Thank you, Joe Flacco.
Your MVP performance in the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII produced an unexpected byproduct.
It showed the Falcons what path they need to follow in order to win Super Bowl XLVIII. The formula’s really quite simple.
Some time between now and the start of the 2013 season, Matt Ryan must declare himself one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Apparently that’s all it takes.
One year ago, in an honest response to an interviewer’s query, Eli Manning proclaimed himself one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Such an uproar ensued you’d have thought he had disclosed an imaginary girlfriend. How dare Eli compare himself to Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and, heaven forbid, big brother Peyton!
When the laughter, derision, scoffing and jokes subsided, Eli proceeded to lead his Giants to a Super Bowl win.
For the second time.
Which, when last we checked, was once more than Rodgers, Brees and big brother Peyton.
Last April, Joe Flacco took Eli’s declaration one step further. He didn’t just call himself an elite quarterback. Flacco declared himself to be the best quarterback in the NFL.
Cue to laughter, derision, scoffing and jokes. But, just like Eli, Flacco was giving an honest answer.
“I don’t think I’d be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way,” he told Sam Borden of the New York Times.
It’s one thing to feel that way. It’s quite another to let the entire free world know how you feel. But maybe that’s the step you need to take. Maybe you need to put that chip on your shoulder, and silence all the naysayers by going out and winning the Super Bowl.
Are you getting all this, Matt Ryan?
Flacco’s never gotten credit for being an outstanding quarterback. Maybe it’s because the Ravens have always won with their stout defense. This team didn’t need a playmaker under center as much as a caretaker. After all, they won a Super Bowl with the unrenowned Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
Maybe it’s because Flacco arrived in Baltimore from Delaware, where he transferred from Pittsburgh, where he hadn’t been able to beat out the immortal Tyler Palko at quarterback.
But his teammates know better.
“I’m a Joe Flacco fan,” Ray Lewis told Ashley Fox of ESPN.com. “I’ve been a Joe Flacco fan. To do what he did today, that’s what we always see.”
“He’s taken a lot of criticism over his career, for whatever reason,” tight end Dennis Pitta told Fox. “But we’ve always believed in him. We’ve known the kind of player that he is. He’s showed up on the biggest stage, and performed.”
No doubt about it. Flacco just went through four postseason games with 11 touchdown passes and not a single interception. Only one other quarterback can say that, and his name is Montana.
Since he entered the league in 2008, no quarterback has won more games than Flacco, including the regular season and postseason.
He’s also the only quarterback to win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons, and only Brady can equal his nine postseason wins over his first five seasons.
And get this: Flacco now has just as many postseason wins and Super Bowl crowns as Peyton Manning.
How does he do it? As he told Borden, confidence lets him keep his cool.
“The moment doesn’t get too big,” Flacco said. “We are comfortable. We’ve been there before. We’ve failed before. We’ve succeeded before. We are not worried about the outcome. We just go out and play football, execute, and we believe that if we do that, and do that to our ability, then eventually it is going to work out.”
That’s confidence talking.
“He fears nothing,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell told Fox. “That’s the thing about him. He’s as tough as he can be. He’s fearless in terms of taking chances. And he’s going to squeeze that ball, but he’s very, very smart.”
That was most evident on the Ravens’ last scoring drive. On third and inches near midfield, Flacco audibled and threw down the sideline to a tightly covered Anquan Boldin for 15 yards. The drive ended with a field goal — the Ravens’ winning margin.
“Joe was phenomenal,” head coach John Harbaugh told Borden. “He’s got the guts of a burglar. He was doing it all night, making plays.”
All the result of confidence gleaned from proclaiming yourself the best.
Still listening, Matt Ryan?
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears each Thursday.