I don’t care if Joe Flacco is or isn’t elite, although if you do, I understand why. That word and that classification has been so deeply over-saturated in football discourse that the significance of being called “elite” has nearly vanished. In some ways, being elite has about as much meaning as being a winner, which has no meaning whatsoever.
If Colin Kaepernick was able to connect with Michael Crabtree in the end zone and then the 49ers defense held on to the lead, would Flacco still be elite, even though he lost? In the eyes of many, his elite performance would have then been tarnished by an unfavorable ending.
The larger question then is this: who cares?
The only fact of relevance is that on this night and — more broadly — during this postseason, Flacco was efficient, he was technically sound, and he was able to consistently make crucial, game-changing throws. Two of those throws landed in Jacoby Jones’ hands during this postseason, and it’s those two specific deep lobs for 71 and 59 yards that were a major difference in the Ravens’ season, and their drive towards becoming the 2013 Super Bowl champions.
Flacco was everything you expect out of a playoff quarterback, which is why he was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player. Sure, there were times during this playoff run when his completion percentage left a little to be desired, as it was below 55 percent during two of the Ravens’ four games, and he finished at a very average 57.9. But if that’s his only blemish, so be it.
What he lacked in accuracy he recovered in deep downfield boom. He averaged nine yards per attempt, which is nearly two yards better than his regular-season average (7.2). There was also a sizable step up with his post-season passer rating of 117.2. His regular-season rating was 87.7.
He also completed a pass of 50 yards in length or more during three of Baltimore’s four playoff games. But his most impressive stat is tied to a vital quarterback characteristic in January and early February: vision. That leads to a feeling of safety between a quarterback and his head coach, which is what Flacco and John Harbaugh had. Flacco threw for 287 yards tonight, and with his three touchdowns he had 11 overall during the postseason. He didn’t throw an interception, meaning Flacco joins Joe Montana as the only other quarterback to throw 11 TD passes in a postseason without an interception.
You may know that Montana guy, because he was pretty good. Taking Flacco’s streak further, dating back to Week 16 of the regular season he went 170 pass attempts without an interception, while throwing 13 touchdown passes.
Does that make him elite? I don’t think so, because I still struggle to put him on the same level as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. You’ll disagree with that, and likely say a few expletives. That’s how the elite discussion keeps living and breathing.
And it means so very little. Those stats and those accomplishments make Flacco the best quarterback during the 2013 playoffs, and therefore the only starting quarterback who can call himself a champion this year. Isn’t that better than being elite?