The pressure was on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco all week leading up to the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
Whether it was local sports talk radio, the National media or even his own free safety, Flacco was a frequent target of critics and viewed by many as the Ravens’ biggest liability against the Patriots.
Without a doubt, the critics said, Flacco could not go toe-to-toe with future hall of famer Tom Brady. Instead, as he’s done time and again when under the most off-the-field pressure, Flacco delivered an outstanding performance. There’s no question he outplayed Brady and put the Ravens in prime in position to advance to the Super Bowl.
Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns and engineered a last-minute, 65-yard drive that appeared to set up a game-tying field goal for kicker Billy Cundiff. But Cundiff’s kick from 32-yards out with 11 ticks remaining in regulation sailed wide left, and the Ravens suffered a bitter 23-20 defeat.
“In that last drive, not one guy doubted what Joe was going to be able to do,” linebacker Ray Lewis said, via CSNBaltimore.com. “And for Joe to march the ball down the field, with all the hoopla all week … Joe played his tail off.”
“Y’all saw what he did,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We knew he was an outstanding player. He silenced his critics.”
After a shaky start–Flacco was 1-for-3 with two sacks on the Ravens’ first three positions (all three-and-outs)– Flacco kicked into gear, completing passes into small windows and made several clutch third-down throws that extended drives.
“I don’t know if I will ever prove everything,” Flacco said. “That’s not up to me. My job is to out there and play and give our team the best shot to win.”
Flacco’s first touchdown strike, a six-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, came after Flacco scrambled out of trouble. His second touchdown pass, a short screen pass to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, which went for 29-yards, highlighted an 11-play, 78-yard drive in which Flacco was a perfect three-for-three on third downs.
Flacco had two plays that he will certainly wish he could use a mulligan on.
The first, a 42-yard bomb that he completed to Smith late in the first quarter. Smith had a step on the Patriots’ defensive backs, but the ball was under thrown and Smith had to come back for the ball and make the catch while falling to the ground. Had Flacco hit the speedy wide receiver in stride, Smith would have sprinted into the end zone for a sure touchdown. Instead, the drive would later stall, resulting in a 20-yard field goal by Cundiff early in the second quarter.
The second, was a pass down the middle of the field that was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Spikes at the Patriots’ 31-yard line.
Overall, the mistakes were few and far between for Flacco, who outplayed Brady on the next biggest stage to the Super Bowl.