Flacco cleanly dismantles notion of Steelers jinx

FootballPittsburgh SteelersBaltimore RavensBen RoethlisbergerSuper BowlAnquan BoldinNFL Network (tv network)

Some consider Sunday's 35-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers a statement game for Joe Flacco. But it was more like a rebuttal by the Ravens quarterback.

Flacco's sharp and scintillating performance is underscored because it came after months of criticism this offseason and a week in which he was reminded of never beating Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

So, has the monkey been removed from Flacco's back?

"I don't feel one," Flacco said, "you guys may have taken it off for me."

Flacco may downplay feeling any external pressure, but he undoubtedly played with a chip on his shoulder.

His first pass was a 27-yard touchdown strike to Anquan Boldin. The first play after Terrell Suggs' forced fumble in the first quarter was a 29-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. And the first play after Haloti Ngata's forced fumble in the third quarter was an 18-yard touchdown toss to tight end Ed Dickson.

Flacco was relentless in how he attacked the Pittsburgh defense, capitalizing on every chance to put the Steelers away early and often.

He didn't just end his 0-for-6 streak against Roethlisberger. He obliterated it.

"[There is] somebody, some team [where] you have to get over that hump," said Michael Irvin, the former Dallas receiver who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. "Once you get over that hump, it becomes a mental thing. Now the Baltimore Ravens have confidence they can get to a Super Bowl because they have confidence that they can get past a Ben Roethlisberger-led Pittsburgh Steelers."

If anything, Flacco escaped the shadow of Roethlisberger for one afternoon. Last year, Flacco beat the Steelers on a last-minute touchdown when Pittsburgh started Charlie Batch.

Flacco was then upstaged by Roethlisberger in the last two meetings of the season. Flacco's fourth-quarter fumble in the regular season turned into a game-winning touchdown pass by Roethlisberger. And Flacco's third-quarter interception in the playoffs led to a game-tying touchdown throw by Roethlisberger.

So it was quite a role reversal when Flacco passed for three touchdowns while Roethlisberger threw three interceptions.

Flacco, though, didn't see any significance in his first win over Roethlisberger.

"If Ben [Roethlisberger] happens to be playing quarterback on the other side of the field, then he happens to be playing quarterback," said Flacco, who was 17 of 29 for 224 yards. "We've beaten these guys before, and we'll beat them again."

Flacco didn't just beat the Steelers. He did a good job at knocking down the critics who bashed him this offseason.

Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Flacco will never win a Super Bowl "in this lifetime." Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones said Flacco will throw interceptions when pressured. And NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said Flacco needs to work harder.

"I don't think anybody in this locker room doubts him," Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We hear the rumbles, people outside this locker room saying this and that. Ask them what they have to say now."

The criticism astounds the Ravens coaching staff because Flacco has led the team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons and ranks second only to Peyton Manning in wins by a starting quarterback since 2008.

So it doesn't surprise the Ravens that Flacco has shrugged off a win over Roethlisberger.

"If you have to worry about a psychological victory with a quarterback, I think you have the wrong guy," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "That's why most guys can't do what Joe Flacco has done. It's hard to win. It's hard to take all this heat. But I always knew he was made of the right stuff."

The season opener is just one game, but Flacco's accomplishment is impressive nonetheless.

He ripped apart the NFL's top-scoring defense from a year ago that returned all of its starters this season. The only quarterbacks who threw more than two touchdowns against the Steelers last season were Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the difference in Flacco's performance against the Steelers was the result of the play around him.

"If you compare the other Pittsburgh games, I think we can all agree the protection was different," Harbaugh said. "Joe had more time. He could sit in there and go through his read progression."

Flacco, though, isn't one to pat himself on the back. He understands that a couple of poor games could put that monkey squarely back on it.

"There's always going to be critics," he said. "Turn around, 10 weeks down the road, and something [negative] might happen. OK, it's back again. Who knows? For the time being, maybe, but I doubt it will last too long."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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