By Jeremy Hritz
Watching the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl this past January wasn’t an easy thing to do for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, the entirety of the 2012 Ravens playoff series was difficult to watch because of the clutch play of oft-scrutinized quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco’s performance in the playoffs was outstanding, throwing 11 touchdowns without any interceptions, not to mention making several explosive plays that in some cases were the difference between winning and losing. With his performance, he asserted himself as an upper echelon player at the position.
Up until the postseason, Flacco was criticized for not being able to put his team on his shoulders and lead them to victory, as the Ravens struggled at the end of the season, losing 4 out of 5 games, including one in Baltimore to the Steelers. Nonetheless, Flacco silenced his critics and demonstrated the confidence and poise essential to being a championship quarterback in the playoffs.
Is the Joe Flacco that was on display this past postseason the one that the Steelers will now see twice a year? Or will he return to his inconsistent ways? There is no question which version the Steelers want to see.
Flacco’s overall record against the Steelers since he came into the league in 2008 is 5-7, and in his last four contests against the Steelers, he is 3-1. In 2012 against the Steelers, he didn’t post a quarterback rating higher than a 62.5, nor did he pass for 200 or more yards. But, you have to wonder, with a Super Bowl championship notched in his belt, will his play elevate to a new level, making the Ravens an even more formidable opponent?
Recently on the NFL Network, Ryan Clark chimed in on Flacco and whether or not he believes him to be an elite NFL quarterback after his postseason performance and his 19th overall ranking on the top 100. Clark said, “I can be honest, going into the two games playing [the Ravens], I wasn’t scared of Joe. I didn’t walk into the game thinking Joe was the focus of the offense or Joe was the guy we had to stop going into the game.” He continued, “The biggest question from me is seeing it week in and week out. I know he has a huge upside, I just want to see it every week.”
While Clark’s comments on Flacco were not as damning as LaMarr Woodley’s on the NFL Network a few years ago, they more than likely will end up as bulletin board material next season. While Clark does have a valid argument, and it is one that is shared by many, there is no denying the MVP performance of Flacco from the 2012 postseason.
While confidence is an intangible attribute that does not have a metric, throwing eleven touchdowns and playing mistake-free football en route to a Super Bowl championship seems to be a pretty solid indicator. If it is, and in fact Flacco has become more comfortable and confident in his abilities, then his stellar play could possibly carryover into the upcoming regular season, which could make it difficult for the Steelers to contend for the AFC North crown.
Flacco’s 2013 season will be an interesting story line, especially to see how he responds to losing Anquan Boldin. Will he take the next step in his development and be a player that the Steelers have to game plan for? Or will he regress to his inconsistent ways of regular seasons gone by?