OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The home crowd embraced the young quarterback long before he completed his first pro start, repeatedly chanting his name to acknowledge an incredibly effective performance.
When the rookie was done, his teammates spoke admiringly about his poise. And Monday, coach John Harbaugh was so pleased that he rewarded the kid another start.
At least for now, let there be no further questions about whether Joe Flacco can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
In his debut Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Flacco ran for a 38-yard touchdown and showed remarkable composure in leading the Baltimore Ravens to a 17-10 victory. Flacco went 15-for-29 for 129 yards -- nothing special, really, except that he didn't commit a turnover and deftly directed three scoring drives.
"I would say there was a lot of things he did well, but nothing that surprised us," Harbaugh said. "All of us had the question mark: Would the game be too fast for him? It wasn't. That was a good thing to see."
Flacco became the starter after Kyle Boller sustained a season-ending shoulder injury and Troy Smith engaged in a three-week battle with infected tonsils. The Ravens would have preferred to let Flacco learn on the sideline, but ultimately had no choice but to start the rookie out of Delaware.
Flacco's work in the film room and on the field won over his teammates, and his play Sunday earned him about 70,000 more fans. In the third quarter, the crowd chanted in unison, "Let's Go Flacco!"
"Yeah, I thought I heard it, but I wasn't sure," Flacco said. "I thought, 'Why would they be doing that?' Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time."
Flacco and Matt Ryan of Atlanta became the first rookie quarterbacks to start an NFL regular season opener since Boller made his debut against Pittsburgh in 2003. Baltimore lost that game 34-15, launching Boller on an up-and-down ride that led the Ravens to believe it would be best to have Flacco begin his career watching instead of playing.
But Flacco displayed a great deal of confidence during training camp and played well in the final two preseason games. Most importantly, he was the only quarterback left standing in the three-day duel that began soon after he was drafted with the 18th overall pick.
When Flacco stepped into the huddle Sunday, his voice didn't crack and his self-assuredness didn't waver.
"Extremely confident," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "His confidence is from his preparation. He worked hard, prepared well and did an excellent job of running the offense."
And an excellent job of running, too. Flacco was supposed to hand off the ball on his touchdown run, but after the Bengals ran a blitz to bust up the play, he simply took off down the right sideline.
"I was thinking, 'first down, first down,' and then I got to the first down point and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I don't think there's anybody here,"' Flacco said. "I just started going up field."
If he's caught up in his success, it wasn't evident Monday. Flacco let loose a big yawn when entering the locker room after practice, then slipped away to a meeting before the cameramen could catch him.
If Flacco keeps improving, he will retain the starting job. But even a 12-year pro has no assurances from week to week. Flacco will start Sunday against Houston, and that's as far as Harbaugh was willing to commit.
"None of us," the coach said, "has a crystal ball."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press