When Ozzie Newsome, the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens -- and Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns -- drafted quarterback Joe Flacco out of the University of Delaware, he was looking to find a franchise signal-caller that could lead the team back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season.
In four seasons in Baltimore, Flacco has come close, reaching the AFC Championship Game twice, falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers during his rookie season in 2008 and last year, to the New England Patriots.
When the Browns line up against the Ravens inside M&T Bank Stadium with a national television audience on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, they will do so opposite a confident Flacco who has added a no-huddle approach to his NFL repertoire.
“I’ve always been a Joe Flacco fan,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “I always thought he’s been a good quarterback, a top-level quarterback in this league.”
During his four seasons as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, Flacco has led the team to four straight playoff berths. In addition to the AFC Championship Game appearances, Flacco has gone 46-21 in 67 career starts.
In just three games this season, Flacco has completed 71 of 110 attempts for 913 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 31-30, last-second win over the New England Patriots last Sunday night in Baltimore. He connected with eight different players.
Despite being sacked five times for 39 lost yards on the season, Flacco carries a 101.1 quarterback rating into Thursday’s game.
“You’re looking at a quarterback that’s led his team to the playoffs the last four years,” Shurmur said. “They’ve got a veteran receiver in Anquan Boldin and then, Torrey Smith. They’ve got some outstanding players and they’re playing extremely well. When you watch them play, I think they’ve made an effort to become more explosive on offense and I think that showed up in the first three weeks.”
The Browns have 15 rookies and 25 total players with less than three years of NFL service on their roster. When asked how he addressed the team about playing under the lights in front of a national television audience, Shurmur made sure to emphasize the importance of following their responsibilities.
“All I talk about is them being efficient,” Shurmur said. “You try to shut out the distractions and just focus on what you’re doing each play: get lined up right, execute your assignment, play with passion, aggressiveness, emotion and try to add up a bunch of good plays. I think that’s your best way to get the results we want.
“We don’t worry about playing on the road. There’s distractions playing on the road; there’s distractions everywhere you go. Playing at home, there’s distractions at times. You don’t worry about it. You worry about your play; you worry about doing what you have to do to win a game.”
DEALING WITH ADVERSITY
While the Browns prepare to play the Ravens in front of a passionate fan base, second-year Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith will continue dealing with the adversity of losing his younger brother, Tevin, who passed away in a motorcycle accident during the early-morning hours last Sunday.
Just hours after losing his brother, Smith hauled in six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the game. His courage to play despite the emotions earned respect from the Browns’ locker room.
“I’ve got a great deal of respect for what he accomplished,” Shurmur said. “He had an outstanding game and he obviously played that game with a heavy heart. I can’t imagine. I haven’t lost a sibling, thank goodness, haven’t lost a spouse or child. I just can’t even begin to imagine what the thoughts are when that happens. I did lose a father and so, I do know that feeling and I’m sure it would’ve been tough for me to function on the day that my father passed.”
SEARCHING FOR 20
Ravens free safety Ed Reed has registered 71 total tackles, 10 interceptions -- which he has returned for 356 yards and three touchdowns -- one forced fumble and 18 passes defended in 19 career games against the Browns.
When putting together the game plan and breaking down film, Shurmur knows it is imperative for quarterback
“You’re always aware of where No. 20 is; you just always are,” Shurmur said. “He lurks in the middle of the field. He’s as good a ball hawk as there is in this league. He gets his hands on balls and when he does it, it can wreck a game for you, so you’re always aware of him.”
GAME CAPTAIN NAMED
The Browns’ three permanent captains -- middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, kicker
Ventrone suffered a hand injury earlier in the season and missed the team’s 34-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. However, he came back and played last week against the Buffalo Bills.
“Ray Ventrone will be our fourth captain, which I think is fitting,” Shurmur said. “He’s a tough guy, special teams guy, had a hand injury, fought back, played last week and I think it’s a good choice.”