OWINGS MILLS, Md. – At this point, a duel with a future Hall of Fame quarterback is just part of the playoff routine for Joe Flacco.
A week ago he stunned the Broncos and a rejuvenated Peyton Manning with a 70-yard game-saving bomb in the divisional round and on Sunday he’ll face the Patriots and the surgical Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game. And even that’s old hat.
He saw them both in the 2009 season playoffs.
Just a year ago, he was in this same situation, leading the Ravens into Gillette Stadium with a chance to reach his first Super Bowl, and just the second in franchise history. He went 22 of 36 that day with 306 yards, two touchdowns, and a 95.4 passer rating, and marched the Ravens on their final possession into position to win or at least tie, but left with his head hanging because of a dropped pass and then a missed field goal.
The only postseason scenario he hasn’t experienced is Super Bowl Sunday, which is why he’s relatively stoic going into this weekend.
“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,’’ said Flacco. “There’s no need to blow it out of proportion and get overwhelmed by that kind of thing. I think when you have that mind-set, it is easy to go out there and stay calm and play in that moment.’’
Few other NFL signal-callers have the playoff experience Flacco’s gained in such a short career. No other quarterback has been to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, and the only quarterbacks with more playoff wins than Flacco’s seven over their first five seasons are Tom Brady (nine) and Ben Roethlisberger (eight).
Still, almost every year, there’s been a Brady or a Manning or a Roethlisberger in the way. When discussing elite quarterbacks, they are the names by which Flacco is measured.
A year ago, there were critics inside his own locker room. Safety Ed Reed criticized Flacco the week of the AFC Championship game. This season, though, Flacco threw for a career-high 3,817 yards, tied a career low with 10 interceptions, and orchestrated four winning drives, including last week in Denver.
His receivers don’t question his ability.
“If you look at his track record, the way that he’s played — especially on the big stages — it’s easy to see why we consider him our franchise quarterback,’’ said wideout Anquan Boldin. “I’ve never played with a guy with that much talent. I’m talking about physically. I think Joe is able to make any throw on the field. Talk about making big-time throws, the deep ball, he does it all.’’
More than that, they don’t question his temperament.
“He’s even-keeled,’’ said Dennis Pitta, who became one of Flacco’s favorite targets this season, setting the team record for touchdowns by a tight end with seven. “He’s always poised, he stays confident, and we have 100 percent trust in him — especially in the critical moments. In these critical games in the playoffs, we know he’s going to come up huge for us.’’
See you later?
John and Jim Harbaugh were in the same situation last year, coaching for a chance to meet in the Super Bowl. John said he’ll have an eye on Jim’s 49ers in the NFC title game against the Falcons as he prepares for the late game. “I’m sure I’ll see the score for the game and everything,’’ said the Ravens coach. “I’ll be pulling hard for the 49ers. I can’t get emotionally wrapped up in that stuff. He’s the toughest competitor that I have ever seen. I’ve had to compete with him and deal with him since he was born. He’s a handful.’’ . . . While explaining how much of a challenge Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork will pose, Ravens running back Ray Rice mentioned how much leverage Wilfork is able to get because of his lack of height, then thought about his own 5-foot-8-inch frame, stopped himself, and said, “Who am I to call somebody short?’’ . . . Tight end Alex Silvestro caught on with the Ravens after being cut by the Patriots at the end of October. “It’s been good,’’ he said. “As long as I’m playing football.’’