In the days leading up to the Ravens-New York Giants game this past December, one of the stories we explored doing was a comparison of both quarterbacks – Joe Flacco and Eli Manning – through their first five seasons.
Ultimately, we decided against it because, quite frankly, it appeared to be a little bit of a reach at the time.
Manning was already a two-time Super Bowl MVP, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a former No.1 overall draft pick and a member of football’s first family.
Flacco had never reached a Super Bowl and had never made a Pro Bowl. While Flacco was a first-round pick, he played at Delaware, which has a strong program but hardly the first place scouts look for NFL quarterbacks.
At the time, the Ravens and Flacco, in particular, were struggling. The Ravens had lost three straight games and Flacco had thrown interceptions each game and completed under 55 percent of his passes during that stretch. Less than two weeks earlier, Flacco’s long-time offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, was fired.
That’s why we ultimately scuttled the story. Then about a month and a half later, when the finest stretch of Flacco’s career ended with the Ravens beating the 49ers to win Super Bowl XLVII and the QB capturing MVP honors, we joked about our decision and how prescient we could have looked if we had written it.
Like Manning nearly did in his fourth NFL season in leading the Giants over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Flacco played a near flawless postseason. He threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions and was at his best in the biggest moments. In doing so, he won over Ravens fans, some of whom had questioned whether he was the guy to take the team to the NFL mountaintop. Manning heard the same questions before his first Super Bowl win, only louder in New York.
I bring this up now because defensive end Chris Canty, who signed with the Ravens in March after playing four seasons with Manning and the Giants, told Pro Football Talk last week that he’d take Flacco over Manning.
“He won a Super Bowl and he’s one of the best deep-ball passers in the NFL,” Canty said about Flacco during an in-studio appearance on the NBCSN show. “Take a look at the tape.”
Canty is now Flacco's teammate so his choice is going to be scrutinized from that perspective. But decide for yourself after looking at the numbers over their first five seasons:
THROUGH FIRST FIVE REGULAR SEASONSPlayer Starts Record Comp. Att. Comp% Yards TDs INTs
Flacco 80 54-26 1,507 2,489 60.5 17,633 102 56 Manning 71 42-29 1,276 2,284 55.8 14,623 98
CAREER PLAYOFF NUMBERSPlayer Starts Record Comp. Att. Comp% Yards TDs INTs
Flacco 13 9-4 207 373 55.5 2,672 19 8 Manning 11 8-3 219 356 61.5 2,516 17 8
To be fair – and these comparisons almost always aren’t – it has to be mentioned that Manning has two Super Bowl rings to Flacco’s one. Also, there is the matter of the Giants being so dependent on Manning’s right arm in recent seasons, while before the latter stages of this past season, the Ravens’ offense was more defined – and probably more fueled - by Ray Rice’s legs than Flacco’s arm.
Flacco, drafted 18th overall in 2008, also was the starter from Day One in Baltimore, while Manning, taken first overall in 2004 by the San Diego Chargers and then traded to the Giants, sat under Kurt Warner for the first half of his rookie campaign.
Still, it is interesting to at least look at their numbers side-by-side and now that Flacco has won a Super Bowl, the comparison isn’t a reach at all. In fact, I thought long before Flacco lit up the Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots and finally the 49ers, that the early part of his career was playing out in a similar manner to Manning’s.
Now, both are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks who are mentioned with – or right behind – the game’s elite at the position. Both are tough and durable, neither having missed a game since being installed as their team’s starters. The same characteristics and mannerisms that both were criticized for earlier in their careers – showing little emotion, not being extremely vocal, not being outspoken with the media – are now looked at as great strengths.
I asked Flacco about Manning before the start of last season and he was complimentary of the Giants quarterback, though he acknowledged that he didn’t know him well. However, Flacco was familiar with how Manning went from an often-criticized quarterback to the toast of his town by virtue of leading the Giants to a Super Bowl.
Flacco now can talk about that transformation firsthand.