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Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

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Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) If a Super Bowl ring is necessary for an NFL quarterback to earn elite status, then Joe Flacco has some work to do before joining the ranks.

If durability, victories and playoff appearances are the necessary attributes, then Flacco - the leading passer in Baltimore Ravens history - has few peers.

During a week in which the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) face the Ravens (7-2) without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco is preparing to make his 74th consecutive start for Baltimore. He has never missed a game since being drafted in 2008, and under his direction, the Ravens are the only team to reach the postseason in each of the last four years.

No other quarterback in NFL history has ever led his team to the playoffs in his first four seasons.

``We've always said we think the world of Joe,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. ``I personally hold him in the highest regard. We all believe in him, and we're excited to go into this game with him as our guy.''

And why not? Including the playoffs, Flacco has more wins over the past 4 1/2 years (63) than any other quarterback. Included in that total are two comeback victories in Pittsburgh, most notably last year's classic when Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for a 26-yard touchdown in the final minute of a 23-20 triumph.

Just as impressive is Flacco's ability to line up under center every week. Since the start of the 2008 season, only Eli Manning (129) and Phillip Rivers (105) have more consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady is a distant fourth with 57.

``I haven't played too long yet, but you want to show up for your teammates every Sunday,'' Flacco said. ``You do everything to make sure that happens.''

The Ravens have confidence in backup Tyrod Taylor, but Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to keep Flacco healthy.

Well, almost.

``My wife rides horses and she says when a horse throws you, you're supposed to kind of lean forward, grab the neck and then when you jump off, you're supposed to roll to take away the momentum out of it. We have not worked on that drill with Joe,'' Harbaugh said with a grin. ``But he is durable. I think he's just a tough guy and we've protected him over the years.''

No one is prepared to compare Flacco to Cal Ripken, who put together a major league record run of 2,632 consecutive games with the hometown Baltimore Orioles. But Flacco's streak is impressive enough to bring up the question as to whether there have ever been any close calls.

``The toughest was back whenever we beat New England in that (January 2010) playoff game,'' Flacco said, recalling a deep hip and thigh bruise. ``I never thought I wasn't going to go, but I definitely had a tough time moving around that week. At times at practice it was tough to keep my legs underneath me. I could drop back and throw pretty comfortable, but moving around was tough.''

Flacco didn't have to do much that game except hand the ball to Ray Rice, who ran for 159 yards in a 33-14 victory. But there have been other games when Flacco had to carry load, such as last week against Oakland when he passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback took a seat during the fourth quarter of the 55-20 rout, but there have been plenty of Sundays when he was knocked on the rear of his pants after taking a tough hit in the pocket.

Every time, though, Flacco bounced back.

``Joe's tough. I don't want to go into weight room numbers, but the quarterback is actually pretty strong,'' Rice said. ``Our goal as an offensive group is to not let Joe get hit. We take pride in that. But even when he does get hit, I always look back and check on him and he's getting up and ready to roll.

``It says something about our quarterback. He's really unprotected. They say the running back position is tough, but I get to brace for some of those hits. I can protect my body. Usually when you get a hit on the quarterback, it's a free shot. He's taken a few of them but has been able to bounce back.''

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

This was one of the most interesting weeks the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in a very long time.

Coming off three-straight losses and preparing to face division rivals with their season on the line, their starting quarterback was likely out with an injury, their backup spent an afternoon in the hospital with a stomach illness and job security was the buzz around town. 

But when the clock read one at M&T Bank Stadium and it was do-or-die, two rookies took their team and carried them to a win, literally and figuratively. 

In his NFL start, first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson was 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts.

All afternoon long we were in awe of his speed, and probably at times nervous, by just how confident the rookie was in taking the game into his own hands.

"I thought he played spectacular," head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "I thought he played winning football. It's tough being a quarterback in this league."

"For a first-time-out rookie in an environment like that...All those operation things, I think, speak to his intelligence, his studiousness, and just his ability to run the show. And that's everything. The playmaking — that comes from God. He made use of that, too. Very proud of that."

Jackson hasn't been one to put his feelings into many words, and in the week leading up to his NFL start, the Heisman Trophy winner continuously remained humble.

When asked how it felt to lead the Ravens to a 24-21 win over the Bengals, Jackson said, "I don't know. Come out with a win. It was pretty good, I guess."

On the Ravens' opening drive, Jackson rushed five times for 46 yards while converting two third downs that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins. The QB is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

Plus, his 27 carries were the most by a quarterback in an NFL game since Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Geri's in 1950. 

"I think he brings a different dynamic to the game. As you can tell, our offense looks totally different, obviously from when Joe [Flacco] is in. It's hard for defenses to game plan for Lamar. And I think that shows with Gus [Edwards] having 100 yards as well. It's good to see, and it's a great win."

That brings us to our next rookie speedster; Gus Edwards.

The undrafted free agent out of Rutgers put up 115 rushing yards on 17 attempts averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry and one touchdown.

"I've got a great coaching staff," Edwards said on getting his big chance and playing well. "I've got a great group of veteran running backs [that] told me to always be prepared, from day one when I came in here, they told me what it was going to be like. This game, a lot of things played into it, and you;you've always got to be ready."

The last time the Ravens had two 100+ rushers in a single game was December 23, 2012 against the New York Giants when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for 107 and 123 yards respectively. Sunday also marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and running back each surpass 100 rushing yards in a game, per Elias Sports Bureau.

For a team that had many daunting questions surrounding them just a week ago, two young bloods came out and managed to change the aura in the city of Baltimore, at least for now. 

"It's just a confidence builder to be honest," Willie Snead said on having a quarterback like Jackson. "When we were running the ball how we were, it just gives us so much momentum and a lot of flexibility to do what we want. It was awesome to see that today, and [we] look forward to keep doing it."

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What a rush: Lamar Jackson ran for 117 yards in win

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What a rush: Lamar Jackson ran for 117 yards in win

The opening drive set the tone.

Stepping on the field for the first time as a starting quarterback in the NFL, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown to get the team out to an early 7-0 lead over the Bengals.

In that drive, the rookie from Louisville did not attempt one pass. His legs did the work as he rushed for 46 yard on five carries. 

That was the type of day it was for Jackson. While his passing numbers (13-19, 150 yards, 1 INT) were pedestrian, the 117 yards rushing are what left the Ravens fans and the Bengals defense with their heads on a swivel.

Showing the lighting quickness that help make a name for himself in college and made him such an intriguing prospect coming into this year’s draft, Jackson was the team’s leading rusher in the much-needed, come-from-behind 24-21 win over the Bengals.

It was clear head coach John Harbaugh and his staff came into the game with a run-first game plan. Jackson’s 117 yards, along with Gus Edwards’ 115 yards led the way for Baltimore’s 265 yards rushing on the day. 

Jackson got the start in place of Joe Flacco who was sidelined due to a hip injury.

While Jackson has seen time on the field in various offensive packages this season, his first start and win as an NFL quarterback came at a crucial time for the Ravens as the playoff race is heating up. 

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