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Flacco seeking respect

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 15, 2012
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BALTIMORE - There is no real way to explain how Joe Flacco landed in the puzzling club of quarterbacks who, despite their success, always seem to be an interception away from being loathed by their fan bases.

Mark Sanchez is in it.

Alex Smith was in it.

Eli Manning won a Super Bowl and was in it.

Donovan McNabb was club president at one point.

Flacco’s the newest member.

Statistically, Flacco stepped back in his fourth season with the Baltimore Ravens. He threw five fewer touchdown passes (20) in 2011 than in 2010, completed a smaller percentage of his passes (57.6 to 62.6), and threw two more interceptions (12). But he has never missed the playoffs and he has won more postseason games (four) than he has lost (three). He helped guide the Ravens to the AFC North title and the right to host the Texans in their Divisional round matchup today, and when he considered the accomplishments with local media this week, he all but asked, “What more do you want?’’

“If you look at the teams that won, you can look at the quarterbacks, but that’s just because you guys, ESPN, want to pump them up as being the best quarterback that year,’’ he said. “It’s really going to come down to what team is the best. I’m sure if we win, I’ll have nothing to do with why we won, not according to you guys. So, it is what it is. We’re going to go and we’re going to do our best to try and win it, and it doesn’t really matter what the reason is.’’

Flacco, however, is a member of a club that Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates is trying to join. Flacco and Sanchez are the only rookie QBs to lead their teams to two playoff victories.

Last week, Yates, who teammates say is generally devoid of emotion, brushed off rookie mistakes and completed 11 of 20 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown to guide Houston past Cincinnati, 31-10, for its first playoff win in franchise history.

When the season started, Yates was third on the depth chart, but a foot injury ended starting quarterback Matt Schaub’s season in Week 10 and backup Matt Leinart suffered a season-ending collarbone injury a week later.

Suddenly the Texans’ season fell onto the shoulders of a fifth-round pick who wasn’t expected to see any significant playing time in 2011.

“Definitely there were some nerves at the beginning of that first game, just with how big the game was and all the energy in the stadium,’’ Yates said last week about his postseason debut. “Definitely had to deal with some butterflies so going into this next game I should be good to go at kickoff and I’m excited about going up to Baltimore and it’s a big challenge for us.’’

The Texans, powered by versatile tailback Arian Foster, will have to try to dent Baltimore’s physical defense that feeds off its boisterous home crowd.

For the first time since 2006, the Ravens get to play a playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. They’ve made the playoffs every year since 2008 and played seven postseason games on other teams’ turf, going 4-3.

The Ravens were undefeated at home this season. Home-field advantage was more than evident in the opening week of the playoffs when the Broncos, Texans, Saints, and Giants all won.

“When you get into that, it plays a big momentum,’’ Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “It’s a big momentum swing for you. It’s just hard to win on the road. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how good you are, it’s hard to win on the road. For us to work as hard as we did, get 12 wins, do the things we were supposed to do, and now get this home playoff game, we have positioned ourselves to be in the right place. Now we have to go finish it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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