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Rookie QBs Ryan, Flacco continue to defy expectations

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Rookie QBs Ryan, Flacco continue to defy expectations

By Carl Carchia

PA SportsTicker Staff Writer

It’s not supposed to be easy for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. No one told Atlanta’s Matt Ryan or Baltimore’s Joe Flacco that, though.

The two rookie signal callers have not only excelled in their first seasons, but have their respective teams in the thick of the playoff race.

The play of Ryan and Flacco may be exciting for their respective teams and their fans, but it’s scary for the rest of the league. While both are making it look easy, in reality the opposite is true.

Just ask 2007 No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, who sat out most of his rookie season due to a contract dispute and has a dismal 72.6 quarterback rating in his first full season.

“It’s tough out there, man - I promise,” said Russell after his Raiders dropped a 29-10 decision to Flacco’s Ravens in Week Eight.

Apparently, Ryan and Flacco didn’t get the memo.

Ryan, the third overall pick in April’s draft, has resurrected the Falcons from the despair of last season and led them to an 8-4 mark. If the season ended today, Atlanta would have the second wild card in the NFC.

Meanwhile, Flacco, the 18th overall pick out of tiny Delaware of the Football Championship Division, has helped the Ravens go from 5-11 last season to 8-4 and contending for the AFC Central title.

The astonishing thing about their performances is that Ryan and Flacco are succeeding where once highly regarded quarterbacks like Ryan Leaf, Alex Smith, Tim Couch, Joey Harrington and numerous others have failed.

Consider this: Not even Peyton Manning - arguably the best quarterback in the league - could engineer such a turnaround as a rookie. Manning, the first overall pick in 1998, went 3-13 in his rookie campaign.

More evidence, Hall of Famer Troy Aikman went 1-15 in his first season with Dallas.

Amazingly, Ryan and Flacco are defying the age-old axiom that rookie quarterbacks will be overwhelmed by NFL defenses if thrown into the fire immediately.

Ryan has thrown 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the last eight games, leading Atlanta to a 6-2 mark. The former Boston College star completed 16-of-22 passes for 207 yards and a pair of scores in a 22-16 win over San Diego last week.

“He’s maturing beyond his years,” Atlanta first-year coach Mike Smith said following Sunday’s win.

The NFC offensive Rookie of the Week, Ryan is fourth in the NFC with 2,625 yards and his 91.2 quarterback rating is good for sixth in the conference.

“He goes out there and he’s poised,” added Roddy White, Ryan’s favorite target. “He’s a confident guy and he makes the throws. He can make every throw in this league. That’s a big part of it. He’s great at reading defenses and getting the ball to the right people.”

While Ryan has breathed new life into a downtrodden franchise, Flacco has added a new dimension to the defensive-minded Ravens, who are just one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) in the AFC Central.

The 6-5, 230-pound Flacco has rebounded from a rocky start to lead Baltimore to six wins in its last seven games, throwing 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in that span.

Flacco completed 19-of-29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-3 win over Cincinnati on Sunday.

The common dominator for Ryan and Flacco is poise.

“He doesn’t get flustered,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Flacco prior to a 41-13 Week 10 win over Houston. “Momentum swings don’t affect him too much. He comes out and plays the next series and takes care of business.”

At this rate, the duo may continue to defy NFL logic well into January.

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