While Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens’ inspirational leader, their quarterback is etching himself a spot in the National Football League record book with one of the best postseasons in history.
Joe Flacco has passed for 853 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Ravens to wins against the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. He helped knock Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady out of the playoffs while establishing an NFL record with six career postseason road wins.
With a Super Bowl victory against the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3 in New Orleans, the 28-year-old Flacco would match Brady for the most playoff wins by a quarterback in his first five NFL seasons, with nine. Flacco already is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win at least one postseason game in each of his first five years in the NFL.
“Joe has transformed us in a lot of ways,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters yesterday after his team arrived in New Orleans. “It’s been a process and Joe has been hugely successful doing it. Everyone can see he’s a big strong guy, he can throw the ball, he’s accurate, he’s a tough competitor, he’s a winner, he’s a leader, and he’s ours.”
Flacco isn’t flashy or fiery. Flacco’s father called his son “dull” in an interview this week with the New York Times. In the postseason, however, Flacco has proven he’s a winner.
Flacco threw three second-half touchdown passes in the American Football Conference championship game to lift the Ravens to a 28-13 win in New England. It was the Patriots’ first loss in 68 home games in which they led at halftime with Brady at quarterback.
The only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw more touchdown passes than Flacco in a postseason without an interception are Hall of Fame members Joe Montana (11 in 1989) and Steve Young (nine in 1994).
“This is just one of those things you dream of when you are a little kid,” Flacco said. “You watch Joe Montana and those guys in the Super Bowl. So to be here is pretty special.”
Flacco and the Ravens still have their doubters and are listed by oddsmakers as 3 1/2-point underdogs against the 49ers, who are 5-0 in the Super Bowl and will be playing in the NFL’s title game for the first time since 1995.
The Ravens won their lone Super Bowl appearance after the 2000 season, when Lewis -- whose 17-year playing career at linebacker ends this weekend -- was voted the Most Valuable Player. Flacco at the time was in high school.
“This year, he took the next step in maturing as a man, and really understanding what a leader has to do,” Lewis said. “That’s why our offense is clicking the way it’s clicking, and that’s why Joe is playing the way Joe is playing.”
Flacco’s eight playoff victories are one more than the total wins his counterpart, the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, has in his debut season as a starter.
Kaepernick, 25, is the fourth quarterback to start a Super Bowl in the same season as his first NFL start, joining Brady, Kurt Warner and Vince Ferragamo. Kaepernick’s seven career regular-season starts are the third fewest by a Super Bowl quarterback -- only Jeff Hostetler and Ferragamo had fewer.
Even so, Kaepernick is the 7-4 favorite to win the MVP award, according to online sportsbook Bovada.lv. Flacco is the second choice with 11-4 odds, meaning a winning $100 wager on the Ravens quarterback would return a $275 profit. Quarterbacks have won five of the past six Super Bowl MVP awards, and 25 in the previous 46 years.
“We feel confident as a group,” Flacco said yesterday. “We can’t come in here and try to do too much or try to do what we’ve done in the past. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to play our game and be loose and we’ll be alright. That’s my mindset and I think that’s the mindset of our guys.”