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Joe Flacco: a Blue Hen with a golden arm

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Joe Flacco: a Blue Hen with a golden arm

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Maybe Delaware is the new Quarterback U.

When Joe Flacco takes the field with the Baltimore Ravens against San Francisco, he'll be the second former Blue Hens quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Rich Gannon was the first with Oakland 10 years ago.

That's more than powerhouses USC, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida combined. It's one more than Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Penn State, Florida State, Syracuse, Nebraska and Pitt.

Stanford, UCLA, BYU, Maryland and Washington State also have two. Only Notre Dame, Alabama, Purdue and California have three.

Quite an impressive feat for a second-tier football college in the second-smallest state in the U.S.

It's a good thing Flacco didn't turn to baseball when he hoped or he may not have even made it to the NFL.

The story goes like this. After his junior season at Delaware, Flacco went to then-coach K.C. Keeler and told him he'd like to pitch for the Blue Hens' baseball team in the spring. Keeler and other coaches persuaded him to concentrate on football.

Over the years, the context of that conversation has been reported different ways. Flacco set the record straight this week, making it clear he simply wanted to play two sports and wasn't considering quitting football.

``K.C. misrepresents that,'' Flacco said. ``I just wanted to play baseball because I liked baseball. I never was giving up on football. I always had a lot of confidence in my ability there. I just wanted to have a little bit of fun.''

Flacco had an outstanding senior year and led Delaware to the FCS championship game against Appalachian State. He wowed Baltimore's scouting department in a long workout before the draft and ended up being selected by the Ravens with the No. 18 overall pick in 2008.

Since then, Flacco has done things no other quarterback has accomplished during the Super Bowl era.

Flacco is the first quarterback to lead his team to a playoff victory in each of his first five seasons. His six postseason wins on the road rank first and he leads the league with 62 victories since 2008.

``I'm really happy for him and as a former Blue Hen, I'm really proud,'' said Gannon, who was the NFL MVP in 2002 when he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl, a loss to Tampa Bay.

``His career is off to a terrific start and you can only imagine what will happen next Sunday if he's able to get the job done and win a world championship.''

Flacco has padded his already remarkable resume this month. In three playoff games, he's thrown eight touchdown passes and not a single interception. His biggest achievement, though, is beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in consecutive games to help the Ravens win their second AFC championship.

``This isn't just instant success,'' Gannon said. ``You go back and study the guy and this has happened over the last five years. He has some rare talent. He can really throw the ball and he has good mobility for a guy his size. He's going to get better and the team around him is going to get better.''

The 28-year-old Flacco grew up in South Jersey and starred at Audubon High School, a short ride from Philadelphia. He went to Pittsburgh at first, but transferred to Delaware after redshirting his freshman year and playing in just three games in 2004. Flacco didn't get a transfer exception from then-Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt so he had to pay his way to Delaware.

If he has any student loans bills remaining, Flacco can easily pay those off after this season. He's eligible to become a free agent and surely will get a lucrative contract from the Ravens.

All he cares about now is hoisting that Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3.

``I think it's just one of those things you dream of when you are a little kid,'' he said. ``You watch Joe Montana and those guys light them up in the Super Bowl. So, to be here at this point is pretty special.''

Gannon exchanged text messages with Flacco before the AFC title game at New England last week and spoke to him several times during the season. As a broadcaster for CBS Sports and SiriusXM NFL Radio, Gannon has covered many of Flacco's games and knows him well.

``I don't think Joe cares about individual awards,'' Gannon said. ``He's always been a team guy and they wouldn't be there without him. I think he's misunderstood. A lot of people think he's aloof or he's not into it, but a lot of young players don't like to deal with the media. He's ultra-competitive, he's become one of the leaders of that football team and he's done an outstanding job.''

And to think Flacco went to Delaware, a school that's produced fewer than 25 NFL players and only five were quarterbacks. Scott Brunner, Jeff Komlo and Andy Hall are the other three.

Flacco and teammate Gino Gradkowski, a backup offensive lineman, will be the fourth and fifth former Blue Hens to play in a Super Bowl. Gannon, Ivory Sully (Los Angeles Rams) and Ben Patrick (Arizona Cardinals) were on losing teams.

``To have this opportunity is pretty cool,'' Flacco said. ``There are a lot of people in this league that can't say they've ever gotten to this point, so it definitely feels good to get here.''

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Ravens hope to force Brady into kind of mistakes he rarely makes

Ravens hope to force Brady into kind of mistakes he rarely makes

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has thrown just one interception this season.

That’s one of the many challenges facing the Ravens (7-5) as they prepare for Monday night’s game at New England (10-2). The Ravens’ defense is tied for fifth in the NFL with 22 takeaways – 14 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. But Brady is a quarterback that rarely turns it over, with 19 touchdown passes and just one interception in 302 passing attempts.

Can the Ravens force Brady into uncharacteristic mistakes? It won’t be easy. Watching Brady on film, coach John Harbaugh sees a quarterback who looks as good as he ever has.

“If he’s lost anything physically, he definitely makes up for it with his mind and his experience,” Harbaugh said. “He’s moving very well. He’s moving around the pocket very well and creating throws for himself in the pocket. I don’t really see any diminished skill set whatsoever.”

Even if the Ravens can’t force Brady into interceptions, their pass rush could make his job a lot more difficult. The more pressure the Ravens can get on Brady, the less time he will have to pick them apart.

When the Seahawks won at New England last month, they sacked Brady twice, intercepted him, and held him without a touchdown pass. That’s the blueprint the Ravens hope to follow. However, the two starting quarterbacks with the best TD-interception ration are Brady (19-1) and Dak Prescott (19-2) of the Cowboys. Prescott threw three TD passes and no interceptions against the Ravens last month and beat them. The Ravens hope for better success against Brady.

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Ravens safety Eric Weddle was nearly a Patriot this season

Ravens safety Eric Weddle was nearly a Patriot this season

When Eric Weddle was released by the San Diego Chargers after last season he had plenty of offers to sign with other NFL teams.

One of those teams was the New England Patriots, the team Weddle will play against on Monday Night Football this week. 

When the two-time All-Pro safety hit the open market, he said he was looking to play for a winning organization. He ended up choosing the Ravens over the Patriots because there was a more clear-cut opportunity for playing time. 

“I’m good buddies with Patrick Chung,” he said. “I grew up playing with him and Devin McCourty is one of the best to play, so I don’t know if it would have worked out personnel-wise. But obviously, I could have seen myself fitting in there seamlessly.”

Although the Ravens don't have quite as many wins as the Patriots this season, Weddle clearly made a good choice. The Ravens are tied for first place in the AFC North with the Steelers and Weddle is currently the highest graded safety in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. 

The Ravens defense is playing dominant football as a whole as well. Through week 13 Baltimore ranks first in the NFL in total defense surrenduring just 296.1 yards per game. 

RELATED: Weddle consumes a gallon of ice cream after Ravens wins