Yesterday was not Joe Flacco’s first playoff win.
But it might have been the first time the Ravens were clearly, obviously and without a doubt his team to lead.
And even the guy who has always assumed that responsibility addressed that in the aftermath of their incredible double-overtime win over the Broncos.
“He grew up today,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “I told him, ‘You’re the general, lead us to victory, you lead us today.’ I’m just here to facilitate things, just lead us. To look in his eyes, he had something different about him today and I just wanted to encourage him.
“I’ve always been a Joe Flacco fan and always will be, but to watch what he did today was probably one of the greatest things I’ll sit back and remember.”
Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns (on bombs of 59, 32 and 70 yards), with a 116.2 quarterback rating. He’s now 7-4 all-time in the playoffs.
That it came while Peyton Manning threw two picks and fumbled twice on the other side brought into stark relief the quarterback Flacco has become.
“Perspectives on any player are going to evolve and that’s part of the process for any young quarterback,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You look at one of the greatest to ever play the game that was on the other side today [Manning] and if you look back, the perspective on him as evolved over the years. Joe’s going to be like that, like any other quarterback. I’m proud of him.”
While he still does some weird things at odd times, he’s one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL, and he has weapons around him to truly facilitate that (including Ray Rice running 30 times, which helps open things up down the field).
“Joe has a cannon,” wide receiver Jacoby Jones said of Flacco. “That’s why we call him, ‘Smokin’ Joe.'”
He’ll get even hotter this offseason, when it’s time for the Ravens to extend his contract, as this kind of performance is the thing many were waiting to see.
For Flacco to have grabbed the team by the lapels and dragged them along, on a big stage against a Hall of Fame opponent, should clear things up about him.
And at a time when the Ravens are looking for a leader to transition to, his performance came at a perfect time.