Historically, when we look back at the Baltimore Ravens triumphant march through the 2013 playoffs en route to their high drama victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, we will make one important parallel with the franchise’s first and only other Super Bowl trip back in 2001 as follows: In each of four consecutive playoff games culminating with the grandest showcase in all of sports, national consensus sided with the opposing team and not the Ravens as the favorite to win.
Twelve years ago this was largely explained by the fact that the Ravens were not equipped with a high powered offense, and even though they entered the playoffs winners of seven straight, surely without the ability to score points in a hurry or march down the field in the fourth quarter to tie a game, their favorable bounces and reliance on defense would have to reach an inevitable breaking point.
Despite this overwhelming national line of thought, that inevitable breaking point was never reached. Rookie Jamal Lewis unleashed pain upon the Broncos in Baltimore for two scores as the Ravens won their first ever playoff game. Next, reserve DB Anthony Mitchell returned a missed field goal for six points, and Ray Lewis ripped the heart from Eddie George for another touchdown in Tennessee. Tony Siragusa then knocked out Rich Gannon in Oakland, and elder statesmen Shannon Sharpe somehow went 96 yards on a short slant, and was literally pushed up-field by younger and faster wide-out Patrick Johnson.
The defense dominated, the Giants never had a chance, and the Ravens hoisted their first Lombardi trophy in Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXV. And how sweet it was…
This season, like the world we now live in, the reasons for surefire Ravens elimination predictions in each playoff game appear to be more complex than back at the turn of the century. From inside of Baltimore, we saw the team as one of the more talented squads in the NFL back in August, who started hot, sustained devastating defensive injuries, struggled through a tough stretch, made a long awaited coaching change, made a much needed offensive line change, returned players from injury at the right time, all to successfully achieve an upwardly mobile team trajectory heading into the postseason. The road games would be challenging, but we believed they would be victories, especially considering the devastation of last season’s heartbreak in Foxborough.
Outside of Baltimore and Ravens nation, national media outlets were quick to forget about the preseason consensus that the Ravens would be a top offense this year, and too easily let fall by the wayside Joe Flacco’s stellar performance against the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship. Flacco and the offense boldly reminded these critics, as he put together one of the best quarterback performances in postseason history, shredding top defenses for eleven touchdowns and no picks in four games, capped off by winning Super Bowl MVP.
In many cases, dismissal and outright dislike of Flacco and his abilities continues to this day, a view which when compared with objective reality should be appraised as nothing short of shocking considering what he just did through this postseason. Flacco put the offense on his shoulders and won four playoff games, including Super Bowl XLVII, by confidently stepping into some of the most highly pressurized situations in modern sports, and slinging needed touchdowns and clutch first downs without notching a single turnover.
Yet several national media members have since made defiant cases for their preference to have 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick over Flacco in their hypothetical “Who ya got?” scenario. Kaepernick could develop into a great player. He is a first class athlete with a strong arm, and made several impressive plays in the Super Bowl, but it’s important to keep in mind that he only has one more NFL start (ten) then Flacco has playoff wins (nine). What more will Joe have to do? Fortunately, getting fitted for a championship ring says a lot more than someone on TV.
By analyzing our current media environment and broader cultural issues, it becomes evident why someone like Joe Flacco is still demonized by some on a national scale. We live in a world that has become defined by narcissistic delusions. We make talentless people famous for nothing more than their willingness to sacrifice their human dignity in front of a camera. We pretend that our economy is on the mend when pending $4 gas, 15% food inflation, rising joblessness, and dangerously expanding cash and bond bubbles sit clearly in front of us. We ignore the brutal realities of our civilian-killing international meddling in favor of reporting celebrity quotes as news stories. I enjoy a good quote as much as the next guy, but think about what is being missed when quotes and tweets across the bottom line comprise the news.
In sports, we judge from day one of a player’s career. We label someone an outright bust or 2nd messiah after far too small of a sample size. We populate message boards and insult strangers under our flawed guise of perceived anonymity. We judge and we judge and we judge.
A person like Joe Flacco represents the complete antithesis of these themes. He didn’t burst onto the scene and light up ESPN’s weekly top tens as a rookie like Cam Newton and RG III. He doesn’t unleash camera-craving hot head explosions against coaches and team personnel. He doesn’t even appear to enjoy the spotlight. When being interviewed, he usually looks like he’d rather be somewhere else, but is still mannerly enough to respond to desperate questions with short answers. Attempts to pull controversial quotes from him to create a “story” have been nothing but manufactured nonsense.
Instead, he has incrementally improved his job performance each season. He’s learned how to read an NFL defense. He’s improved his footwork and pocket awareness. He’s learned where to put throws where only his receiver can make the catch. And most importantly, he has found ways to win a lot of games while ignoring all the noise and hate directed towards him. Many other players would have folded under the intense media scrutiny, or are in the process of folding as we speak, but Flacco has remained unfazed and now sits proudly atop the NFL mountain.
I still don’t believe we know yet just how good this guy can be, especially if the Ravens continue to emphasize the offensive side of the ball, and equip him with above average protection. His journey thus far has been a tale of hard work, diligence, patience, and trust, in direct contrast with our national discourse of immediacy, volatility, and unearned “success.” The lessons of Joe Flacco would be well suited the lessons of our flailing nation. At least we’d then have our fiscal house in order, because he just earned some serious coin.
Congratulations to Coach Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens for making our city proud!!