read," Heap said. "You are looking at him and you are thinking, 'Does anything faze this guy?' That is the way he has been all year. People have been asking me if he's going to be any different in the playoffs, if this is going to be too big for him.

"How are things going to change? I just say they aren't. Every game, he has had that demeanor about him on the field or off the field. You just know that he is confident and that just exudes confidence throughout the huddle."

During the final drive, Flacco wasn't bothered by the fact that the Ravens hadn't converted their last seven third-down attempts. He calmly let the clock tick down to zero, and the officials missed the obvious infraction. Then, he lobbed the football precisely where only Heap could grab it to give the Ravens a first down at the Titans' 45-yard line.

Then, Stover performed the honors by routinely splitting the uprights. Ballgame. Flacco's statistics weren't particularly impressive, completing 11 of 21 passes for 161 yards and a 48-yard touchdown pass heaved to wide receiver Derrick Mason in the first quarter. However, he managed the game efficiently and didn't commit a turnover.

In the demanding proving ground of the NFL postseason, that's more than acceptable. For a rookie, it's downright extraordinary.

"He's going to be a good one," Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown said. "The guy kept his poise all day."

Just in case anyone was still wondering about Flacco's humanity, he cracked a pretty good joke about nearly stepping on the back line of the end zone for a safety. Replays showed he was close to being assessed a safety, but not enough to grant the Titans two points.

"I almost pulled a Dan Orlovsky," said Flacco, referencing a gaffe by the winless Detroit Lions' quarterback. "I don't think I was out. I wasn't out because they didn't call it."

QUICK HITS: Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan conducted two interviews for head-coaching positions Sunday in Baltimore, meeting with New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum as well as St. Louis Rams team officials. ... Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis was scheduled to interview Sunday for the Cleveland Browns' general manager vacancy. ... Ravens coach John Harbaugh made a prescient move when he opted to have the offense play into a howling wind in the third quarter so Baltimore could have the benefit of the wind at its back in the fourth quarter. It may have contributed to Stover's game-winning kick. "To have the wind in the fourth quarter, we just felt like it was going to come down to a field goal in the end," Harbaugh said. ... Strong safety Jim Leonhard forced a key fumble on Titans tight end Alge Crumpler in the fourth quarter, hitting Crumpler so hard that he gave himself a concussion, recovered a fumble by Titans running back LenDale White&nb sp;in the first half, pressured Collins into his interception to cornerback Samari Rolle and returned a punt 29 yards. "I was just in the right place at the right time and I'm trying to help this team win," said Leonhard, who didn't return to the game after the concussion. "I'm having a great time out there playing football with the guys, but we feel like there's a lot more work left to be done before we can celebrate." ... Ravens director of player development O.J. Brigance, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was awarded the game ball in the locker room afterward by free safety Ed Reed. "It was pretty special," Harbaugh said. "You guys know O.J. and his story and what he stands for as a man of faith has been the foundation and cornerstone of our whole football team. When Ed did that and O.J. spoke, I think that said it all." ... Linebacker Bart Scott praised the large contingent of Ravens fans that made it to the Titans game. "They did a tremendous job in giving us a sense of home and coming ou t and supporting us," Scott said. "They're in a hostile environment as well. They take a lot of slack up there in the stands. I just wanted them to know I appreciate their effort, I appreciated them spending their hard-earned money to come see a good football game."

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

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