Tribute To A Title: Ravens Postseason MVP: QB Joe Flacco
By Joe Platania
In the immediate future, the biggest concern for the Ravens is to get quarterback Joe Flacco's signature on a piece of paper.
In the immediate past, one of the biggest memories of the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning season is the signature Flacco wrote in NFL postseason history.
Flacco, PressBox's choice for the Most Valuable Player of the Ravens' postseason, finished his fifth season with the kind of flourish that had been expected since his first.
Taking chances with his rocket-like arm and using his myriad of targets expertly, Flacco -- the team's top free-agent priority, who could be hit with the franchise tag if a long-term deal is not readily forthcoming -- threw 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions during four postseason games, a feat only Joe Montana, one of Flacco's boyhood heroes, has duplicated. Flacco completed 58 percent of his postseason passes, got sacked just six times and had a passer rating of 117.
On top of that, starting during the second half of a regular-season loss to Denver, Flacco unleashed 195 consecutive pass attempts without a pickoff. That streak would have been a single-season club record if it had taken place entirely during the regular season. The interception against the Broncos, which Chris Harris ran back 98 yards for a touchdown, left Flacco bloodied, but unbowed as ever.
"I'm pretty much the same," Flacco said. "I've been pretty much the same guy all along. I think, obviously, as you get guys around you and you mature a little bit, you become better and better, and that's the only way to stay on top of your game is to continuously get better. But, that was just one of those games that didn't go our way. ...
"It was just one of those things, and it may look like a turning point, but I think our team was playing pretty well, even during that stretch when we lost some of those games, and sometimes they get blown out of proportion."
Previous playoff successes notwithstanding, a 16-game campaign that featured career highs for Flacco in passing yards and completions -- not to mention only one multi-interception game, at Houston -- would not have been as meaningful without the ultimate postseason triumph.
But even with the obligatory Disney World trip, symbolic of being the Super Bowl MVP, Flacco has continued to stay grounded, even after taking his franchise higher than it had been during the previous 12 years.
"Hey, if you say there's going to be some kind of celebrity with it, I'm cool with that," Flacco said the morning after the Super Bowl. "But I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable with it. I kind of like to go about my business. The people in Baltimore have always been great, so it'll be cool to go back there and just kind of see their reaction that our whole team gets when we get back there."
To say the least, Flacco and his teammates were practically showered with adulation from more than 200,000 fans along the downtown Baltimore parade route and at M&T Bank Stadium as the city celebrated Charm City's third Super Bowl title.
The way Flacco has learned to play the position at the professional level has changed him as a quarterback, as well as his team's overall approach.
While playing at the University of Delaware, Flacco wasn't asked to perform all the duties expected from an NFL starter. He threw mainly out of the shotgun formation and played pitch and catch against defensive schemes that were not nearly as complicated as those at the highest level.
Once in the pros, Flacco displayed some of the occasional inconsistency that frustrated Ravens fans weary of seeing the same from Kyle Boller the previous five years.
As had been the case earlier during the decade, the Ravens' defense occasionally had to bail out the team when it found itself in jams.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame-caliber defensive players, such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, were advancing in age. In 2012, an injury bug also took hold on that side of the ball, as the Ravens' younger defenders found themselves adjusting to getting more playing time than they had probably expected.
The Ravens' plan to have Flacco and the offense take over the leadership mantle from the defense was accelerating at a pace faster than the team could handle at first. But everything seemed to come together at just the right time.
A change of offensive coordinators from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell led to a play-calling mixture that kept defenses guessing and gave Flacco more time to pick them apart. As a result, the team's run-pass ratio improved markedly, from minus-150 during the regular season to a plus-7 during the playoffs.
It culminated with a 35-run, 35-pass performance against San Francisco (including two sacks allowed). But also characteristic of the improvement was Flacco's ever-increasing willingness to take chances in the pocket and throw the ball into ever-tightening windows.
Football observers will spend a long time talking about the third-and-inches audible during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, which resulted in a fade pass to Anquan Boldin and led to a crucial field goal. Head coach John Harbaugh said the throw proved Flacco had the guts of a burglar.
But the coach also said the innate tension of the game and the pressure of a Super Bowl are things that don't bother Flacco.
"He's a guy that no matter what happens, no matter what criticism he felt in front of him, no matter what disappointments he might have, he steps up and he bounces back and he comes back and goes to work," Harbaugh said. "I think he'll be the same with this success. I think he'll be right back there in [organized team activities] and mini-camps.
"He'll be going to work just like, maybe, we had lost this game. He'll be just as motivated and just as determined. That's one of the things that makes him great."
"No doubt about it," he said. "I don't think we ever lost faith that this was where we were going to be. This has been a long journey, and I don't think it would be quite as enjoyable as it would be if we hadn't gone through all this stuff that we've been through in the last couple years, this year.
"So, I think we kept the faith all along, and this is where we envisioned ourselves, and I think that's why we're here."
And if Flacco signs that beckoning piece of paper dangling in front of him -- as the adoring fans at the Super Bowl celebration hope he does -- he'll extend his run in Baltimore.
Issue 182: February 2013