Flacco’s “elite” mind is taking him — and the Ravens — to New Orleans

January 23, 2013 | Drew Forrester

The wolves came out later that night and again the next day (or four) on the radio, as people around town started calling for Flacco’s head and leveled particular criticism at the way he reacted so cooly after throwing a game-changing interception in a game that many thought might cost the Ravens a first-round bye.

But, as it turns out, Flacco knew exactly what he was saying because what he said was precisely how great athletic minds think.

“Sometimes those things happen.”  That’s correct.  Sports is far from predictable.  Sometimes weird stuff happens.

“We’ll move on from here and get that stuff corrected.”  Right again.  You move on.  You don’t worry about what happened yesterday.  You move on to tomorrow.

High-level athletes, the real special ones, know that worrying about their mistakes is, well, a mistake — of the highest proportion.  Elite-athlete minds completely understand the concept of “the other team tries, too.”  And they also know that getting mad or angry about a mistake or a defeat isn’t going to help them get better or win the next time.  Flacco has that uncanny knack of knowing how to stay calm and not let the moment get too big for him.  Not many guys do.  Armchair quarterbacks certainly don’t understand it.  Amateur athletes who once hit a couple of home runs in a big softball game don’t get it.  And, honestly, a lot of media people don’t grasp it, either.

However, when you’re a quarterback in the NFL and you’re heading to the Super Bowl and you’ve just become the winningest “road quarterback” in the league, you’re capable of processing things much better than the average Joe, no pun intended.

Professional golfers are the best at doing that “in the moment” thing.  The elite ones, those in the top 50 in the world, have the uncanny ability to forget the last shot and worry only about the current one.  It doesn’t matter if you hit it in the water on the same hole the day before…the moment you let that creep into your mind, you might as well get ready to put another one in the lake.

Quarterbacks are the same way.  What you did last week, or earlier in the game, or on the most recent series can’t be a factor in your mind or you’ll never survive at the big-time level.  It’s said that baseball closers have to own a short memory, particularly when it comes to a blown save.  If you fret over a game you threw away, you’re liable to squander another one soon enough.

Joe Flacco has an elite athletic mind. My guess is that his mind “out-performs” his actual althletic skill.  Lots of guys can throw a football 50 yards.  Very few can go into Denver and New England in the playoffs and win.

One of Joe’s uncanny traits is how he handles the ups and downs of life in the NFL.  He never gets too high when the Ravens win or his performance is exceptional. And he never gets too low when the team loses or he contributes to that defeat with sub-par play.

That – alone – is the single greatest trait that Flacco possesses.  Everything is about “in the moment”.  Getting too high after a win or a successful play is taking time and energy away from being able to focus on the next challenge.  And the same goes for getting too low after a loss or a bad play.  All the great ones, no matter what sport, process things differently than the rest.  Keeping things balanced is the only way to reach that elite level of thinking that champions employ.

We have all made light of Joe’s commentary with the media and laughed at how “blah” he is with his answers.  I know Joe a little bit, having not only covered his play for five seasons but also having had probably 50-60 personal (one-on-one) and public (press conference type) interactions with him since 2008.  He starts just about every answer he gives by saying, “Uh, I don’t know…” — sounding as if he’s pretty much not interested in contemplating a reply, let alone actually crafting one.  Truth be told, Flacco doesn’t really like talking with the media because he knows that about 98% of the questions being asked are coming from people who don’t have a clue how to read a cover-2 defense…because they’ve never actually done it.

That mentality, though, is once again one of the reasons why Flacco is on the verge of becoming one of the league’s best quarterbacks.  Nothing matters to him except the next football game.  He’ll talk to you about the one he just played, but it’s not really something he wants to do because that game is over with now.  He’ll answer your dumb question about the 3rd quarter interception he threw by telling you the same thing he told you a month ago when you asked a question about an interception he threw in the 2nd quarter of a game: “The cornerback made a nice play on that one.”  He might even say, “Yeah, I made a bad read there and the d-back slipped in grabbed it.  Give him some credit, he made a nice play.”  Flacco doesn’t avoid taking criticism.  In fact, he’s his own worst critic.  But talking about mistakes and re-hashing them…that’s not something great athletic minds do.

His teammates will tell you that Joe is a fiery competitor and one of the team’s most vocal leaders.  But you’d never know that just by watching him, because his approach is unflappable.  Nothing bothers him.  And that’s why, when the spotlight is its brightest in January, Flacco seems to outplay nearly every other quarterback he goes up against.

He wins with his mind — and his arm — and his legs.

And he’s going to New Orleans to play in the Super Bowl.

Sometimes those things happen.