NEW ORLEANS—The question wasn't even fully out of the reporter's mouth when Ravens safety Ed Reed pounced on it like it was an errant throw.
If it's a close game, you guys will win because …?
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A little more than a year ago, it was Reed who publicly criticized the performance of his quarterback following the Ravens' playoff victory over the Houston Texans. Few are questioning Flacco these days.
As the Ravens prepare for Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Flacco will attempt to put the finishing touches on one of the greatest postseasons a quarterback has ever had.
In three games, the fifth-year quarterback has outplayed a rookie phenom (Andrew Luck) and two future Hall of Famers (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). In the process, he has completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, and compiled a 114.7 quarterback rating.
Flacco is currently one of only six quarterbacks to throw at least eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the same postseason. The other five have all won a Super Bowl and been named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"It's pretty cool," Flacco said Wednesday. "It will mean a lot if we can go win this game on Sunday. I think when you talk about winning quarterbacks in the playoffs, I would think that all of them have Super Bowl victories, so that's really the only one that matters and that's what we're trying to get."
Only two quarterbacks have ever finished the postseason with at least nine touchdown passes and no interceptions — both were 49ers. Steve Young had nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the 1994 playoffs, while the man Young eventually replaced, Joe Montana, threw 11 touchdowns with no picks during the 1989 postseason.
Montana, who shares the record for the most touchdown passes in a postseason with Kurt Warner, was Flacco's favorite quarterback growing up, though matching or eclipsing the Hall of Famer seems to be weighing on his mind about as much as his expiring contract or whether the media feels he is elite or not.
For the record, Flacco had no idea that he was even nearing any postseason milestones, nor did his teammates.
"He's not worried about it. That's the biggest thing. Joe just goes out and plays," said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has nine catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. "We've literally been asked the same questions since Day 1 at camp. 'Joe says, he's elite. What do you think?' I'm glad other people are starting to notice, [but] at the end of the day, Joe doesn't care and we don't care. We are where we want to be and we want to win."
Asked if he feels like he has made a statement over the last month, Flacco said: "That's not really for me to worry about. You guys will talk about all of that stuff and debate it no matter what, so it's just our job and my job to go out there and play the best we can and leave all that stuff for you guys to kind of debate. I really don't care. If we come out here and play the game the way we should and the way we can, then I don't care and I don't think anyone else is going to care. We're going to be feeling pretty good about ourselves and what we accomplished."
While Flacco has gotten his due this week, he still hasn't drawn the attention bestowed on 49ers second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who will make his 10th NFL start Sunday. By comparison, Flacco will make his 93rd career start, including his 13th in the postseason.
Also, more focus has seemingly been on Flacco's thoughts on Super Bowls in cold-weather venues — an idea that he called "retarded," comments he later apologized for — and his stoic personality than on his gaudy postseason numbers, which put him right in line with previous Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
En route to winning his second Super Bowl MVP last year in the past five seasons, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw nine touchdowns and one interception. That bettered his 2007 postseason performance in which he had six touchdowns and one interception. In 2010, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a nine-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio, while the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees threw eight touchdowns to no interceptions in the 2009 postseason.
"He's playing exceptionally well," Brees said Wednesday when asked about Flacco. "The road that they traveled this season, they started off like gangbusters. Then, they had a little bit of a tough stretch there where everybody was catching criticism and wondering where the Ravens went. When it came down to it, they finished the season strong and they've made quite a run during the playoffs. It doesn't get any better than going on the road and beating the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in their home stadiums, which they've done, and Flacco has played exceptionally well along the way."
The 49ers have taken turns praising Flacco this week. Cornerback Carlos Rogers called him "unbelievable," while linebacker NaVorro Bowman said Flacco is in the "elite conversation."
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a former assistant for the Ravens, remembers seeing Flacco for the first time and telling Ravens coach John Harbaugh that the organization had its franchise quarterback for the next 10 to 15 years. Fangio compared Flacco's ability to throw deep routes to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco has attempted 116 passes of 20 yards or more in the air — 15 of them have been caught for touchdowns and none have been intercepted.
"I've told everyone, when it comes to physical attributes as a quarterback, he's the best that I've been with," said Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who has 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns this postseason. "The guy can make every throw on the field, no matter if it's a quick-game pass, intermediate or a deep ball down the field. He has every throw in his arsenal."
Boldin and other Ravens have bristled this week about the perception that Flacco has suddenly become a different quarterback in the postseason. They say that he has been the same quarterback all along, only people are just now paying closer attention because of the playoff spotlight.
But the numbers certainly don't support that claim as Flacco had an uneven regular season, completing 59.7 percent of his passes for 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
His playoff success, meanwhile, has been nearly unmatched, even by the most accomplished NFL quarterbacks. Flacco is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs and win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons in the league. His six road playoff wins are the most in NFL history.
If the Ravens are victorious Sunday, Flacco will already have nine postseason wins in his first five NFL seasons. Only Brady, who Flacco vanquished in the AFC championship game, would have more this early in his career.
"Joe has transformed us in a lot of ways," Harbaugh said. "It's been a process and Joe has been hugely successful doing it. Obviously, he's got talent, everyone can see he's a big strong guy, he can throw the ball, he's accurate, he's a tough competitor, he's a winner, he's a leader and he's ours — he's a Raven. That's what I like about him the best, he embodies the things that the Ravens are always about."
Where Flacco ranks heading into Super Bowl
Heading into the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco is having one of the best postseasons that any quarterback has ever had. A look at where he stands compared to the last 10 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
Year; Player, team; Games; Comp.-Att-Yds; TDs; INTs; QB rating;
2012; Joe Flacco, Ravens; 3; 51-93-853; 8; 0; 114.7;
2011; Eli Manning, Giants; 4; 106-163-1,219; 9; 1; 103.3;
2010; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; 4; 90-132-1,094; 9; 2; 109.8;
2009; Drew Brees, Saints; 3; 72-102-732; 8; 0; 117.0;
2008; B.Roethlisberger, Steelers; 3; 54-89-692; 3; 1; 91.6;
2007; Eli Manning, Giants; 4; 72-119-854; 6; 1; 95.7;
2006; Peyton Manning, Colts; 4; 102-165-1,101; 3; 7; 69.8;
2005; B.Roethlisberger, Steelers; 4; 58-93-803; 7; 3; 101.7;
2004; Tom Brady, Patriots; 3; 59-90-635; 5; 1; 100.0;
2003; Tom Brady, Patriots; 3; 75-126-792; 5; 2; 84.5;
2002; Brad Johnson, Buccaneers; 3; 66-116-789; 7; 5; 80.0;
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