OWINGS MILLS, Md. - For many Ravens fans, the franchise’s history can be divided into two sections: BF and AF
In other words, this translates to “Before Flacco” and “After Flacco.”
Over the course of the Ravens first 12 seasons (1996-2007), a proverbial carousel of quarterbacks took their turn under center in Baltimore. In all, 15 quarterbacks started at least one game for the Ravens, leading the team to four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title, thanks in large part to arguably the greatest defense of all time.
From Brian Billick’s famed “leap of faith” with Scott Mitchell to the failed big signing of Elvis Grbac and disappointing draft picks such as Kyle Boller and Chris Redman, the Ravens could never seem to find the long-term solution at quarterback.
Enter Joe Flacco.
Taken with the 18th pick in the 2008 draft out of Delaware, Flacco has started every one of the Ravens 80 regular season games (and 13 postseason games) since his rookie season. In addition, the Ravens are the only team to make the playoffs – and win a postseason game – in each of the last five seasons, advancing to three AFC Championship games and winning the Super Bowl last season.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said having stability at quarterback makes his job easier, and he knows that stability makes many other teams envious of their position.
“Well, it’s a great thing to have your quarterback in place,” Harbaugh said. “It’s very important – it’s a big advantage. Every team in the league is chasing that that doesn’t have it. And it’s something that we feel we’re very fortunate to have our quarterback in place.”
Entering ‘elite’ status
Just five years into his career, Flacco already is the Ravens all-time leader in career passing yards (17,633), touchdowns (102) and 300-yard passing games (13). In addition his 63 wins (including the playoffs) are the most of any quarterback since 2008, besting such signal callers as the Packers' Aaoron Rodgers (57), the Falcons' Matt Ryan (57).
But, it’s the playoffs where Flacco – who has yet to make a Pro Bowl – has really made an impression in Baltimore; a town where Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas set the bar fairly high for fans at quarterback.
Since 2008, the Ravens are 9-4 in the playoffs, including 4-0 last season. During the Ravens Super Bowl run, Flacco threw for 1,140 yards, the third most in postseason history and tied a single-season playoff record with 11 touchdown passes.
To put Flacco’s postseason performance into perspective, he has as many playoff wins in his career as Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who kicks off his 16 th season in the league when his team hosts the Ravens Thursday night.
That postseason performance launched Flacco into the national spotlight, and put the Super Bowl MVP into “elite” status. It also helped put Flacco into a new stratosphere financially as he signed a six-year $120.6 million contact ($52 million guaranteed) in the offseason.
Flacco said he is not going to let the increased attention and scrutiny change his approach on the field. His goal this year – like it is every year – is simple: go out and win.
“All we can do is go out there and keep winning – just like we’ve been doing every year we’ve been here – and not really worry about what people say or what our expectations are and what the pressure is going to be,” Flacco said.
Changing of the guard
But, as much as Flacco wants to keep everything the same, it’s hard to avoid the fact that a lot is different for the Ravens this season. There are 19 new players on the 53-man roster and just seven players are still on the team from Flacco’s rookie season.
With all of the attention on the new players, it can easily be forgotten who isn’t on the Ravens anymore, namely future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who retired after 17 seasons, was not only the face of the franchise, but the team’s vocal leader on and off the field.
Many now are pointing to Flacco to now carry that torch. Flacco said while he obviously has a different approach than Lewis, he believes he is a leader and is ready to help the Ravens write the next chapter in their franchise’s history.
“I’m always a leader; I’m not really going to change my role,” Flacco said. “We don’t have Ray Lewis here anymore…But me and him are probably different in the terms that we lead anyway, and I’m not going to change what I do at all just because I make more money.
“”That has nothing to do with leading a football team. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to play well, I’m going to lead by example, and I’m going to have fun with my guys and get them to trust me. And we’re going to be a good football team because of it.”
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, entering his 11 season in the NFL, is now Baltimore’s most-tenured player. He said he has watched Flacco mature through the years and believes he has helped transform the Ravens from a team known for its defense to one of the league’s top offensive franchises.
“I think Joe’s maturity is showing