You, too, can be a Super Bowl quarterback.
Here’s what you do: have a publicized hissy fit in which declare yourself elite. Raise eyebrows across the football world in the process.
Bumble through the following season amid a wave of relative mediocrity. Then, from out of nowhere, light up three opponents in the postseason and carry your club all the way to the biggest game in football.
See? It’s easy.
It worked for Eli Manning, who declared himself “elite” before the start of the 2011 season. And it’s worked for Joe Flacco here in the 2012 season.
The Ravens quarterback was asked where he ranked among the NFL’s quarterbacks back in August.
“I think I’m the best,” said Flacco amid a verbal dash of youthful bravado that seemed laughable at the time.
He lit up the Cincinnati Bengals during Baltimore’s 44-13 Week 1 victory on national TV (21 of 29, 299 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 128.4 rating), silencing the doubters at least momentarily. With his help, the Ravens quickly established themselves as Super Bowl favorites out of the gates.
Of course, you know what happened. Flacco fizzled and so, too, did the Ravens. The 9-2 team November ended up the 10-6 team entering January. The Ravens quarterback ended the season with an 87.2 rating, well below elite in today's game.
But Flacco is now the toast of the NFL, the highest rated passer in the 2012 postseason (9.2 YPA, 8 TD, 0 INT, 114.7 rating) and now, officially, he's the long-coveted franchise quarterback the Ravens have searched for since 1996.
He’s also something else: Flacco is the best big-game quarterback in the game today. It’s certainly not Peyton Manning, who fizzled out in the end as usual. It’s certainly not Tom Brady, who has guided some of the greatest offenses in regular-season history into some of the greatest no-show performances in postseason history.
Both future Hall of Famers were easily outgunned by Flacco, who looked like a youthful QB in his physical prime against two aging old warhorses in Baltimore’s two most recent playoff wins. And he looked like an unflappable, steady old veteran compared with overmatched rookie Andrew Luck in Baltimore’s wildcard win against the Colts.
Much has been made of the impact of Ray Lewis’s return to the Ravens and his emotional impact on the team since returning from injury for the postseason run.
But that emotion is bullsh*t. Oh, we don’t doubt that Lewis has a profound emotional impact and that his peers on the Ravens and around the NFL look up to Lewis, and even revere him.
But all the reverence in the world won’t help you win football games if your quarterback sucks the big one and throws two or three picks every playoff game.
Statistical proficiency always trumps emotion. You can win with proficiency and emotion, and you can win with just proficiency. But nobody wins purely on emotion, not in the NFL. The statistical signatures of victory are so easy to identify in the NFL and Flacco's Ravens are a near-perfect case study.
The reality is that the Ravens are rolling because Flacco is rolling, and right now he’s a giant avalanche statistical awesomeness trucking down the hill of big-game excellence and right into the Superdome.
Here’s Flacco’s performances in his last seven postseason games, a period during which the Ravens are 5-2, have reached consecutive AFC title games and now the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 seasons.
BAL 30, KC 7
PIT 31, BAL 24
BAL 20, HOU 13
NE 23, BAL 20
BAL 24, INDY 9
BAL 38, DEN 35
BAL 28, NE 13
There are a couple key numbers. The first is 15-2, an incredible TD-INT ratio that spells victory in any era by any quarterback. He’s topped a 95 rating in six of those seven games, and 100 in four of seven.
Now, here’s what’s most interesting statistical signature: Flacco has thrown just two INT in these seven games. No coincidence that it’s the two games that Baltimore lost.
The Ravens are 7-0 in the playoffs when Flacco does not throw a pick.
The Ravens are 1-4 in the playoffs when Flacco throws a pick. The lone win with a pick came against New England in the 2009 postseason, on a day when Flacco completed just four passes for 34 yards.
That’s how the NFL works: you lose games when your quarterback makes mistakes; you win games when he does not, especially in the postseason.
And right now the Ravens are the NFL’s reigning postseason dynamo because their quarterback does not make mistakes – while combining that care for the football with a devastating downfield passing attack (awesome 9.2 YPA here in the 2012 postseason).
Ray Lewis can dance all he want and serve as the emotional grandfather of the Ravens and the NFL in general.
But if the future Hall of Famer walks off the field hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in his final game – a la Jerome Bettis is Super Bowl XL – it won’t be because he led the Ravens with 11 tackles 6 yards down the field.
He’ll enjoy that career-capping moment thanks to Joe Flacco, the best big game quarterback in the NFL, right here, right now.