|Having to face the likes of Ben Roethlisberger hasn't helped Joe Flacco's playoff record. (Getty Images)|
The last time I saw Joe Flacco was this summer. He was snacking on an ice cream cone. He was also, even then apparently, a tad indignant.
I didn't really notice it then, and didn't see what he told me as defiance, but looking back maybe it was.
"I know what some people say about me," Flacco told me then. "I don't worry about it. They say what they say. I look at how I've played and I've played well. I look at this team and this team has played well. That's what you worry about -- your teammates and winning. That's all that matters."
That was August. This was January: "I'm sure if we win [the Super Bowl], I'll have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys," he told the media.
You can see that Flacco's frustrations have slowly been building all year. I understand why.
This is not to portray Joe Flacco as Joe Montana. This isn't to say he's perfect. He has flaws and he makes mistakes but as Flacco prepares to play in another conference title game this is also true: he remains one of the most underappreciated quarterbacks of the modern era.
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Flacco isn't even appreciated sometimes by certain teammates. "I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit by that defense," Ravens safety Ed Reed said of the Ravens' win over Houston. "They had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. I don't know how much of the play calling, he could have made audibles or anything like that, checks or whatnot, man, but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past. You know, it was just kind of like they [were] telling him to do, throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys. And he can't play like that.
"You know, one particular play that sticks out to me is when Ray Rice came out of the backfield, he got pushed down and [Flacco] still threw him the ball and you got one-on-one with Torrey Smith on the outside. But it's hearsay for me. I can say that sitting on the sidelines, you know, or sitting in the stands. You just never know what somebody else is seeing."
Reed is critical of Flacco while also simultaneously saying he isn't sure what he witnessed. Unreal. Bus. Flacco. Tossed under.
Again, Flacco isn't perfect. Not a flawless gem, but still vastly underappreciated.
Now, Flacco shouldn't be talking to the media about this, and I bet in hindsight he wishes he had kept quiet. But that doesn't mean what he said isn't true. Most of all, he has a right to be irritated. Let's go over a few facts.
Flacco's Ravens have made the postseason four consecutive years. Flacco has won a playoff game every year. This is Baltimore's second title game in the four years Flacco has started. He has eight playoff starts and has won five. No thrower in NFL history has won more games in his first four seasons than Flacco's 44. He has an 86 career passer rating -- not spectacular but very solid.
His critics point to two undeniable aspects of Flacco's game. He has a 66.2 postseason passer rating and in the playoffs has completed only 53 percent of his passes while throwing six touchdowns and seven picks. He is lambasted for these numbers, but again further examination shows a more complete picture.
He also plays with one of the best defenses ever. This is true.
Yet Flacco's biggest problem has nothing to do with Flacco himself and everything to do with being in the same conference as Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In 2008 the Ravens lost to the Steelers in the title game. In 2009 he beat Brady in the wild-card round but lost to Manning. In 2010 he again lost to Roethlisberger. Now he faces Brady a second time.
So since coming into the league he has faced Roethlisberger twice, Brady twice and Manning once in the playoffs. That's not only nasty. That's just downright lethal.
Flacco is also operating in an 8-track offense. Rice is a beast, but nonetheless ball control is very 1970s. In this era of rigged offense, er, extremely liberalized passing rules, throwing the ball is stealing money. The Ravens mostly stay away from the modern style of utilizing four- and five-receiver sets. Again, Rice is a beast, so you ride the beast, but I think Baltimore's offense hasn't kept up with the Joneses.
No, Flacco isn't perfect, but he's solid. Damn solid. Certainly more deserving than some of the ridiculous scorn he's receiving now.
I think Ray Lewis, as he often does, said it best when it came to Flacco.
"Like I told Joe, no one wins games by themselves," Lewis told reporters this week. "We are in this as a family. We are in this as a team. Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last four years. If that was anybody else, they would be praising him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into position to win."
2. One of the most interesting moments of the Patriots' demolition of the Broncos came when Brady punted. It led to another interesting moment. Jay Feely, one of the league's best kickers (and also one of the better athletes at the position) saw Brady's kick. He later texted Brady, a friend and former Michigan teammate: "If you kick a field goal next week, I quit."
3. Jeff Fisher, at his opening press conference as Rams coach, said his decision was a simple one. He sure didn't act like it was simple. The pyramids were built faster.
4. Scout: Eli Manning might win two more Super Bowls. There was also this. "The idea that he's now better than
5a. Champ of the week: The entire San Francisco 49ers team for continuing to prove suckers like me wrong.
5b. Chump of the week: Tim Tebow. Absolutely horrific against the Patriots.
5c. Tweet of the week: This is a special dispensation of the award. It's the Twitter avatar of a Ravens fan blog. It's a picture of Brady, under center, wearing a pink tutu deal. There's a caption over his head that reads something like "Don't hit me too hard." It's pure genius, though proves the edict that some people have far too much time on their hands.
6. The Colts will continue to try like hell to get Tony Dungy back as head coach. And they will continue to fail. Most of all, the dismissal of Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell means Jim Irsay is cleaning house. I think Manning is next.
7. From Denver Broncos beat writer Lindsay Jones comes this incredible statistic: eleven NFL teams hired a new head coach in 2009 (or promoted an interim one). From that batch only two remain: Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz. That is an amazing amount of turnover in just a short period. It demonstrates both how volatile the coaching business has become and how impatient owners (and fans) are getting.
8. Years from now the hiring of Mike Nolan as Atlanta's defensive coordinator might be seen as one of the best moves from this offseason. He's a brilliant tactician and will give Mike Smith another set of eyes.
9. Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright while watching the Lakers play on television: "Downtown LA looking nice. Wait till that football stadium gets built. #LosAngelesChargers." Way to endear yourself to San Diego fans (even though he's right).
10. One more thing on the Chargers. The Bears will interview Jimmy Raye for their vacant general manager position. One of the best choices out there. Very good at his job. Raye has been in the front office of the Chargers. That team picks good players. They just don't have anyone capable of coaching them.