Ravens' win vs. Steelers Flacco's turning point? Only QB knows

PITTSBURGH -- Walking toward the team bus early Monday with a John Varvatos duffle bag he got for free when he bought a bottle of cologne, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked like a guy headed home after a workout at the local gym.

He wore blue nylon warm-up pants and a white long-sleeved T-shirt, hardly the same appearance as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who trailed him by 10 minutes in a beautiful black suit that belonged inside a fashion magazine.

Flacco is not flashy. He is not outspoken. He is not the face of a Ravens team defined by defensive players who support big talk with big play. On Sunday, though, Baltimore's quarterback spoke louder than anyone -- louder than Lewis or Terrell Suggs or Ed Reed -- without really needing to say a word.

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the second halves of the Giants' 24-20 win over the Patriots and the Ravens' 23-20 win over the Steelers on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET.

It will take more time than two minutes and 16 seconds to distinguish whether Flacco's epic final drive against the Steelers helps to define his overall place in this league or merely adds to the inconsistencies of an up-and-down year. But if he's going to earn his way back into whatever category he was placed during those first three seasons as a pro -- good, great or elite -- this was one hell of a way to start.

In 2:16, Flacco drove 92 yards -- despite two dropped passes -- and finished off Pittsburgh's almighty defense in a hostile environment.

He did it with a 26-yard touchdown pass during a ridiculous 23-20 win, easily the pinnacle of his odd year.

As I walked to the bus with Flacco, he talked about his concerns that rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith would be too hard on himself after two dropped passes, and how he didn't want Smith to feel that pressure so early in his career.

"I was hoping he didn't feel that bad about it," Flacco said. "What are you going to do, you know? He dropped passes, man. It's not like we're looking at him like, 'What the hell?' Some guys might be, but I'm not."

This is Flacco. Calm and cool. Undaunted by the inconsistencies of others just as he remains undaunted by his own -- as long as he has confidence in himself and those around him. And he does. Believe me, he does.

He helped prove Sunday that he isn't going to let any doubts, whether from one play to the next or one game to the next, derail his plans.

If you want to understand why Flacco isn't worried about his own inconsistency this season, consider what he did with the game on the line four plays after Smith dropped a pass in the end zone that should have been caught.

He threw it deep again. Again at the rookie. Again in the end zone.

"We all know what type of pressure everyone puts on Joe," Smith said. "For me to drop those couple of balls, and mess up his rhythm, that was the most frustrating part for me: Letting him down."

But when Flacco tossed that second football -- the one that stunned and silenced a Pittsburgh crowd in a way only a play like this could do -- the rookie pulled in the pass and rewarded his quarterback for his resilience.

Nobody is denying the issues that have plagued Flacco this year. He had thrown a pick in each of the last four games leading up to Sunday, while failing to finish with a passer rating above 78.5. He couldn't close out a game against a struggling Jaguars team, unable to even get a first down until 5:24 was left in the third quarter.

Those are the reasons why nobody should expect owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome to show up to the team's facility with a contract extension for Flacco to sign Monday.

But this latest performance against the Steelers deserves to resonate with the Ravens' management as they continue this longstanding evaluation of a quarterback whose rookie contract runs through next season.

"We've had a couple of games this year where we didn't play well, but we're 6-2, and we're feeling pretty good about it," Flacco said. "We know what we're capable of."

It's up to you to decide how you define these capabilities. Is Flacco capable of losing 12-7 to the Jaguars? Is he capable of driving 92 yards on the road against the then-division-leading Steelers? Yes, he is capable of both of these things.

But for a team that's still 6-2 and in control of the division (sorry, Cincinnati), Flacco's ceiling and his continued resiliency should be enough to give this locker room hope moving forward.

"One of two things were going to happen," said Suggs, asked his thoughts as he saw Flacco settle in under center for the start of the final drive. "Either we're the same team from last year. Or we're going to show the world how we've grown up in a year."

You know what happened next. Flacco took another step toward growing up.

As Flacco was leaving the field Sunday, a lingering Steelers fan relentlessly heckled the quarterback despite what he just witnessed moments before.

"Hey, Flacco," he said. "Win something!"

No, this wasn't a playoff game against the Steelers, which is what the fan was talking about. But it's time for that fan -- and everyone else questioning Flacco -- to recognize the reality of this 2011 season.

If Flacco can remain as calm and cool as he did under the pressure of Sunday's fourth quarter, he's going to get his opportunity. That is, of course, if the Steelers are in the playoffs with him.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington

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