I was given sage advice almost eight years ago, advice I wish I had been given years before. As a public service to Joe Flacco today, I am paying it forward: It’s not your job to worry about what other people think about you. It’s your job to worry about what you think about you.
Maybe his contract year is weighing on the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, especially after Flacco’s agent said in September, “My biggest negotiating tactic is his play on the field.”
Maybe there is a ton of a pressure on the quarterback of a franchise that needs its 25th-ranked defense to be bailed out by the offense when it has always been the other way around in Baltimore.
Either way, here’s my belief of why Flacco’s ascent to top-five quarterback hasn’t happened: He obsesses too much about being considered by others among the best instead of actually just going out and becoming that guy. He wants Tom Brady- and Aaron Rodgers-type affirmation without either of their résumés.
“I mean, I think I’m the best,” Flacco said when asked where he ranks in the NFL this past offseason. “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.”
Premier quarterbacks in this league don’t have the abysmal road performances Flacco has had this season, including a bang-up 55.6 QB rating at Kansas City. They don’t lose at home to Steelers’ last-ditch quarterback Charlie Batch, who last started in the NFL in, like, 1947. They don’t, on fourth and 29 with the game on the line, check down a dump-off pass to Rice, who saved Flacco from professional incineration by somehow getting 30 yards in the greatest play of this regular season, RGIII’s run against the Vikings included.
This is all you have to know about how many rungs Flacco has climbed on the Best-Quarterback-in-the-Game ladder this season:
One guy leads a 9-3 team onto FedEx Field on Sunday and his counterpart behind center leads a 6-6 team. And nobody but a politically correct John Harbaugh would take the 9-3 guy over the .500 rookie for the Washington Redskins.
More than speaking to Robert Griffin III’s early brilliance and long-term upside, it speaks to Flacco’s inability to be viewed as a premier NFL quarterback 12 games into his fifth season.
Leadership is such an intangible, especially if you haven’t been in an NFL huddle. But at the same time, there are things you can sense. When teams belonging to Brady, Rodgers and Peyton Manning trail by less than a touchdown in the final minutes, the opponent’s defense and fan base are instantly on their heels, wary of what’s going to happen.
If the Ravens trail your team by more than a field goal and Flacco is under center, there isn’t half that concern. Mr. Uninspiring might be strong, but if Flacco was my guidance counselor in high school, I don’t know if I would have graduated.
All right, that’s mean. I know. He will take his team to its fifth straight postseason. He already has been to two AFC championship games. He was a millisecond away from changing the arc of his career in January, nearly driving the Ravens to a victory over the Patriots and a berth in the Super Bowl. When his apparent touchdown pass to Lee Evans was knocked out, Flacco wound up on the wrong side of the fine line in sports — again.
As my friend Ross Tucker, the former NFL lineman who does an ESPN.com podcast and works an analyst for the NBC Sports Network, says, “You’re wrong about Flacco.”
“If you look, the guy has won a playoff game every single year,” Tucker said Friday on the WJFK (106.7 FM) radio show I co-host with Chris Johnson. “He’s the only quarterback to have done that [in his first four seasons]. You look at the throws that he makes, the deep throws, his arm strength. I think what bothers you about him are two things. One bothers me about him, the other one doesn’t.
“I really don’t care for his pocket presence at times. I feel that there are times when he should move around the pocket better, he should get rid of the ball. The other part of it is the elite thing. I’ve actually asked him about that, and he said to me, ‘Ross, what do you want me to say? They keep asking me whether or not I’m elite. I never bring it up.’ Everybody at that level thinks they’re elite, and if you ask them, what are they going to say?”
Qadry Ismail, the former Ravens receiver and now an analyst with the team, said Flacco has many alibis for an uneven season. But Ismail added, “He’s had some games where you’re like: ‘okay, you said in the beginning of the year that you wanted the ball in your hands come crunch time. You said in the beginning of the year you were that guy that was going to lead this ballclub.’ No one put those words in his mouth. And at the same time you have had those games, where you as the leader of the offense . . . the offense has disappeared.”
The Ravens have a big decision on their hands. Do they pay top-five or top-10 quarterback money for a guy who currently has a No. 20 passer rating — behind Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer, who has recently been more of a game manager than game-changer?
Or do they factor in Flacco’s playoff history, the fact that his up-and-down performances have mirrored his team, that of a survivor, again headed toward the postseason?
Whichever they decide, I’m not asking him if he’s a top-five quarterback; I’m waiting on him to become that guy.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.