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|01-15-2011, 01:08 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Flacco still stuck in Roethlisberger's shadow
Flacco still stuck in Roethlisberger's shadow
By Scott Brown
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Big arm, big period and the ability to elude opposing pass rushers and make plays out of the pocket.
Dick LeBeau attributed those qualities to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. When it was pointed out that he could also have been describing Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' venerable defensive coordinator smiled.
"I think it's a fair comparison," LeBeau said. "We have the experience factor."
Flacco doesn't measure up to Roethlisberger in another category, one in which quarterbacks are ultimately judged: legacy-defining wins.
And only one of them will emerge from today's divisional playoff game with the victory that will put Roethlisberger just two wins away from a third Super Bowl title — or help Flacco close the gap on his AFC North counterpart and other elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Flacco has taken his team to the playoffs all three seasons since becoming the Ravens' starting quarterback in 2008. If the 6-foot-6, 238-pounder beats the Steelers today, his growing resume will include five playoff road victories, two more than Roethlisberger has.
What doesn't bode well for Flacco and the Ravens: he is 0-5 against the Steelers in games that Roethlisberger has started.
"You guys talk about Ben and what he's meant to the Steelers. We're hoping to get Joe to that kind of a perch where he can take over games just by his talent and personality," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Roethlisberger has already established himself as an elite NFL quarterback, but he has more motivation than ever to win another ring.
Doing so would put him in the rarified air of Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady, the quarterbacks that have won at least three Super Bowls.
It would also allow Roethlisberger, a noted maestro of fourth-quarter rallies, to author his greatest comeback story yet.
Back from the brink
Roethlisberger nearly brought down his Steelers career last March after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in Milledgeville, Ga.
Charges were never brought against Roethlisberger, but the incident resulted in a six-game suspension from the NFL, later reduced to four.
It also shined a harsh light on the boorish behavior and outsized sense of entitlement that alienated fans.
Roethlisberger vowed to change, and he has reached out to fans and the media from the first day of training camp. Framed my some as an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Roethlisberger has said he wants to show people the person that he really is.
He even made nice to the team that broke his nose in a Dec. 5 game earlier this week, saying he did not think that Haloti Ngata tried to hurt him when the Ravens defensive tackle hit Roethlisberger in the face.
And when asked about his 8-2 career record against the Ravens, Roethlisberger said, "I guess I am lucky. It is a great defense; a lot of it goes to (outside linebacker Terrell Suggs). He and I battle it out, and these are good games and good rivalries. It is good for it to happen in the playoffs because it's what everybody wants to see."
Any concerns that the new Ben has also turned into gentle Ben can be allayed by a story that defensive end Brett Keisel, one of Roethlisberger's closest friends on the Steelers, told earlier this week.
Keisel, Roethlisberger and two of Keisel's buddies were in his basement recently when a game of H-O-R-S-E broke out on a miniature basketball hoop that belongs to Keisel's toddler son.
It got, as Keisel recalled, a little more intense than one might imagine.
"Lucky for me, I was on (Roethlisberger's) team, and guess who won?" Keisel said with a grin. "If he doesn't win, he is salty. He has to win at everything. The guy's one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around in my life, and he's a winner."
Winning might mean even more to Roethlisberger this year given the fact that the Steelers were forced to play the first quarter of the season without him.
"I don't know if he owes us one," wide receiver Hines Ward said of Roethlisberger. "It's all forgiven now, but what better way to come back than to showcase to the whole world that 'I still can play this game and play it at a high level?' "
On the cusp
Flacco has played at a high level this season, establishing career highs in passing yards (3,622 yards) and touchdown passes (25). He also finished seventh in the NFL in passer rating (93.6), two spots below Roethlisberger.
But 54 starts into his NFL career, Flacco still hasn't cracked the ranks of top-shelf quarterbacks.
And the most significant play involving Flacco this season turned out to be one in which he was on the wrong end.
It came late in the Dec. 5 game at M&T Bank Stadium as a blitzing Troy Polamalu sacked Flacco and forced a fumble that LaMarr Woodley recovered. Roethlisberger threw a game-winning touchdown pass a few plays later, dropping Flacco to 2-5 lifetime against the Steelers.
"Great play by (Polamalu)," Flacco said earlier this week, "but at the same time, it's something that we probably should have handled."
The fact that the Ravens fell short again in a game where the stakes ran as high as the emotions makes beating the Steelers today critical — for both the Ravens and Flacco.
"I think it would do enormous things for that organization and for him specifically," ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge said. "That would be the shot in the arm that that organization has been fighting for probably since they won the Super Bowl (in 2000) quite honestly."
Flacco, who started his college career at Pitt before transferring to Delaware, earned the nickname "Joe Cool" for the smooth transition he made from Division I-AA to the NFL.
The moniker is also a nod to his unflappable nature.
While not one of the more vocal Ravens, there are signs that Flacco is asserting himself in a locker room filled with strong personalities.
"He shows passion," Suggs said. "He's even got into a few cursing matches with me."
What would really help Flacco's profile is for Steelers fans to be cursing at him as both teams exit Heinz Field some time tonight.
That is because he needs to beat Roethlisberger — and then join him by winning a Super Bowl if he wants to be considered an elite quarterback.
Harbaugh said as much this week.
"The truth is that probably you'd have to win a championship," said Harbaugh of Flacco getting to the next level. "Joe talks about that sometimes, and he's playing to that level, but you have to win it all I think."
Scott Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-481-5432.
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