If you’re one of those casual football fans who only follow the trends that ESPN’s football talking heads kick out, then you may have jumped on the “Let’s blame Flacco” bandwagon that seems to be growing hour by the hour since the Baltimore Ravens’ terrible offensive performance on Monday night.

Baltimore’s offensive unit really stunk up the joint in their 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars before a national televised audience, causing many football pundits to question whether or not Ravens’ four-year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco is good enough to lead the talented team to a championship.

Some would even go as far as to say that there is no question; without a doubt, they know Flacco simply doesn’t have what it takes to win the Ravens’ its first Super Bowl since 2000.

But exactly what is it that the 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound quarterback lacks that is causing him to hold Ravens longtime field general Ray Lewis back from cementing his legacy with a second championship ring?

ESPN First Take’s Skip Bayless claims Flacco lacks “clutch” ability during the biggest moments of the biggest games, citing the 2010-11 AFC divisional round of the playoffs as an example of Flacco “unraveling” in the second half when his teammates needed him to produce most.

Stephen A. Smith, another famous ESPN sports analyst, said Flacco is talented but “soft” and isn’t ready to “rise up to the occasion when everyone around him is ready.”

I respect both Smith and Bayless as outstanding sports journalists. They’re usually on the money. But not this time around.

I wholeheartedly believe that Stephen A. Smith should be ashamed of himself for the comments he made on Flacco. He called the one player on the entire Ravens’ offense that has yet to miss one practice, let alone a game, a “soft” player. Let me break that down: Joe Flacco is the one and only player from the Ravens’ offensive unit that hasn’t missed a single practice or football game in more than three consecutive seasons. That’s more than 54 games he has played straight, no days off due to injury or pain.

Ravens’ star running back Ray Rice can’t say that; star receiver Anquan Boldin can’t say that; no one on the offensive line blocking for Flacco can say that.

No one takes more of a beating through a football game than a pocket-passer quarterback, and never once have we ever heard of Flacco complaining about the bone-crushing hits he’s taken over the years. He just gets back up after every big hit, plain face and all, and continues to play.

Stephen A. said on Oct. 26 that Ray Lewis may be the greatest leader in all of sports. Well, he should call Ray up and apologize for calling his quarterback “soft” and promise to never let it happen again.

And maybe then, Ray will tell Stephen that he was also wrong about Flacco being the only player that fails to “rise to the occasion” during primetime games.

That Monday night massacre wasn’t Flacco’s doing. He made one big mistake and that was the interception thrown right into the cover-2 zone to end the game. But the previous three quarters of poor play was because the Ravens’ receivers made the Jaguars’ entire secondary look stellar while the offensive line struggled to pass-protect.

And before anyone claims the Ravens should have given Ray Rice the ball more, don’t forget to mention how he only had 28 yards on the eight carries he did get, while also fumbling the ball to give the Jags their first score of the game.

Sure, the quarterback is the leader of the offense, and always takes the bulk of the blame. But let’s not act like Flacco is holding anybody back.

They held themselves back, especially in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs back in January. The Ravens’ held a 21-7 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers going into the second half of that game.

But it was a fumble by Rice to open the third quarter that sparked the Steelers’ comeback. Flacco tossed a pick in that third quarter, but he wasn’t a member of the Ravens’ defensive unit that allowed the Steelers to score 24 points in the second half.

It wasn’t Flacco who gave up a 50-yard pass on 3rd-down-and-long late in the fourth quarter that set up Pittsburgh’s game-winning touchdown.

And when he tried to strike back and rally his unit in the fourth quarter, it was his star receivers that let him down. Boldin dropped a potential game-winning touchdown, while veteran star receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a wide open pass that would have converted a 4th down-and-18 on the Ravens’ final drive attempt of that game.

No one ever talks about those plays blown by the key players of the Ravens. All we hear about is “Flacco can’t do this, he can’t do that.” Everyone expects him to play on the level of New England’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, or even Steeler Ben Roethlisberger. The only difference is those guys have been around for at least seven or more seasons, while Flacco is barely into his fourth year as a pro.

I remember many pundits were questioning Drew Brees’ ability to deliver on the big stage when he spent four of his first five seasons as a pro in Cam Cameron’s offense with the San Diego Chargers during the 2002 through 2005 campaigns.

Compare Brees’ numbers from ’02-’05 with Flacco’s from ’08-’11, and they look nearly identical. Brees passed for 79 touchdowns, 53 interceptions during his first four years starting, while Flacco scored 71 touchdowns to 39 picks through his three-and-a-half seasons in the league.

Seems to me like Flacco is well on pace to becoming one of the elite quarterbacks of this league. Time will only tell if he ever reaches that status in the years to come. But in the meantime, the “blame Flacco” bandwagon should lay off using the young quarterback as a scapegoat for the Ravens’ failures and redistribute a little more responsibility among the many other veteran players who failed to get it done in Baltimore.

 

Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor