Gina Stratakes said it is easy to underappreciate what quarterback Joe Flacco has meant to the Ravens over the last four years.
Flacco has started every game for the Ravens since being selected with the 18th overall pick in 2008 NFL Draft. During that time, the Ravens have made the postseason each year and advanced to the AFC Championship Game twice. This includes Sunday’s 3 p.m. kickoff against the New England Patriots.
Prior to Flacco’s arrival, the Ravens had 15 starting quarterbacks in 12 seasons. Those signal-callers ranged from Vinny Testaverde in 1996 to less-than-memorable names like Stony Case, Anthony Wright and Scott Mitchell, the latter of whom then-coach Brian Billick asked fans to "take a leap of faith" with him in 1999.
Mitchell lasted just two games in Baltimore.
"Many fans don’t realize what we have in Joe Flacco," said Stratakes, a founding member of Ravens Nest 2 in Rosedale. "People forget guys like Stony Case and Tony Banks. After years of instability, the Ravens finally have a quarterback to build around."
Unprecedented Early Success
While Flacco has yet to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl, his run of success in his young career places him in some historic company. He is the first starting quarterback since the NFL merger in 1970 to make the playoffs and win a postseason game in each of his first four seasons, according to the Ravens.
In addition, Flacco’s 44 regular season victories are the most in NFL history by a starting quarterback in the first four years of a career. Also, Flacco threw for 3,610 yards in 2011, making him the first quarterback in Baltimore football history—Ravens and Colts—to throw for at least 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, according to the Ravens.
Despite these accomplishments, Flacco has often been the subject of criticism by fans, media and even other players.
This was brought to the forefront on Monday when Ravens safety Ed Reed told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Flacco was "rattled" in Baltimore’s 20-13 win last week against the Houston Texans.
Dealing with the Critics
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team is committed to Flacco and only expects him to get better as he continues to gain experience.
"Joe Flacco, as we've said, is our quarterback,” Harbaugh said last week. "He's the Ravens' quarterback. We think he's a great player, he's a great person and the best is yet to come.
"With Joe, like every quarterback, you watch the curve and you watch them develop and grow. And we've all had a front-row seat. So you see the good, you see the not so good [as you would] with any player. Joe has been overwhelmingly good, and he's only going to get better," Harbaugh said.
Flacco said he doesn’t let the criticism bother him and prefers to let his results on the field speak for him. He added that his extensive postseason experience has helped in his preparation—on and off the field—for the Patriots on Sunday.
"We’ve played eight playoff games since I’ve been here. When you get to play in that many games and understand how important each one of them is, it helps you understand the importance of now," Flacco said.
Wacko for Flacco
Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he appreciates the contributions Flacco has made to the team since his arrival. Ngata said Flacco provides stability to the offense and has helped provide balance to the Ravens, which has leaned heavily on its defense over the last decade.
"Joe doesn’t get the credit he deserves," Ngata said. "We have never had a quarterback do what he has done before he got here. He does an amazing job of brushing the critics aside and doing his job on the field. I like our chances Sunday with Joe at quarterback."
In a town like Baltimore, where Hall of Fame Colts great Johnny Unitas is the measuring stick for quarterbacks, many fans believe Flacco represents the missing piece to the Ravens' offense that eluded the franchise through failed draft picks like Chris Redman in 2000 and Kyle Boller in 2003.
"I think we are very lucky to have a quarterback like Joe," said Lori Knoerlein, a member of Ravens Nest 8 in Middle River. "People are so critical and they forget that he's so young in his career. People also forget the mess of quarterbacks we had before him. The fans should be thankful [for Flacco]."