I mean, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’d be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way. I mean, c’mon? That’s not really too tough of a question.
—Joe Flacco, Radio interview, April 3, 2012
In the days that followed that interview, the quiet kid from Audubon, New Jersey was the talk of the league for all the wrong reasons. In a quarterback’s league dominated by Brady, Rodgers, Brees and the Mannings, Flacco was always an afterthought. His stats were incomparable with those of the elite group, and his personality, like Eli’s at times, always failed to inspire confidence. But above all, each of those five signal-callers had accomplished something that Flacco had failed to achieve: a Super Bowl Championship.
So why would he say such a thing?
Ten months later, we have our answer. Sunday night was a “f***in’ awesome” one for the Ravens QB, as he finally got his moment of glory. Flacco made throws that justified his self-proclaimed elite status, and led the Ravens to a 34-31 win over the 49ers. His laid-back demeanor proved impenetrable, and his poise impeccable. He made clutch 3rd-down throw after clutch 3rd-down throw, and was named MVP of Super Bowl XLVII. And when the moment came to savor the achievement, Flacco stood there for an extra second or two with the Lombardi trophy held aloft, on top of the podium, and on top of the world, to make sure his critics — and boy, has he had a lot of them — know one thing, and one thing only: They were wrong.
The idea of a quarterback being a “winner” is extremely overrated. Obviously there’s no more important man on a football team, but to place a win or a loss on one of 53 players is simply illogical. A QB who throws for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception and whose team wins 13-9 is in no way better than the one who throws for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-42 loss. A defense can carry a quarterback almost just as far as the latter can carry the former; the influence of a great offensive line compared to a poor one is immeasurable; and the importance of a balanced offense is seen throughout the NFL on a weekly basis.
My argument is that a team can win despite poor QB play — maybe not consistently, but nonetheless, it can. This was always the argument against Flacco — that is, that the Ravens were all about Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and a great defense, and the QB only had to be a “winner,” which in this case is a euphemism for “mediocre”. But what I’m here to say is that was never the case.
As I said, the term “winner” is overused, but the term “clutch” is most certainly not. Flacco, who stands at 6’6”, 245 pounds with a monster arm, has never been the most consistent of gunslingers, nor has he been able to get the most out of his physical ability. But when it counts, he is always at his best.
Most of the criticism was a result of his first few years in the league. As a rookie leading his team to the AFC Championship game, and in the year or two that followed, Flacco was clearly in over his head. Flacco’s performance during those years gave him the reputation of a game manager, or, more bluntly, a below average quarterback who was holding back a great team. This idea lingered, and blinded the media and football fans across the country to his development. Criticism kept raining down on the Joe Flacco, who couldn’t be trusted to throw the ball on 3rd & 12 from his own 15, when in reality that Joe Flacco no longer existed. The old Joe Flacco had morphed into the one that outplayed Tom Brady (two years in a row) and Peyton Manning in the playoffs, yet few people recognized the transformation.
Now, the world sees clearly. Now, they see the Joe Flacco who was overflowing with ability, yet contained by a conservative offense and a couple subpar offensive coordinators. Now, they see the Joe Flacco who completed a season series sweep of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a last minute 92-yard drive and a game-winning 26-yard strike to Torrey Smith with time running out. And now, Joe Flacco is in Disney World — alongside Mickey Mouse, and alongside Manning, Rodgers, and Brees — and his critics can do nothing but eat their words, and admit defeat.
Joe Flacco, the newest member of that elite group, has arrived.