By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
This was supposed to be a crowning moment for Joe Flacco.
With 15 seconds left in the game, Flacco had methodically marched the Baltimore Ravens deep into New England Patriots territory in range of what is normally chip-shot field goal to send the game into overtime. Two plays earlier, he was a dropped pass by Lee Evans away from what should have been the winning touchdown.
Instead, Flacco had to see his outstanding performance go by the wayside as Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal went wide left allowing the Patriots walk away with a 23-20 victory to win the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis.
After a week of being criticized by fans, media and his teammate Ed Reed for a lackluster performance in the Ravens divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans, Flacco not only played well enough to win the game, he outplayed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (22-of-36, 239 yards and two interceptions). He was 22-of-36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns with one interception. He had a 95.4 passer rating.
Flacco, even with Patriots defensive lineman Vince Woolfork in his face throughout the game, was a decisive, efficient quarterback against the Patriots. He used his feet to maneuver his way out of the rush and found open receivers. If it wasn’t there, he ran it or threw it away. Flacco didn’t hold the ball too long to allow the pass rush to sack him. More importantly, he helped the Ravens to keep chains moving. Baltimore was 9-of-17 on third down conversions.
“I thought Joe played a great game, obviously he played well enough to win this game,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “I’ve said it all along to run down the qualities that make Joe Flacco a great player, great quarterback, a great person, I’ve said it many times his best football is in front of him. He only gets better, he’s our kind of guy. He’s a tough guy, he’s a competitive guy and he’s a leader. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes with him and we’re proud to have him as our quarterback.”
If someone were to say to you hat the Ravens were going to out-gain the Patriots potent offense in total yardage and that Flacco was going to have a better passing rating than Brady, who threw two interceptions with no touchdown passes, you would probably say it was the recipe for victory for the Ravens.
It should have been.
On both sides of the football, the Ravens played the Patriots tough and didn’t allow them to just push them around the field. When the Patriots offense scored, the Ravens offense, thanks to Flacco, kept up with the Pats.
On defense, the Ravens had their moments when they allowed the Patriots, especially in the running game, to move the ball up the field, but when they got into the redzone, they more often than naught held the Patriots to field goals.
After Flacco threw his first interception of the game, the defense got the ball right back when Brady tried to go deep down the middle to Matthew Slater, but the ball was tipped by safety Bernard Pollard into the hands of cornerback Jimmy Smith for the interception.
The Ravens defense got the ball back for the offense late in the game with 1:44 left thanks to Ed Reed batting away a Brady pass intended for tight end Aaron Hernandez on third down and four.
Flacco drove the Ravens from their own 21 down to the Patriots 14 and put the Ravens into the position to win the game, but the dropped pass by Evans and the field goal miss by Cundiff was the final dagger in the heart of the Ravens.
If the Ravens win this game, all the sports media types would be celebrating Flacco as a clutch quarterback who came through in a big game.
But in a painful loss, Flacco displayed his “clutch gene” an emphatic way in the AFC Championship and proved to his critics that he has the ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.