We spent the better part of five seasons acknowledging the accomplishments of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, but the focus would inevitably revert to what they hadn’t done in the John Harbaugh era.
Flacco had never led the Ravens to a Super Bowl as many wondered even just a few short weeks ago whether the fifth-year quarterback really had the ability to do.
Baltimore was the only team in the NFL to have advanced to the postseason and won at least one playoff game in each of the last five seasons, but the Ravens were always a bridesmaid but never the bride to represent the AFC on the biggest stage in professional sports.
Despite coming within a Lee Evans catch of toppling Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last year’s conference championship, Flacco didn’t take the quantum leap many thought he would during the regular season. His Week 15 interception returned for a touchdown in a blowout loss at home to the Denver Broncos appeared to be the lowest point of his career.
Anyone who watched these Ravens play over the course of the 2012 season would agree that they weren’t the best team in the conference. They certainly weren’t the most talented as critics dismissed a 9-2 start while pointing out their many flaws and shortcomings due to a significant number of injuries. An inconsistent offense and a diminishing, aging defense didn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl contender” in the eyes of even the most optimistic Ravens fans.
A three-game losing streak to start the month of December that included the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron appeared to be a death sentence. Instead, it was the precursor to three straight wins in the month of January as the Ravens flattened New England in the second half Sunday night to win 28-13 and advance to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
Even if they weren’t the AFC’s best from September through December, Flacco and the Ravens proved to be the superior quarterback and the superior team when it really mattered.
As Harbaugh preached about the entire team’s effort following Sunday’s game, pointing to a second half when the Ravens outscored New England 21-0 to turn a 13-7 halftime deficit into a comfortable 15-point victory in Foxborough, the biggest story was once again Flacco. Arguably scrutinized more than any quarterback in the league, Flacco followed up an outstanding performance against Peyton Manning in the divisional round with a brilliant second half at Gillette Stadium while Tom Brady wilted against the Baltimore defense to lose the first home game of his career in which the Patriots led at the half.
In the Ravens’ path to Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco has thrown for 853 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions for a 114.7 passer rating in three playoff wins. He hasn’t tossed an interception since that fateful day when he laid face-down on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium following Chris Harris’ 98-yard return for a touchdown on Dec. 16.
The question really isn’t whether Flacco is an “elite” quarterback as so many like to ask. The University of Delaware product has been the best the AFC had to offer in the playoffs and is now 60 minutes away from an invitation to join a select group of Super Bowl winners that includes Manning, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees.
Instead of chastising him for what he’s not, it’s time to recognize Flacco for what he is — a great quarterback with an unwavering ability to remain cool under pressure. His demeanor over this last month never changed as he adjusted to Jim Caldwell’s new role as offensive coordinator and put the Ravens on his back to land them in the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.
This is far from Harbaugh’s most talented group of players, but the difference is the Ravens have a quarterback not only capable of leading them to the Super Bowl, but they have one who did it with an exclamation point on Sunday night.
For years, the vaunted Ravens defense was always looking across the field at a Brady or a Manning or a Roethlisberger and could only wonder what might have been if the unit had a signal-caller like that on its side. Baltimore no longer has to do that as many teams around the league will now begin to look at Flacco with a similar kind of reverence.
If we’ve learned anything about him over these last three weeks, it’s not only that he’s a great quarterback, but we now expect — not hope for — him to be great on the biggest stage. The Ravens will once again be underdogs against Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, but the confidence once enjoyed only in places like New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh is now bursting at the seams in Baltimore over its quarterback.
They will have a great chance to win because they have a great quarterback. It’s that simple, even if it’s been a long time coming for the Ravens.
It doesn’t matter that Flacco wasn’t the best quarterback and the Ravens weren’t the best team in the AFC in the regular season.
They’re standing at the top and they earned it by toppling the best the conference had to offer in January.