Emerging Flacco has Ravens on three-game winning streak

The most telling sign of how far Joe Flacco has come since he was given the reins to Baltimore's offense in Week 1 came with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter Sunday.

Baltimore's opponent, the Cleveland Browns, had just opened the second half with touchdowns on their first two drives. A 17-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Braylon Edwards made it 20-13. Seven minutes later, Anderson hooked up with Jason Wright for a 7-yard touchdown that made it 27-13.

Flacco feeling it

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Joe Flacco has really come on following a rocky start in which he threw seven interceptions while leading the Ravens to a 2-3 record. The rookie out of the University of Delaware has led the Ravens to three straight wins, throwing for four touchdowns and 620 yards in that time.

First five games

  » Pass yards/game: 168.8

  » Passer rating: 60.1

  » TD-INT: 1-7

Last three games

  » Pass yards/game: 206.6

  » Passer rating: 103.9

  » TD-INT: 4-0

On Baltimore's ensuing drive, an incompletion and a 6-yard sack had the Ravens looking at third-and-16 from their own 15.

Down 14, on the road versus a division opponent, facing a third-and-long. These are the types of situations that tend to put a rookie quarterback in his place. But instead of shying away from the moment, Flacco used the ensuing drive to begin a 27-3 rally that would ultimately give the Ravens a 37-27 victory and help Flacco deliver a message to his future opponents: "I'm there."

"Obviously it didn't look great," Flacco told the Baltimore Sun. "But there was a ton of time left in the game and you have to look your guys in the eye and tell them, 'We're going to go out there and we're going get this done.'"

On third down, Flacco completed a 20-yard pass to Derrick Mason that seemingly gave the Ravens new life. Working mostly out of the no-huddle offense, Flacco led the Ravens 79 yards downfield, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Le'ron McClain.

The 11-play drive brought the Ravens within 27-20 and sparked the Ravens to 24 unanswered points and a season sweep of division rival Cleveland. At 5-3, the Ravens have won three straight and are in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Flacco, a University of Delaware product and the 18th overall pick in April's NFL Draft, finished the game 17-of-29 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, pacing the Ravens' offense to its highest offensive output on the road since a 41-9 win over Cleveland in 1999.

"Your confidence is always growing," Flacco said. "You get more and more experience each week. We are in the hunt but we need to just stack up wins. That is our main focus right now."

Flacco's confidence -- in himself and his teammates -- was on display Sunday. After Mark Clayton failed to haul in a pass in the end zone on Baltimore's opening drive, Flacco went back to his veteran wideout on the second play of Baltimore's following drive, hitting a diving Clayton in the end zone with a perfect 47-yard touchdown pass.

Flacco's performance spoke volumes about his progress since the beginning of the season, when back-to-back wins over division rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland were considered more the product of Baltimore's dominating defense than the play of Flacco, who totaled 258 yards passing and a combined 55.8 passer rating with no touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two starts.

Losses in the Ravens' next three games, in which Flacco threw one touchdown and five interceptions, appeared to justify the doubts many had previously expressed about Baltimore's ability to win with a rookie quarterback from a former Division 1-AA school.

Three weeks later, having thrown four touchdowns and no interceptions since Week 6 -- a span of 76 straight pass attempts without turning the ball over -- Flacco is starting to demonstrate the kind of poise not usually seen from a quarterback with just eight starts under his belt. Over his last three starts -- all Ravens wins -- Flacco has completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 620 yards and a passer rating of 103.9.

After watching Flacco lead Baltimore to victory Sunday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh rejected the notion that rookie quarterbacks are not expected to demonstrate the kind of poise shown by Flacco during Baltimore's current three-game winning streak.

"Yeah they are," Harbaugh said. "When they get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, yeah they are."

"There are so many things that a rookie quarterback has not seen, and some of those things have grabbed him. The things get thrown on you in a split second." "He's not the kind of guy that repeats mistakes."

In the fourth quarter, Flacco threw his second touchdown -- a 28-yard pass to Derrick Mason, who waltzed into the end zone untouched after making his defender, CB Eric Wright, miss. Later, rookie RB Ray Rice, whose season-high 154 yards on 21 carries are not to be overlooked as a major part of Baltimore's second-half effort, ripped off a 60-yard run, setting up Matt Stover's 22-yard field goal.

"You've got to tip your hat to the offense," Said Ravens LB Terrell Suggs, whose 42-yard interception for a touchdown sealed the Ravens' win in the fourth quarter. "Amazing what they did. They put up 14 points fast when we were down 27-13. They scored twice, and you could feel the sense of team being formed, what we've been searching for all year."

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