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January 5, 2013

Eye on the Opponent: Flacco leads battle-tested Ravens to playoffs

Baltimore reaches postseason for fifth straight campaign

INDIANAPOLIS — Five seasons ago, Joe Flacco made his playoff debut as a rookie quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens.

He hasn’t missed the postseason since, compiling a 5-4 record and advancing to two AFC Championship Games. In all four postseasons, Flacco and the Ravens have been eliminated by the eventual conference champion.

So the NFL-record three rookie quarterbacks who will start playoff games on Sunday — Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Flacco’s own opponent, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck — would do well to listen to Flacco’s words of wisdom.

“You know there’s going to be a lot of people talking about playoff football and how it’s ratcheted up a notch, which may be true,” the Ravens’ signal caller said earlier this week during a conference call at the Colts’ training complex. “But the bottom line is, my advice would be, go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It’s obviously gotten you to the point that you’re in the playoffs and playing to get to another week. If it got you that far, then you’re obviously doing something right. So you should try to continue that. You shouldn’t try anything crazy just because it’s playoff time.”

Griffin and Wilson will discover the postseason together with the Redskins and Seahawks squaring off in the nation’s capital in Sunday’s late afternoon game.

But Luck has drawn the only opponent to make the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.

For all the abuse Flacco has taken from media and fans, he is a proven winner. The Ravens have a 54-26 regular season record with him under center, and Baltimore has won at least one playoff game in each of the past four seasons.

The Ravens are limping a bit as they enter this postseason with four losses in their past five games. Little of that can be pinned on Flacco, however, who has thrown eight touchdowns and just three interceptions during that stretch.

In the lone victory, a 33-14 demolition of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants two weeks ago, Flacco was sensational. He completed 25 of 36 attempts for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

But the season as a whole has been a mixed bag.

Flacco has completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 3,817 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a middle-of-the-road quarterback rating of 87.7.

Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell took over as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator for the final three regular season games after starting the season as the quarterbacks coach, and Flacco said the man who used to tutor Peyton Manning already has made an impact.

“Jim has been great ever since he’s been here,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest thing that he’s done for me and our offense, the communication level improves into something that we might not have had before.”

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt Flacco has the Colts’ complete attention.

“He can make all the throws,” Indianapolis cornerback Vontae Davis said. “He’s a good quarterback. He’s a guy that can win football games, put the game on his shoulders and win games. We’ve got our hands full. It’s going to be a good challenge for our defense.”

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