And what did Flacco do? Ran down the frozen playing surface at Invesco Field, both index fingers extended into the air, emotion for everyone to see.
“It was obviously a pretty special moment, and we were pretty excited about it,” Flacco said flatly a few days later. “It won’t mean anything come this week.”
No longer struggling
Given where the Ravens sit now, having shredded Denver for five touchdowns and rolled into the AFC championship game, it seems impossible that, a month ago, they were flailing. Five times in seven games, Flacco had failed to pass for 200 yards. Following an overtime loss at Washington, the team fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron — the only coordinator of Flacco’s pro career — and replaced him with Jim Caldwell, the former Indianapolis head coach who was in his first year as Baltimore’s quarterbacks coach.
“For me, I’ve always said this offense goes as Joe goes,” running back Ray Rice said.
On Dec. 16, in Caldwell’s first game as coordinator, the Ravens trailed Denver at home, 10-0, just before halftime. After taking the snap at the Broncos 4-yard line, Flacco looked to his left, toward Boldin. Instead, he found Denver cornerback Chris Harris, who picked off the ball and ran the other way. Ninety-eight yards later, Harris was in the end zone, and Flacco was flat on his face, his diving attempt at a tackle woefully insufficient.
Since that day, Flacco has connected on seven touchdown passes and thrown zero interceptions. In victories over the New York Giants, Indianapolis and Denver (he played sparingly in the meaningless regular season finale against Cincinnati), he has averaged 307 yards passing.
The easy conclusion is that the interception against Denver turned the season around. Flacco isn’t into easy conclusions.
“It affected me right there,” Flacco said. “I was pretty unhappy about it. . . . [But] things like that happen, and you have to be willing to deal with it and come out and continue to play the way that you think you can.”
The way Flacco thinks he can play is every bit as well as any quarterback in the league, despite what fantasy drafters or radio callers suggest. Last spring, he created a stir when he told a Baltimore radio station that he believed he was the NFL’s top quarterback.
“I think I’m the best,” he said then. “I don’t think I’m top-five. I think I’m the best.”
“The thing about Joe is he’s never going to be politically correct,” said Keeler, his college coach. “He thinks he’s an elite quarterback, and he’s going to say that. He’s not going to think about the ramifications.”
In the week leading up to the AFC title game, Flacco downplayed the role Lewis’s retirement season is playing in Baltimore’s ride. He called the assumption that postseason games are played at a faster tempo “crap.” He carried himself in a manner worthy of the role he’s in: “The general,” Rice said.
“I don’t really do things I am not comfortable with doing,” Flacco said. “It’s just who I am.”
Who he is, on the football field, is still developing. Sunday, with a Super Bowl appearance at stake, will be another step in that process. In the offseason, he and the Ravens will enter contract negotiations. And the debate — what is Joe Flacco’s value? — will start again.