Flacco may determine who reps the AFC

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Flacco may determine who reps the AFC

Before the 2008 NFL Combine, if you asked me what a Flacco was, I'd have guessed either a sandwich, a drink or a euphemism for some deviant act.

By Friday of that week, I knew what a Flacco was. A quarterback from Delaware who looked a little like Ernie's buddy Bert from Sesame Street.

And by the end of Flacco's rookie year, the NFL had seen who Flacco was. He was a competent game manager for the Ravens (chosen 18th overall the previous April), decent enough to play quarterback on a team that lost a tight one in the AFC Championship to the Steelers.

Now 26 and in his fourth year as the Ravens starter, Flacco's got a nice on-paper resume 32-16 regular-season record as a starter; 80-46 TD-to-INT ratio but the eye test is more damning.

Flacco can make pretty, hard-to-complete throws with anyone in the league. And two plays later, he can throw it to the wrong team on a decision he should never make.

His inconsistency is what will make this Sunday's AFC Championship so hard to handicap.

It's a trait Rick Maese of The Washington Post keyed on during the preseason. And it's what keeps Flacco from being included in the conversation of upper-tier quarterbacks.

The fact that he has been omitted from that group has chafed at Flacco this year.

Heading into Sunday's Divisional Playoff game with the Texans, Flacco said, Im sure if we win Ill have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys."

Well, they did win. And it didn't have as much to do with Flacco as it did the Ravens' defense and the four turnovers by Houston.

Flacco was 14-for-27 for 156 yards and took five sacks. He threw a pair of touchdowns - one of which was a magnificent 10-yard pass to Anquan Boldin.

But the Ravens' scoring drives on Sunday were 2, 30, 34 and 45 yards. And Flacco too often seemed freaked out and unimaginative in the teeth of the Texans' pass rush. The Ravens punted nine times. They had EIGHT three-and-outs.

New England doesn't muster the same heat the Texans can. And that may be a huge key on Sunday: the simple fact that the New England defense has a 92 MPH fastball and the Texans were 97 to 98.

But the fact the Patriots pretty much know what they'll get from their quarterback while the Ravens' guy is a total X-factor makes this game hard to handicap.

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
 
The fact is the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
 
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”
 
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
 
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
 
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
 
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO

The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
 
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
 
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.

Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out.  Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
 
REX WRECKS
 
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News.  Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.