“Who’s your quarterback?”
“Yeah, I know.”
Is that the way quarterbacks are judged? Maybe. But by January, fantasy seasons are over, and all that remains is reality. The AFC championship game is Sunday, and Joe Flacco is in it, facing off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for the second year in a row. Since Flacco entered the NFL in 2008, Brady has quarterbacked 53 victories, counting both the regular season and playoffs. Aaron Rodgers has overseen 57, Drew Brees 56. With the Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco has 61, more than any other quarterback.
Maybe that’s value.
“I’ve never played with a guy with that much talent,” veteran Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin said.
Why, then, does there seem to be this debate, even as Flacco approaches his third AFC title game in his five years in the NFL? In Baltimore and elsewhere, there is so much public discourse about Flacco’s game that it becomes repetitive, inescapable. “It’s frustrating, sometimes, to listen to a Baltimore radio station,” said K.C. Keeler, Flacco’s coach at the University of Delaware.
Keeler believes some elements of Flacco can’t be questioned. When Flacco’s career with the Blue Hens ended in 2007, after he took his team to the Football Championship Series national title game and made himself into a first-round draft pick, Keeler knew he had speeches to give all offseason — to his own team, to youth groups, to boosters. He wanted to, needed to, incorporate Flacco. So he asked his outgoing quarterback a simple question: “What made you great?”
Flacco thought about it, Keeler said, but not for long. “I’m not afraid to fail,” Flacco told Keeler.
“I really think that, in essence, is who Joe Flacco is,” Keeler said. “He’s not afraid to fail.”
There is, it turns out, value in that.
Saturday night lives
Whatever happens, Flacco and Baltimore will always have last Saturday night. He threw for 331 yards, more than in any of his 11 career playoff games. He completed three touchdown passes, another postseason high. He kept the Ravens alive long enough for the opposing quarterback, none other than Peyton Manning, to make the critical mistake at the crucial juncture.
“To see Joe have that kind of a game in that kind of an environment is something all of us who are in Joe’s corner knew was there,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said last week.
Those who are in Joe’s corner know, too, that the play that will be remembered from that 38-35, double-overtime victory in Denver is the kind of play Flacco can make perhaps better than any other quarterback in the league. With less than a minute remaining, the Ravens trailed by a touchdown. They had the ball at their 30. They had no timeouts.