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Flacco one win from cementing place among NFL's elite

The SportsXchange

He's on a roll that could place him in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks with a positive outcome Sunday. He's been in the playoffs each season of his NFL career and has piled up wins at home and on the road.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, however, won't declare himself one the elite signal-callers in the league, as Giants quarterback Eli Manning famously did last year. In his unassuming way, Flacco just goes about his business, leaving the evaluations to others.

"I don't really care," Flacco said in the run-up to Super Bowl XLVII. "To be honest with you, it's kind of a crazy question, it's weird to answer. I'm just going to let my play speak for itself. It's really not my job to concern myself with that. You guys can all talk about that. 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."

In the current playoff run, Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions. In NFL history, only former San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young made it through the postseason with at least nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. Montana had 11 touchdown passes in 1989, while Young had nine in 1994.

Additionally, a win in the Super Bowl over the 49ers would be Flacco's ninth postseason victory in his first five seasons. Only New England's Tom Brady can equal that number in so few seasons.

Once again, Flacco is pragmatic when continually asked to assess his own play. While admitting "it's pretty cool" to have made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, he added, "It will mean a lot if we can go win this game on Sunday. I think when you talk about winning as 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."

The Ravens and Flacco are where they are this season thanks to the jumpstart the offense received after head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Dec. 10. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell took over as the play-caller.

Caldwell said, "It wasn't like we made many significant changes in terms of what we're doing from a schematic standpoint, because we were too far down the road for that. What we did was, do the things that we knew how to do well and try to crystallize it. I also want to make sure that you understand that there is no way that I take credit for any of that.

"We have players that are very good players and have been in the system for four or five years that are maturing and getting better as time goes on. It just so happened that towards the end of the season things were really starting to come together. We'd shown flashes all through the year, but we just had some ups and downs a little bit here and there. Obviously, we've played a little more consistently since we've been in the playoffs, and that's worked well for us."

Flacco said, "I think our offense gets looked at to the point where we weren't playing well all season, which is not necessarily the truth. I think we needed a little bit of a spark. I think we were starting to level out maybe a little bit, at least that's what John thought. We had a couple of losses. I think Jim has done a great job in transitioning and making it as clean as possible and as crisp as possible. I think we've gotten back a little bit to our hurry-up, and I think maybe that's helped us."

Caldwell believes Flacco is the perfect quarterback for the Ravens' offense and that the Super Bowl hype shouldn't overwhelm him.

"He's a pretty settled guy, he really is," Caldwell said. "He has a great command of who he is and his essence. He's not one of those guys that's going to get overly worked up too early. He's not going to burn himself out during the course of the day thinking about all the different odd scenarios that could come up. He's not going to chase any ghosts in terms of preparation. He's got good focus, and he believes in what he's doing. You don't have to give him a whole lot of instruction in that area. He's a good guy, extremely cerebral and has a good grasp on this offense."

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is Flacco's contract. The perception is that a win Sunday could conceivably affect the negotiations that will intensify in the next six weeks. Flacco's contract expires March 12, and while he likely will get the franchise tag if no contract occurs by then, the team's goal is to lock him up long term.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't agree with the notion that Flacco's price has gone up with each postseason victory.

"Joe and I are at the same comfort level about his contract," Newsome said. "At the end of the day, some people will look at what he does on Sunday afternoon, but I have an entire body of work to look at. Joe sits right behind me on the plane rides home. I also know how he practices, how he works out during the offseason. I look to see how he interacts with players, how he reacts to losing, what type of leader he is. Again, it's the entire body of work over five years."

Even linebacker Ray Lewis chimed in with his passionate thoughts on Flacco and the quarterback's impact on the team.

"I am a little biased when it comes to Joe," Lewis said. "This guy has been proven since day one. It's never been one man that has won or lost the game. It's always been a team that wins or loses a game. So, anytime you want me to talk about Joe Flacco, I am telling you that I am talking about a kid with every skill, every tool physically. This year, he took the next step in maturing as a man and really understanding what a leader has to do. That's why our offense is clicking the way it's clicking, and that's why Joe is playing the way Joe is playing."

It was left to Harbaugh to emphatically say what Flacco means to the franchise.

"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. People talk about a transformation; I would say it's more of an extension of who the Ravens are. That kind of mindset, Joe fits right in with that, and he's just built on that."

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