Flacco’s big day leads Ravens to playoffs at Miami

December 28, 2008 | Drew Forrester

Take a look at this video highlight.  It’s the day the Ravens’ 2008 season changed for the better.

This time last year, Joe Flacco was just completing his senior season at the University of Delaware, where he led the Blue Hens to the Football Championship Subdivison title game before bowing to Appalachian State.

Today, he capped off an amazing rookie season in the NFL by leading the Ravens into the playoffs of the National Football League.  Baltimore’s 27-7 win over Jacksonville puts Baltimore at 11-5 and into the post-season one year after going 5-11.  They’ll face the equally surprising Miami Dolphins, who captured the AFC East today with a win at New York and finished 11-5 after a 1-15 campaign in 2007.

I need to write it again just for kicks:  The Ravens are going to the playoffs.

What a difference a year – and a Quarterback – makes.

It’s one thing for Ray Lewis to have a remarkable season.  He’s a Hall of Famer.

It’s not a shock to see Ed Reed do what he’s done this year.  He might be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and could have cemented his Canton bust with this season’s performance.

Derrick Mason went over the 10,000 yard mark in receiving this season and he’s only the 31st player in league history to have done it.  It’s not surprising to see him have the kind of year he’s having.

But for Flacco to have put together a 2008 campaign like he has is just unthinkable in the NFL.  If not for Matt Ryan’s heroics in Atlanta, Flacco would the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.  And, of course, he still might be when it’s all said and done.

Rookie quarterbacks just don’t come along and play all 16 games and produce to the extent that Flacco has this season.  

But, he did.

And, most importantly, when the Ravens could ill afford for Flacco to have one of those “rookie days”, he instead delivered perhaps the biggest game from a quarterback in the team’s history.  When it mattered most, the rookie came through with a clutch performance, going 17-for-23 for 297 yards and driving Baltimore downfield with big throws to Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason throughout the game.

The Ravens won some big, big games in the 2000 season (and playoffs) but Trent Dilfer NEVER played like Flacco did today.  

What a difference a Quarterback – and a year – makes.

And the Ravens are going back to the playoffs for the 2nd time in three seasons, only this time there’s a completely different vibe than in ’06 when Steve McNair hobbled his way through the regular season and then laid a big egg in the playoff loss to the Colts on January 13, 2007.

Here’s more good news if you’re a fan of the purple.  They have a decent chance to do some damage in the post-season.  The tonic for post-season success in the NFL is simple:  Momentum, injuries and being able to win a big game on the road.  Check out the Ravens profile as the season comes to an end: They enter the playoffs on a major roll, they’re as healthy as anyone in the AFC, and, they were 5-3 on the road in ’08. They can win away from M&T Bank Stadium in January.  They’ll have to, of course, if they want to advance past next weekend.

For now, let’s take a day or two to revel in what was a terrific regular season.  A new coach, a new philosophy and a new quarterback.

They all came together at the right time.

And the Ravens are going back to the playoffs.

But, today, the quarterback took center stage in the win over Jacksonville.

Joe Flacco has changed the Ravens’ franchise.

Anyone want to bet against them in January?

I wouldn’t.