“People watch him saunter up to the center, all unemotional,” Keeler said. “It’s not no emotion. It’s just that he’s done everything in his power to prepare. If he’s successful, that’s great. If he’s not, okay. He puts himself in position where there’s no pressure on himself.”
Because there is so much argument over the quality of Flacco’s play, there also is argument about the demeanor that precedes it. As calm as Brady, for instance, appears in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, his fire can be unmistakable on the sideline in his interactions with teammates. Yet when Flacco enters the huddle, it could be the first quarter or the fourth, the Ravens could be leading or trailing. How to tell?
“No matter how big the game is,” 17-year veteran linebacker Ray Lewis said, “the game never gets too big for Joe.”
His playoff performances speak to that. Last year, he became the first quarterback to win a postseason game in each of his first four seasons. This year, he extended that streak to five. In the six playoff games he has played over the past three seasons, he has posted a quarterback rating of higher than 95 five times.
“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,” Flacco said. “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.”
There is, the Ravens believe, enormous value in that.
“It’s got to be a good thing to be even-keeled at that position,” Harbaugh said. “And, when you look at the guys who have played the position over the years — you can go back and look at all the great quarterbacks — not too many of the great ones didn’t have that. They managed to slow it down in the biggest situations and apply fundamentals and technique and reads.”
With the Ravens needing a touchdown and facing third down, Flacco lined up with the fleet Smith to his left, the swift Jacoby Jones to his right, and bought time. Before the game, Lewis, the face of the Ravens for their entire existence, had done his best to formally pass on the job of team leader to Flacco, playfully punching him, telling him it was his time.
“Anytime somebody like that comes up to you — a leader like that, a guy that’s had so much success in this league and is so loved by so many people,” Flacco said, “it’s obviously pretty cool.”
With that as the backdrop, Flacco let the ball loose, toward the streaking Jones to his right. Advanced statistics show he had earned the right to be as comfortable in such a situation as any quarterback in the league. In 2012, only New Orleans’s Brees piled up more than Flacco’s 40 completions of 25 yards or more. According to Pro Football Focus, 17.3 percent of Flacco’s pass attempts targeted a receiver more than 20 yards downfield — the highest percentage in the league — and yet he has not thrown an interception on such a pass. He had connected on a 59-yard touchdown to Smith earlier in the game.