Playoff-tested Flacco eager to face next challenge

Then there's Joe Flacco, who treated last Sunday's wild-card game in Miami no differently than the first matchup between the teams in October.

"We were just playing the Miami Dolphins all over again. It's not like their guys grew a foot taller and got a half-second faster. It's still a football game," Flacco said this week. "What would we be saying about ourselves if we didn't go out there and play all 16 regular-season games as hard as we could? We'd be putting ourselves down pretty badly. So, we went out and played this game just like any other game, and we played it pretty good."

Flacco went 9-for-23 for 135 yards in a 27-9 victory. His statistics weren't pretty, but he didn't throw an interception. Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington was picked off four times, and that's why Baltimore advanced to the second round against the Tennessee Titans.

Flacco isn't being asked to beat the Titans by himself Saturday. He's merely required to operate within the system, and that explains to a degree why the former University of Delaware star isn't overwhelmed over the prospect of being two wins away from a trip to the Super Bowl.

"It's not about me as much as it's about our team. It's about how confident we're playing as a team right now," he said. "As long as we go out there and we do what we're supposed to do, then we feel like we have a good enough team to win the games. That's all we've got to think about."

Flacco was ranked 22nd in the NFL among quarterbacks, but threw only five interceptions over the final 11 games and had another turnover-free performance in his initial foray into the playoffs. In those 12 games, Baltimore is 10-2.

Thrust into the starting job by default, he's been Unflappable Flacco from the outset.

"He lost the rookie tag a long time ago," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said.

Under different circumstances, the Titans would be delighted to be playing at home in the playoffs against a rookie quarterback. But because Flacco has proven he's no ordinary rookie, the advantage is not nearly as profound.

"It's an ideal scenario, but their quarterback has shown that he can play in big games and manage the game and do the things he needs to do to give them a shot to win," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said.

Sort of like Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins.

"For a rookie, he's played well beyond his years," Collins said. "He kind of reminds me of me a little bit when I was young. He's kind of a big, tall guy who can throw it hard and throw it far."

In the first game between the teams, Flacco went 18-for-27 for 153 yards. But he threw two interceptions, and Baltimore lost in his fourth professional game, 13-10.

Flacco still hasn't shaken the memory of those errant tosses, one of which set up a Tennessee field goal.

"I don't even know what I was thinking. Kind of just bonehead throws," he said. "I kind of gave them one real easy, but you definitely learn from it. There are times where you've just got to throw the ball out of bounds and live for the next down. That's what I took out of those."

The Titans intend to put Flacco in a similar situation, just to see if the lesson stuck in his head.

"I know he's the kind of guy who likes to keep the plays going and he likes to create," Bulluck said. "As a young guy, you want to force him to make mistakes. We're going to see if we can make him make some of the mistakes he made last time."

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