OWINGS MILLS, Md. _ The most telling image of Baltimore's game against the Denver Broncos last month was Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lying flat on his stomach near the goal line after his futile pursuit of cornerback Chris Harris.
Baltimore was poised to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half to pull within 10-7. Instead, Harris intercepted an ill-advised, hurried pass from Flacco and took it 96 yards into the end zone.
Denver won 34-17.
"Stuff like that happens sometimes, and believe me, I'm the last guy that wants it to happen," Flacco said of the interception. "But you've got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game. I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That's why we are where we are right now."
In spite of that lopsided defeat, the Ravens won the AFC North title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 last weekend. That set up Flacco and Baltimore (11-6) for another shot at the Broncos (13-3) on Saturday.
"They beat us up pretty good a couple weeks ago," Flacco said. "But I think you always have that little chip that you want to go out there and prove to people that you're a good football team."
Flacco is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to lead his team into the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. He's never missed a game since taking the reins at the outset of his rookie year, and this season he set career highs in completions (317), yards passing (3,817) and 300-yard games (five).
There have been more highs than lows for the former University of Delaware star, which is why Flacco found it easy to quickly dismiss that awful sideline pass against the Broncos on Dec. 16.
"It stuck with me a couple minutes, and then I moved on and went out there and played some more snaps," he recalled. "And then when we lost, it stuck with me for a couple minutes again. Then we started getting ready for the next game and we went out and won it."
Flacco rebounded to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 rout of the New York Giants. Flacco made a brief appearance in the meaningless finale at Cincinnati, then threw for 282 yards and two scores against the Colts last weekend.
It's been nearly a month since that awful interception against the Broncos, enough time Flacco and the Ravens to put it behind them.
"That's not in my mind at all going up to Denver," Flacco said. "We feel confident, and I think we should."
Taking advantage of a moving pocket, Flacco was sacked only once against Indianapolis. That should work to Baltimore's advantage against Denver, which registered three sacks for 32 yards in the first game between the teams.
"Whenever you have great edge pass rushers, you need to move the pocket," coach John Harbaugh said. "Joe can run. He's faster than people think, so he can get out of there and run for some yards, too. Yes, it's something they have been working on."
Much of the talk leading up to Saturday's game has been about Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who will be making his first playoff start for the Broncos after a splendid run with Indianapolis. Flacco knows that his team's success will depend heavily on whether he can generate enough offense to outdo Manning — while at the same time keeping the ball out of his counterpart's hands.
"Our goal is to go in and score touchdowns," Flacco said. "Obviously, they have a high-powered offense and can score at a pretty high rate."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Flacco and Baltimore is playing on the road. The Ravens went 7-2 at home (including last week) and are a very mediocre 4-4 on the road. In addition, Flacco has thrown 17 of his 24 touchdown passes this season in Baltimore.
"You just have to be ready to go into a hostile environment and play your best football," he said. "It's not going to be up and down with the crowd; they're going to be in it 100 percent for the whole game. The bottom line is we have to go in there and just make sure that we have a good, sound week of practice and we work on all the things that could possible go wrong — just because of all the noise and things like that — and make sure we have an answer for it."
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