Is Joe Flacco an elite NFL quarterback? That's the question everyone is tossing around after the fourth-year QB led the Ravens on a last-minute touchdown drive in Sunday night's 23-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That’s a lot more fun than debating whether he deserves a big contract extension or hearing lunatics on talk radio say the Ravens are no better off with Flacco than they were with Kyle Boller, Stoney Case or Eric Zeier.
What we learned on Sunday night, besides that the Ravens proved definitively that they are better than the Steelers by sweeping the home-and-home series, is that Flacco is continuing in his evolution as a quarterback. For me, all the passes that hit the turf earlier this season and the fumbles that were swatted out of his hands will be overlooked, at least for now, after this one. His growth emotionally is what I choose to focus on.
(Now if he completes half of his passes or loses two fumbles in Seattle, I might choose to focus on that again.)
Flacco responded to adversity in the fourth quarter against the Steelers. He watched his defense squander a 10-point lead, the go-ahead touchdown a direct result of a Flacco fumble forced by James Harrison that gave the Steelers excellent field position and the Heinz Field crowd life. On the ensuing Baltimore drive, he threw three straight incompletions as the offense sputtered to a three-and-out. But Flacco got one more chance.
Ninety-two yards and a pair of touchdown passes later -- thank the football gods that Torrey Smith held on to the second one -- Flacco had beaten Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers for a second time in 2011.
"This Steelers-Ravens game is for men," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the dust cleared in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. "You've got to shine bright to win this game, and no one shined brighter than Joe Flacco."
Added Anquan Boldin, who led the Ravens with seven catches for 88 yards: "Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have.”
So is Joe Flacco an elite NFL quarterback? Well, that depends on your definition of elite.
For me, a quarterback has to produce on a consistent basis and own a Super Bowl ring to be considered elite (there are a few notable exceptions to my standard, with Dan Marino being one that quickly comes to mind). In my eyes, there are five elite quarterbacks right now (in no particular order): Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Eli Manning has a Lombardi Trophy but lacks consistency.
That elite status should mean something (sorry, John Clayton, but there aren’t 45 elite NFL quarterbacks).
Sunday night’s win, as big as it was for what Flacco and the Ravens hope to accomplish this season, doesn’t make Flacco elite in my book (read above). But it reaffirmed that he has the capacity to get the Ravens to a Super Bowl and win it. He has the physical tools. He has enough moxie. He just needs to put it all together for one magical month. Spending most of that magical month at M&T Bank Stadium would be advantageous.
Quarterbacks earn their reputations -- and those big-money contracts -- in January and February. This won’t be Flacco’s last chance to a win a Super Bowl by any means, but this season might be his best chance to date.