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Flacco still a winner, despite poor numbers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In his first three games this season, Joe Flacco threw 104 passes for 839 yards. Over the past two weeks, he has thrown 29 times for 136 yards.

The common thread is that the Baltimore Ravens won each of those games.

The Ravens not necessarily depending on their quarterback to win should sound familiar. It's a trait that took hold in Baltimore nearly a decade ago, when Trent Dilfer did just enough to support a fierce defense that dictated the team's success.

The blueprint produced the Ravens' lone Super Bowl championship.

Baltimore has utilized a similar plan recently, in part because of a lingering right hip injury that has limited Flacco's mobility. And the Ravens hope the strategy proves to be a winning formula again on Saturday when they play the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning.

Flacco does not expect the hip injury to be an issue Saturday, though he limped onto the practice field Tuesday and had a hitch in his step when he backed up in the pocket.

"I feel really good. The most important thing is I woke up Monday feeling better than I did Sunday," Flacco said after practice. "I feel like it's all starting to work itself out."

Fortunately, the Ravens really haven't needed Flacco to step up lately. The three-pronged running game is operating at peak efficiency, and the defense has allowed only two touchdowns over the last six quarters.

In the regular-season finale in Oakland, Willis McGahee ran for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-13 win. Flacco was 11 for 19 for 102 yards, mundane numbers that turned out to be sensational when compared to his statistics in Baltimore's 33-14 rout of New England on Sunday.

Ray Rice set the tone by running for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Baltimore ran 52 times and Flacco threw only 10 passes, completing four for a paltry 34 yards — the fewest in a winning effort during the postseason since Bob Griese's 34-yard performance against Oakland in 1973.

"Anytime you go up 24-0 on a team, I don't think your numbers are going to be too impressive," Flacco said. "It doesn't matter what your numbers look like in the playoffs, as long as you win the football game. Anytime you throw 10 passes, it's a crapshoot what your numbers are going to be.

"The bottom line is, it doesn't matter. I feel like I went out there and executed the game plan and hit a couple passes when I need to," he said. "I think that's what you have to look at. I think I'm a much happier guy than Aaron Rodgers is right now."

Rodgers went 28 for 42 for 442 yards and four touchdowns for Green Bay on Sunday in Arizona. The Packers went home after losing 51-45 in overtime.

"We can beat you in multiple ways," Flacco said. "When you're up 24-0 you're going to run the football, and we did a good job of doing that all day. But if it was needed, if it was a different game and we needed to throw the ball, we would have done that."

Colts coach Jim Caldwell surely preparing for Baltimore's ground attack, but he remembers well that Flacco went 23 for 35 for 256 yards in Indianapolis' 17-15 victory on Nov. 22.

"We've seen him throughout the year, and in our game he got on a bit of a roll and did a nice of getting the ball outside," Caldwell said. "We know he has talent and can make all the throws. He's a concern as well."

Indeed, if the Ravens need to pass, then Flacco won't be shy about flinging the ball downfield.

"We definitely believe if that's what the game comes down to, we can do that," Flacco said.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason said, "Joe's health has nothing to do with us not passing the football. We just haven't needed to pass because we're running the ball so well. Why change when something is going so well for you• If we have to pass the ball, we have full confidence that Joe will be able to throw the ball around."

Now in his second season, Flacco has not yet performed well enough to earn comparison to some of the game's best passers, most notably Peyton Manning of the Colts. But last season he became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first two playoff games.

By helping the Ravens get into the postseason this year, Flacco joined Ben Roethlisberger, Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar as the only starting QBs to reach the playoffs in their first two seasons.

Although his numbers haven't been impressive lately, Flacco this season topped his rookie output in attempts (499), completions (315), completion percentage (63.1), yards (3,613) and touchdowns (21). He also had a three 300-yard games.

"I think I've proven what I can do," Flacco said. "The bottom line is, when you're in the playoffs it's about winning. If we keep winning, no matter what my numbers are, I'm going to be a happy man."

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