The Baltimore Ravens were on the way to the Super Bowl, riding the coattails of a 21-7 first-half lead. The defense forced two key turnovers in the first half, while the offense was efficient and took care of the ball.
Then came Round 2 of the heavyweight bout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Joe Flacco and Co. came up limp. Ray Rice fumbled in the third quarter to get the ugliness going, and Flacco followed suit on the following drive with a bad interception.
Seventeen unanswered points later, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were leading 24-21. The Ravens were able to tie the game at 24-24, but the Steelers got a big first down on a 3rd-and-19 play, and took the lead back, 31-24.
With the season on the line, Flacco was sacked for the fifth time on the day on the final drive, and wasn't able to find a receiver for a completion on the first three downs. T.J. Houshmandzadeh would become the immediate scapegoat on fourth down, as a seemingly quality pass from Flacco hit Houshmandzadeh square in the numbers, yet resulted in a drop. With that drop, Heinz Field erupted, and the Steelers took a couple knees to close out the game.
That's just the summary. The box score snippets, if you will. But this is just one game. One game that displayed an ugly trend in Baltimore; one that few will want to admit.
Newsflash: Joe Flacco isn't a good playoff quarterback. And, sadly, he may never be.
Is Flacco a Super Bowl quarterback?
Step back to 2008, Flacco's rookie season, where the wet-behind-the-ears D-II product was running the Ravens offense in three playoff games. However, it's extremely arguable that he did very little to get Baltimore in the playoffs, and did even less to help them advance in each round.
In his first trip through the playoffs, Flacco failed to post a quarterback rating over 90, never threw for more than 200 yards in three games, and tossed just one touchdown. Add in no scores and three picks in a loss to division rival Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, and it was a bad all-round run for the rookie. Again, he was a rookie, but it was still a forgettable first experience in the playoffs.
His second try didn't get much better in 2009, as Flacco went 4-for-10 with a pick in an opening round win over New England, and then ended the playoffs with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a divisional round loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
And now, where, in the 2011 NFL Playoffs, Flacco was riding an impressive season in which he threw 25 touchdown passes to 12 picks, and appeared to have made huge strides. He stepped up his game in a win over Kansas City, throwing multiple touchdowns in a playoff game for the first time in his career. It appeared a new Joe Flacco would be guiding this Baltimore offense. One that had even been dubbed Joe Montana's famous "Joe Cool" nickname.
But another tough battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers would put a quick end to those warm and fuzzy feelings about Flacco leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl. Despite a solid first half and a 21-7 lead, Flacco completed just 53 percent of his passes with one touchdown and a pick, while absorbing five sacks.
Let's go back and tally up those numbers. In seven playoff games, Flacco has a 4-3 record, which is respectable, but since swinging for the Super Bowl and missing in his rookie season, he's 1-1 in the playoffs the past two years, while throwing just four touchdowns to seven picks over his playoff career.
Yes, it's only been three years. And yes, Baltimore fans should still probably be excited about the future of Flacco and these still-fiery and talented Ravens. After all, Peyton Manning got off to a very slow start in terms of playoff success. So, too, did Drew Brees.
But those are the examples of success. The question, Baltimore fans, is what happens if Flacco just never gets it?
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