FOXBORO, Mass. — Joe Flacco still thinks he’s an elite quarterback in the NFL, even though the overwhelming opinion is to the contrary. But while he may not yet deserve admittance into that selective group, he’s definitely verging on the edge.
Flacco’s regular season numbers won’t blow you away like Drew Brees or Matthew Stafford. He’s never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season or even approached 30 touchdowns. He’s never been selected to a Pro Bowl or made an All-Pro team. But even without the padded stats or bookshelves stocked with trophies and accolades, he’s got plenty that should scare the Patriots entering Sunday’s title game.
First and foremost is his résumé. He’s made the playoffs in each of his five NFL season and, with two wins already this postseason, he became the first quarterback to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. To top it all off, Sunday will mark Flacco’s third AFC Championship Game, which in comparison to Tom Brady‘s seven may seem trivial but is still three more than a lot of good quarterbacks could ever say.
Those winning ways are often times attributed to the impressive consistency and dominance of the Ravens’ defense, but Flacco’s been a big part of Baltimore’s playoff pie for a few years now. After a troublesome start to his postseason career, Flacco developed into a reliable and dangerous passing threat and he just continues to grow. If you’re still not convinced, just go back and take a look at what he did to the Broncos’ secondary last weekend — yeah, that good.
Through his first two trips to the postseason, Flacco threw only one touchdown compared to five interceptions in five games. But he’s improved dramatically during his past three trips to the championship tournament. In six playoff games since the start of the 2010 season, he’s thrown 12 touchdown passes to just two interceptions and has consistently exploited opposing defenses vertically.
Flacco’s 331 yards and three touchdowns against Denver were a prime example of his ability with the deep ball, but the Ravens’ 31-30 win over the Patriots in Week 3 was just as telling and the guys in that secondary are well aware.
“I think the biggest thing is understanding how strong Flacco’s arm is because I think we already know how fast some of the receivers are over there,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. ” When you see a guy make the plays he made last week, with I think a little over a minute left it was 70, 80 yards — to make that play down the field is big. I think he’s clutch and he makes plays for them.”
McCourty knows all too well how dangerous Flacco’s arm strength can be. After all, Flacco tore up the Patriots for a season-high 382 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Ravens’ Week 3 win, including a few big passes to beat McCourty over the top. That game, most known for the controversial last-second field goal that gave Baltimore the win, seemed to be the formal introduction to the Patriots’ secondary problems as well as the new and improved Flacco.
Since, Flacco has exerted more confidence throwing that deep pass and he’s established an important connection with the speedy Torrey Smith. But the Patriots’ secondary is much improved since their early-seasons struggles, and the addition of Aqib Talib has been a major aspect to that revival. Yet, even Talib respects Flacco’s ability to beat them deep.
“That arm strength, he has a really strong arm,” Talib said, shaking his head in acknowledgement. “He can make all the throws around the field.”
Those passes are exactly what the Patriots need to avoid on Sunday, as they square off with the Ravens for a third time in the last 12 months, and Talib’s ability to contain Smith and Anquan Boldin will play a big part.
Flacco may not demand the same amount of respect as Peyton Manning, who he got the better of last weekend, or Brady, who he outplayed in last season’s AFC title game, but he’s undoubtedly asserted his presence as a viable threat and one the Patriots must beware of.
Flacco won’t enter Foxboro on Sunday and single-handedly take down the Patriots, but if they can’t limit his chances downfield then he’ll definitely put the Ravens in a strong position to get Ray Lewis back to the big dance.