OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Maybe it’s going to take a trip to the Super Bowl to convince those outside the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room that Joe Flacco is an elite NFL quarterback.
Flacco is the only starting quarterback in NFL history to reach the postseason in each of his first five seasons. His 61 victories (including the postseason) are more than any NFL quarterback since the start of the 2008 season.
Flacco has won five road playoff games in his career, tied with Eli Manning for the most in NFL history. Joe Montana didn’t do it. Neither did Brett Favre, Steve Young, Troy Aikman or Peyton Manning.
Each of those greats, however, owns a Super Bowl ring. So does Tom Brady, who will lead the New England Patriots (13-4) in Sunday’s AFC championship rematch against the Ravens (12-6).
Flacco’s teammates don’t care about how his resume stacks up against the other greats in the game.
“That’s a question you guys have got to answer,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin told reporters this week. “He already has our respect.”
Flacco’s 7-4 record in the postseason speaks loudly about his ability to excel in big games. The former first-round draft pick out of Delaware outplayed Peyton Manning last weekend, throwing for 331 yards — including a 70-yard strike to Jacoby Jones in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime in a game the Ravens ultimately won 38-35.
The touchdown pass to Jones might have thrust Flacco into the discussion about whether he can stand among the elite.
“You go out there and you play to win the football game and some of the things that have been required to win these football games have maybe been a little bit over the top and a little abnormal,” Flacco said. “I would like to think that I go out there and play consistently and approach everything the same way. I think that’s been proved out. We win a lot of football games around here, and this is actually the third time I’m standing up here getting ready to play in an AFC championship game.
“It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.”
The guy is good. So far, not quite good enough to take his team to the Super Bowl. But he’s taken the Ravens to the brink, and hasn’t missed a start since earning the job as a rookie in training camp.
“We love Joe, have for a long time,” center Matt Birk said. “You’re always going to have naysayers out there, but we’re not concerned about that. The great thing about Joe is, neither is he. Joe is very comfortable with who he is and the type of player he is. That’s a great trait for a leader to have, especially a quarterback in the NFL.”
He’s got another great trait for a quarterback: The ability to throw the deep ball. Few have done it as well this season as Flacco, who has completed 46 passes of 25 yards or longer, including TD throws of 70, 59 and 32 yards last week in Denver.
Asked to describe Flacco’s deep ball, Jones replied, “It’s like a Starburst. It’s just juicy, man. It’s good. It’s like candy. Everybody likes candy.”
On the Ravens, it seems like everyone likes Joe.
“I’ve never played with a guy with that much talent; I’m talking about physically,” Boldin said. “I think Joe is able to make any throw on the field. Big-time throws, the deep ball, he does it all.”
Flacco is known among his teammates as Joe Cool because of his calm demeanor in the huddle and the pocket.
“He doesn’t flinch in any situation,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “That’s what we like about him. He’s the same, whether we’re doing well or bad, and you can trust a guy like that.”
When it’s time for business, Flacco doesn’t panic. Against Denver, he moved the Ravens 77 yards in 38 seconds with the game on the line.
“You all might think we’re lying about it, but I’m being so serious when I say that when we went to the huddle, no one doubted for a second that we (were) going to score,” Smith said. “Did we think it was going to be a 70-yard bomb? No. But no one panicked. It was just so calm in the huddle. It was like, ‘All right. Let’s go do it.’ And we got it done.”
Recalling the drive, Flacco said, “There’s no need to get all worked up over stuff like that when you know you have put all of your time, all of your effort into going out there and having fun and winning the football game. There’s no need to blow it out of proportion and get overwhelmed by that kind of thing. I think when you have that mindset, it is easy to go out there and stay calm and play in that moment.”
Flacco earned the Patriots’ respect in last year’s title game when he outplayed Brady and nearly pulled off an upset. Earlier this season, Flacco threw for 382 yards and three scores in Baltimore’s 31-30 win over New England.
“He’s tough to bring down, he stands in the pocket, he takes a hit, he gets up. That’s a tough football player,” Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork said. “When you have a quarterback like that, that’s special.”
Flacco’s rookie contract expires after this season. Regardless of what happens Sunday — and whether he gets a long-term deal or receives Baltimore’s franchise tag — he is due for a big payday in the months ahead. But Flacco has more pressing issues in mind this week.
“I’m sure it’s back there somewhere, but it’s not something I’ve really thought about or really considered,” he said.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has made his position clear: Pay the man.
“He is one of the toughest quarterbacks I have ever been around,” Harbaugh said. “He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever been around.”
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco reacts after running back Ricky Williams scored a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Baltimore, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)×
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