Ravens vs. Patriots: AFC Championship Win Doesn't Yet Make Joe Flacco Elite

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta #88 in the third quarter against the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 20, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

For the second straight season, Joe Flacco led the Baltimore Ravens into a belligerent, bone-chilling Foxborough stadium for the AFC Championship Game. And for the second straight season, he out-dueled golden boy quarterback Tom Brady—a man with legitimate claims to the title "Greatest of All Time." This year, unlike last, his team came out victorious and in two weeks time will play for the right to be crowned champions of the football world.

But I'm still not ready to call Joe Flacco elite.

This article comes with a disclaimer. Please, loyal Baltimore faithful, read past the headline and lede before posting any comments. I'm a reasonable, nonpartisan observer—not a Steelers fan in disguise. I like your team, your coach, your quarterback and actually believe you've got a good shot at winning it all two Sundays from now. Heck, I'll even be rooting for you.

But I'm still not ready to call Joe Flacco elite.

Why? Let's start with the numbers. Football Outsiders uses advanced metrics to measure each and every quarterback's performance. Their system is far from an exact science, but it's just about as close as we can come.

Joe Flacco finished the season ranked 25th. The list of quarterbacks who placed higher includes four rookies (Griffin, Luck, Wilson and Tannehill), two Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck) and one guy who got benched midseason (Alex Smith). It also includes the likes of Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder.


I understand how well Flacco played against Denver and New England, but two weeks does not a salvaged season make. It certainly helps, but it's not decisive. Know who else tossed three touchdowns to eliminate the Pats in Foxborough? A guy named Mark Sanchez. See what I'm getting at?

Then there's the foolish argument that simply making the Super Bowl is grounds for being considered elite. Really? So Rex Grossman was elite when he led the Bears to slaughter in 2006? Chris Chandler was among the NFL's best when his Falcons won the NFC in 1998? Do you even know who Stan Humphries is?

Getting to the Super Bowl, especially on the heels of a mediocre season, doesn't prove a quarterback to be elite. It proves that he's playing well.

Winning a Super Bowl? Now that's a different story. In the last 20 years, only two quarterbacks we don't consider "great" (Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson) have won the big game. And they were both flanked by defenses—the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers—that rank among the best of all time.

This year's Baltimore defense is not the same monster it was 13 years ago. If Joe Flacco wins a Super Bowl with these guys at his back, come find me and we'll have this argument again. I'll probably be on your side.

But for now, please don't waste my time arguing Flacco's bona fides. He still has one more test to pass.