Joe Flacco Proves He Is Elite QB with Brilliant End to Historic Postseason
That's how long I had to hear about how Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens would not, could not stop Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
Every day, again and again, media outlets from across the globe fawned over the young and talented Kaepernick, almost ignoring the growing resume of a guy who became the first quarterback in history to lead his team to playoff wins in his first five seasons.
For a football fortnight, I had to listen to the experts talk about how the Niners defense was too dominant, too young and too fast for Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Co.
Five years and two weeks.
That's how long the "elite" quarterback debate had germinated, barely a whisper of such promise when the Ravens selected Flacco with the 18th pick out of Delaware in 2008. Then, year by year, playoff win after playoff win, the whisper grew to a loud chatter.
Flacco, 6'6" with a rocket arm, had all the assets of a big-time quarterback. His team had all the tools to aid in his development—a solid running game, a behemoth offensive line and, finally, in Anquan Boldin, a go-to deep threat.
But the doubters were many.
Some questioned whether Flacco had the mental toughness, the leadership skills, the poise needed to win the big one. His own teammate, Ed Reed, called him out before last season's AFC Championship Game, saying Flacco looked rattled against the Houston Texans in the divisional round.
On a team featuring perhaps the greatest leader ever to play the game—the retiring Ray Lewis—it's hard to distinguish yourself as a leader.
But whether you love Flacco or hate him—Steelers fans, I'm talking to you—there is no questioning his legitimacy. He earned the Super Bowl MVP while leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the favored 49ers, a franchise that had never lost a Super Bowl in five tries.
Flacco took the field stone-faced Sunday at the New Orleans Superdome and never flinched.
He quietly led his team to a 21-6 lead, passing for three touchdowns in the first half and elevating his playoff run to a sterling 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions before Jacoby Jones ran a record-tying kickoff back 108 yards to start the third quarter.
Patrick Willis harassing him in the pocket. He never blinked. NaVorro Bowman around the left side? Nary a concern. The heralded Aldon Smith? A non-factor.
A nearly 40-minute delay when the lights went out on Bourbon Street? Whatever. A 22-point lead evaporated to a mere two-point lead? Two, 22, who cares?
Flacco was stone-faced and relentless, keeping his head and keeping the lead. Flacco has had his share of doubters; he's faced his share of adversity. Odd, given the "rich" history of quarterbacks in Ravens history.
Elvis Grbac. Vinny Testaverde. Trent Dilfer. An aging Steve McNair.
By the end of the game, Flacco had pieced together one of the best statistical postseason runs by a quarterback in history—11 touchdowns, zero interceptions.
On Sunday, he added three touchdowns and protected that shiny goose egg with smart, precision passing against a Niners defense that was in his face the entire second half, beating up receivers off the line and then some.
His 22-of-33 for 287 yards won't make anyone forget Joe Montana. But no one who watches the NFL should forget what Flacco did this year against three teams that all had better talent on the field than his Ravens.
The Broncos and Patriots were stacked with stars on offense—two of the top three elite quarterbacks in the league—and solid defenses. (Yes, I mean the Pats too.)
The Niners were supposed to be better. Faster, harder hitting, ball-hawking—just better. Flacco took it all: He checked down, he rolled out, he dumped off passes under immense pressure.
And he did not flinch.
There should be no doubt now that Flacco is indeed elite. He earned that tag Sunday.
Lou Rom covers the NFL and whatever else gets under his skin for Bleacher Report. He also knows that the Superdome is not technically on Bourbon Street. Follow him on Twitter at louromlive.
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