FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady has long been viewed as an elite quarterback. Even Ray Lewis referred to Brady as “one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history” after Sunday’s AFC Championship win. But Joe Flacco proved yet again Sunday why he too deserves that title.
Flacco outplayed Brady in last year’s AFC Championship Game loss, and he one-upped the great No. 12 yet again this year, throwing a trio of touchdown passes. This time, the Ravens came out victorious. With the win, Flacco set a new postseason mark with his record sixth road playoff victory, and he clinched his first ever trip to the Super Bowl.
Beyond the obvious feats, Flacco also accomplished something that only one other quarterback — Mark Sanchez, if you can believe it — has ever done by beating both Peyton Manning and Brady in the same postseason. His gutsy efforts in both wins, and knack for playing his best in the biggest moments, have also established him as maybe the most clutch quarterback in football today (Eli Manning, you are acknowledged).
“For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row — [Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, Brady’s a great quarterback, all those guys are great players,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the win. “But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years. But to do it this year, on this stage, and to have the success he’s had….”
During his past seven postseason games, Flacco has been impressively poised and astonishingly efficient, throwing 15 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions and leading the Ravens to a 5-2 record. This postseason, he’s performed even better, throwing eight touchdowns. A fumble in Denver marks his lone giveaway of the three-game stretch.
On Sunday, Flacco was a cool operator once again and remained confident as Baltimore pulled off its second comeback win in as many weeks. The win over the Broncos last weekend came with a little bit of luck as well as a lot of Flacco magic, but scoring 21 unanswered points to complete a championship game win over the Patriots just confirmed his growing legend and status as a premier quarterback in the league.
Now, as the Ravens prepare for their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season, Flacco looks primed to take on the challenge of the big game and finish off what’s been a remarkable journey for the Ravens and a poetic “last ride” for retiring linebacker Ray Lewis.
“I’m a little biased, because I’ve always been a Joe Flacco fan,” Lewis said. “For Joe to do the things he did coming into this business his first five years — he’s the winningest quarterback, I think, in playoff history on the road. That speaks volumes, because that means he always kept his head on the prize.
“He played his butt off again today, and he was one of the biggest reasons why we’re here today.”
Lewis and the Ravens’ defense did quite the number on Brady and the potent Patriots’ attack in the second half, holding them scoreless. But Flacco’s will and desire to see them through is what ultimately drove them to victory.
The 49ers are up next on the slate, in the biggest game of Flacco’s life. The questions surrounding him will likely only continue over the next two weeks. But while “experts” continue to deny him his due, Flacco continues to prove time and again just how deserving he is of that “elite” tag.
The respect may not be fully there yet, but it should be. And in two weeks’ time, Flacco will prove yet again just how clutch he can be and take that elusive elite title once and for all.