Joe Flacco is four quarters — just sixty minutes of game time — away from forever silencing his critics and etching his name into the record books as a championship quarterback. The often-criticized Baltimore Ravens passer has been lambasted for average skills as well as his reliance on the long ball and his arm strength.
Many have contended that Flacco would be nothing without the help of running back Ray Rice and the consistently strong Ravens’ defense. But for the first time in his career, the ball was put in the hands of Flacco more than twice as often as his trusty running back and the Baltimore defense ranked at an unimpressive 17th in the league, allowing 350.9 yards a game.
But here they are. With the help of a strong season from Flacco (3,817 yds, 22 TDs, 10 INTs, 59.7 completion percentage), the Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans this Sunday for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
But its not his impressive regular season numbers that stand out when assessing what propelled the Ravens to this point, its his postseason numbers. In the three playoff matchups that carried Baltimore to the biggest game in sports, Flacco has totaled 853 yards, eight touchdowns, and one lost fumble. His play has been nearly perfect and its tough to argue that the Ravens could have made it this far without him.
Some might argue that the overtime-forcing 70-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Jacoby Jones in the Ravens-Broncos game was essentially handed to him after blown coverage by a Denver safety on the play, but such is football. Flacco made the throw. Jones made the catch. Rahim Moore took a terrible angle and missed what should have been an easy pass-breakup. The rest is history.
A three touchdown performance the following Sunday against the Patriots was all it took for Joe Flacco — with a little help from an emotional Ray Lewis and a strong performance from the defense — to carry the Ravens to the SuperDome.
Flacco is no stranger to big games. He has now competed in 12 playoff matchups including three AFC Championship appearances. He lost his first to the Steelers in his rookie season and his second to the Patriots last season.
In his fifth playoff run, Flacco now has a ton of experience under his belt and is playing some of his best football in his five-year career. He is avoiding the dreaded game-altering mistakes that plague so many quarterbacks in high-pressure playoff games. But his biggest challenge still lies ahead. Flacco did play very well against a strong Denver Broncos defense, but he was also handed gifts in the form of the New England and Indianapolis defenses that he faced in the Wild Card Round and the AFC Championship game, respectively.
In less than a week, Flacco will be looking at a sea of red and gold across the line of scrimmage. The San Francisco 49ers boast what is arguably the best defensive unit in the league, and Flacco will need to keep up his mistake-free play if he wants a Super Bowl victory. The Niners will make him pay if he turns the ball over with what has become an explosive offense since quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over the reigns earlier in the season.
Flacco doesn’t need to put up huge numbers, as a well-managed, mistake-free game should be enough to earn him his first Lombardi Trophy. If he can do that, he will forever silence what is quickly becoming a smaller and smaller group of vocal critics.
All that stands between Joe Flacco and admission to the exclusive group of elite quarterbacks that currently includes Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger is…
The San Francisco 49ers.
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