NEW ORLEANS -- Whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback is a matter of opinion. Whether he is a championship quarterback is a matter of fact. The only quarterback in NFL history to take his team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, Flacco struck the mother lode Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where he led the Baltimore Ravens to a scintillating 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers">49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
En route to winning the MVP trophy, Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns -- all in the first half. He became the sixth player to join one of the NFL's most exclusive fraternities: active quarterbacks who have been a Super Bowl MVP. Move over Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Make room for your new fraternity brother.
After throwing a pick-6 and fumbling in the first half of a Dec. 16 loss to Denver, Flacco simply was unflappable. Over the next six games (two in the regular season and four in the postseason), he threw 15 touchdown passes and wasn't intercepted once. With 11 touchdowns, he tied Joe Montana's 1989 NFL postseason record for most passes without a pick.
"That's pretty cool," Flacco said upon hearing that achievement. "Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback. To be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool."
Montana, who won four Super Bowls and was a three-time Super Bowl MVP, was known as Joe Cool. Now you can pin that nickname on Flacco, who has started every game (93, including the postseason) since the Ravens drafted him in the first round (No. 18 overall) in 2008 out of the University of Delaware. After going through 15 starters in their first 12 years -- Vinny Testaverde, Scott Mitchell, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Kyle Boller, et al -- it's pretty plain that the Ravens finally have their man.
With Flacco throwing scoring passes to wide receiver Anquan Boldin (13 yards), tight end Dennis Pitta (1 yard) and wideout Jacoby Jones (56), who fell over backwards as he caught Flacco's rainbow inside the 10-yard line and then, untouched, scrambled to his feet and raced to the end zone, the Ravens took a 21-6 lead into halftime. And when Jones returned the second-half kickoff 108 yards to give Baltimore a 28-6 advantage, the Ravens looked like they were playing lights out.
A few minutes later, the lights really did go out. A power outage left the Superdome in darkness, and the game was delayed for 34 minutes -- a Super Bowl first. When play resumed, it was the 49ers who suddenly looked electrified.
Led by Colin Kaepernick, their wunderkind, second-year quarterback who was making only his 10th NFL start, the 49ers came back with a flurry of points. A 31-yard scoring reception by Michael Crabtree, a 6-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore, a 34-yard field goal by embattled veteran kicker David Akers and a nifty, 15-yard dash by Kaepernick cut the deficit to 31-29. The 49ers attempted a two-point conversion, but Kaepernick's pass failed.
"You've seen those guys do it," Flacco said about San Francisco's comeback. "They have the ability to score and score quickly."
Rookie Justin Tucker's 38-yard field goal made it 34-29 and gave Baltimore a bit of breathing room, but the throats of Ravens fans constricted when Kaepernick drove the 49ers to the 5-yard line when the two-minute warning came. Kaepernick's magic ran out, though as he threw three consecutive incompletions, turning the ball over to Baltimore. After an intentional safety from Baltimore punter Sam Koch, the 49ers had just four seconds to attempt a comeback.
Flacco made several big playsin the contest, including a 30-yard pass to Boldin on 3rd-and-7 from the Baltimore 36 in the first quarter when he scrambled to his right, looking like he would just throw the ball out of bounds. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh cited a third-down pass in the fourth quarter --a 15-yard completion to Boldin that kept alive a drive that ended in Tucker's field goal--as one of Flacco's boldest plays.
"Joe is phenomenal," Harbaugh said. "We are sitting at 3rd-and-six inches. Joe has three play options and he decides to throw the fade to Anquan. He throws it right on the money, and Anquan goes up and makes the play. To me, it shows you he has got guts. He has the guts of a burglar. He was doing it all night, making plays."
The victory earned the Ravens a bookend Lombardi Trophy to go with the one they won in Feb. 2001, when they beat the Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV. It gave John Harbaugh more family bragging rights over Jim Harbaugh, the coach of the 49ers, who is now 0-2 in head-to-head meetings with his slightly older brother. And it sent 37-year-old linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens' inspirational leader, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and the last player left from Baltimore's first Super Bowl championship, riding off into a celebratory retirement.
"No other way to go out and end a career," said Lewis, who came back from a torn triceps that forced him to miss the final 10 regular season games, but wound up with 51 tackles in four postseason games. "This is how you do it."
Even before Lewis announced his retirement just days before the playoffs began, the Ravens' leadership torch already had, in theory, been passed to Flacco. An oft-criticized player who seems to play at a good-but-not-great plateau during the regular season but excels in the money games, Flacco passed on a substantial contract extension offer by the Ravens before the season. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in a few weeks, but he'll never get to the open market. Steve Bisciotti called Flacco a franchise quarterback in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, and now the Ravens owner is going to have to put his money where his mouth is. Don't be surprised if Flacco winds up with a new contract that rises into the Drew Brees zone ($20 million per year).
"He did let me know that if the day came I could go beat on his desk and really put it to him," Flacco said of Bisciotti. "That's exactly what I'm going to do."
Pretty soon, Joe Cool is going to be Joe Rich.