Joe Flacco: Elite Quarterback? Maybe

For ten straight Super Bowls, the winning quarterback was a Hall of Fame player.

Both Peyton and Eli Manning won titles; Eli actually won two. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger each captured two of their own Lombardi Trophies. Even Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers qualify as elite quarterbacks who will one day see their bust in Canton.

This year was different. Regardless of which team won, Super Bowl XLVII would be the dawning of a new era in the NFL.

Enter Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick. One, Kaepernick, was starting only his tenth NFL game ever. For years, the status quo for young NFL quarterbacks was after they are drafted they sat on the bench for several seasons to “learn” the position. On occasion a franchise-type quarterback started in their rookie season, such as Peyton Manning in 1998. To start as a rookie and succeed, even make the playoffs, was almost unheard of.

Not anymore. This season alone not one, not two, but three rookie QBs guided their teams to the playoffs. And if you include Kaepernick, four first-year starting QBs made the playoffs. And not since Tom Brady had a first-year starter made the Super Bowl.

Then there is Joe Flacco. It’s not that he is boring; it’s just that he often appears apathetic to himself. Drafted 18th out of Delaware, Flacco found himself starter to open the 2008 season. The problem is, Flacco plays in the AFC where the triumvirate of Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger have been dominant for a decade. No matter how many yards passing he had, or touchdowns he threw, he remained out of the conversation for top quarterbacks. Not even becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to win a postseason game in each of their first three seasons could elevate him into the debate.

This year, Joe Flacco was put together another solid season, throwing for 3, 817 yards with 22 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions to go along with an AFC North title and playoff berth. And this year, as the playoffs arrived and temperatures dropped, Flacco turned up his game. In the Wild Card Round against the Indianapolis Colts, he threw two touchdowns. The next week he went into Denver and had a three touchdown performance in their Divisional Round matchup with the Broncos.

And so, the second consecutive year Baltimore would need to go through New England for the AFC Championship. The Patriots controlled the first half, but Flacco came out in the third quarter firing, driving the Ravens down the field before passing to tight end Dennis Pitta for the TD. The score gave Baltimore all of the points that they would need, but Flacco threw two more touchdown passes to receiver Anquan Boldin to cap the 28-13 victory and a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.

Two weeks later in New Orleans, San Francisco had no more success stopping Flacco than any of the three previous Raven’s opponents. The first half saw three Ravens touchdowns, all three on Flacco passes. Then came the reason the reason Super Bowl XLVII will be remembered, the kickoff return followed by Powergate 2013. First Jacoby Jones tied the NFL-record for longest kickoff return ever with a 108-yard return to open the second half. Then almost immediately afterwards came more than a thirty minutes delay due to a partial power outage, grinding the game to a halt.

And when the lights were turned back on, San Francisco made it a game. The Niners scored 17 points in a span of less than five minutes. Flacco’s response? He drove his team down into field goal range and set up kicker Justin Tucker at the start of the fourth quarter to push the Raven lead back to eight. Kaepernick runs for another touchdown making it a two-point game and Flacco calmly takes time off the clock setting Tucker up for another field goal, this time to make the lead five. Eventually, Baltimore would concede a safety and kick off as time expired.

For his efforts, Flacco was awarded the Super Bowl MVP Award, and he had quite a game. He completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts, threw three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Moreover, it capped a remarkable playoff run. Through the four games, Flacco threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, tying Joe Montana’s 1989 campaign for the greatest postseason ever.

The best possible news, for Flacco at least, is that he is a free agent. The debate of whom are the best quarterbacks rages on, but there is consensus that this offseason the best quarterback available is Joe Flacco. Meaning if the Ravens choose not to apply to franchise tag and pay him about $20 million, Flacco could well become one of the highest paid QBs in the game.

Does he deserve the money? Probably. Is he one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL right now? Likely top ten. But that’s just it. Flacco, even now is maybe a top ten quarterback. That puts him around the best third of the NFL, but far from elite. His skills make him more of a game manager than a field general. Without top receivers and a staunch defense, Flacco is simply an average quarterback. It is easy to bask in the post-Super Bowl glow, but a more measured approach is needed. A new era has dawned on the NFL; one where having a Hall of Fame quarterback is not a prerequisite to winning a championship. Joe Flacco is just the first.