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Joe Flacco has struggled throughout his career to establish himself. His perfomance the rest of the way could define him forever.
To some, Joe Flacco is on the verge of being an elite quarterback. To others, he'll never be more than a game manager.
The Ravens won Superbowl XXXV with Trent Dilfer, who was widely considered to be a game manager. In 2000, that's all Baltimore needed, as their defense was so overpowering. But, the game has changed considerably in the last 11 years, and a stifling defense alone is no longer enough to win in today's NFL.
Dilfer called Flacco's game-winning drive the defining one of his career to this point. He couldn't be more right.
His 92-yard journey down the field last night could either be the beginning of a new chapter in Flacco's career, or just another ho-hum moment in what has been a generally inconsistent career for the former first-round pick. Flacco has been as successful as any of his predecessors in purple, save for the Lombardi trophy that only Dilfer has been able to bring home.
For the first time, though, Flacco looked absolutely brilliant when it mattered the most. All too often, Flacco has been the center of attention for the wrong reasons: throwing key interceptions or fumbling the ball at the absolute worst moment. Many of those blunders have come against the Steelers, especially in Pittsburgh.
As a rookie, he threw the game-ending pick to Troy Polamalu that propelled Pittsburgh to a Superbowl title. Last year in Week 13, he lost the ball and the game, again to Polamalu. That fumble came back to bite Baltimore when they left Pittsburgh empty-handed again after another playoff loss a few weeks later.
After finally overcoming Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger on the road, and for the second time this season, Flacco could finally be on his way to the elite status that many expected he'd reach by now.
All that depends on how he performs the rest of the way, though. Like the rest of his team, Flacco has proven nothing unless he comes out strong in Seattle. He has another opportunity to shine in prime time on Thanksgiving night, where the storylines will be too numerous to count with the San Francisco 49'ers in town.
Since Week 2, Flacco has had alternate games of sub-200 and 300-plus yard performances. He threw for 197 yards coming off the win over Pittsburgh in Week 1, then torched the Rams for 389 yards the following week. The peaks and valleys have continued throughout the rest of the year, but Flacco didn't have a defining moment like he did in Pittsburgh this week.
In just under two-and-a-half minutes, Flacco potentially began to erase some of his consistency woes. He finished the game 7-for-13, and would have had better numbers, were it not for a few dropped passes by Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
If Flacco can overcome the hangover after such a tremendous performance this week, he'll put himself and the Ravens in a position to move closer to that consistently elusive elite status.