Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has faced the New England Patriots twice in the postseason. His team has won one of those games, and lost the other. If you subscribe to the idea of "quarterback wins" (that most nebulous of statistics), that makes Flacco 1-1 in the postseason against Foxboro's favorite team. Here are his stat lines in each of those two games:
4 of 10 for 34 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception; and
22 of 36 for 306 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.
Of course, the line that looks so much better came in the loss, Sunday's 23-20 defeat at the hands of a Patriots team that will go to its fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons. The first line came in the 2009 wild-card round, when the Ravens demolished the Pats, 33-14 as Baltimore scored three touchdowns on the ground and picked off three Tom Brady passes. The Ravens picked off two more in the AFC championship game, but it wasn't enough.
That doesn't mean that Flacco didn't do enough. This time, he outplayed Brady — and until linebacker Brandon Spikes picked off the only pass Flacco threw to a defender all day, Flacco actually bettered Brady by a fairly decisive margin. For all the credit Flacco has received for "winning" games in which he was little more than an innocent bystander, he was far more the franchise quarterback he's expected to be in one of the most disappointing losses in team history.
"I'm proud of our quarterback, I'm proud of the way he played and the way he stepped up in this kind of a setting," head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "The plays that he made down the stretch, I think that says a lot about him and a lot about his future."
True enough. After a season in which Flacco found his efforts questioned by just about everyone in the NFL — from the media to opponents to his own teammates — Flacco finally came up big when his teammates could not. In a weird way, that was cause for encouragement, because Flacco was everything he had not been through most of the 2011 season. He made decisive throws off of pinpoint reads, he was quick to release the ball when pressure came, and he showed some ability to scramble when the pocket broke down. He made several stick throws with impressive accuracy through the Patriots game, but the one great throw that wasn't what it should have been doomed the Ravens to their eventual defeat.
With 27 seconds left in the game, Flacco threw a wonderful pass to receiver Lee Evans in the end zone, but cornerback Sterling Moore pulled the ball from Evans' grasp before the receiver could establish possession. It was the play of the game in a contest that agonizingly close. Kicker Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt two plays later, but if Evans holds on to that ball, we're selling a very different narrative right now.
"Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this [is] that I feel personally that I let everybody down," Evans said with great emotion after the game. "This is the greatest team that I've been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. It's on my shoulders. It's hard to sit here and accept how and why things happened, but it's the reality of it. It's as tough as it gets."
What is not real this time is the idea that Flacco somehow lost the game. This was a Ravens loss, and a very difficult one, but anyone who chooses to stick an "L" next to Flacco's name because of a misguided belief that quarterbacks win and lose in a vacuum will only prove that they didn't watch the game tape.
"It's definitely tough to be as close as we were, as close as we feel like we were to going to [Indianapolis], and not having it go our way," Flacco said. "We played a hell of a game; they played a hell of a game … we laid it all out there. We can look at each other and say we left it all out on the field and we gave it our best. Did we play every play our best and did we execute everything the best? No. If we [had], we'd probably be out on the field celebrating. But it just doesn't happen that way. Somebody lost. It was us. But we left it all out there. We've got to be proud of that and move on."
Asked if he felt that this performance was a rebuttal to the critics who have bedeviled him all season, Flacco made his feelings very clear.
"I don't care," he said. "If you look at the film, you see how I play. I pretty much play the same every week. If you think I played better this week than other weeks, then I think you're wrong. This is the way I play every week, and I really don't care. I don't know if I'll ever prove everything. That's not up to me. My job is to go out there and give our team the best shot to win."
This time, Joe Flacco did just that. The final score simply didn't reflect his efforts.