Joe Flacco 's postseason coming-out party turned into an old-fashioned barbecue of the Kansas City Chiefs.
With a strong arm, surprising elusiveness and unshaken confidence, Flacco delivered his most impressive performance in the playoffs, throwing two touchdowns in their 30-7 rout of the outclassed Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game at frigid Arrowhead Stadium.
Recording their largest margin of victory in the playoffs since their Super Bowl triumph in January 2001, the fifth-seeded Ravens advance to play the second-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday afternoon in a divisional game at Heinz Field.
Flacco directed the Ravens to their third meeting with their biggest rival by putting them ahead for good with a 9-yard touchdown pass to running back Ray Rice late in the first half and providing the finishing blow with a 4-yard touchdown throw to Anquan Boldin late in the third quarter.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Joe Cool took over his first playoff game when the wind chill reached 14 degrees.
"It's a lot of fun to come on the road and into places like this and be confident in yourself and be confident in your teammates that you're going to get the job done," Flacco said. "That's really how we feel. We don't have any doubt that we're going to come in here and win the football game. And that's what it showed today."
Quarterback play determined why the Ravens won a playoff game for the third straight year and why the Chiefs lost for an NFL-record seventh time in the postseason.
Flacco looked playoff-tested, completing 25 of 34 passes for 265 yards (quarterback rating of 115.4). The Chiefs' Matt Cassel looked as though he hadn't started a playoff game since high school -- which is true -- going 9-for-18 for 70 yards and three interceptions (quarterback rating of 20.4).
"Joe has been in six road playoff games and has won four of them and I think it showed," coach John Harbaugh said. "A quarterback has to make plays in games like this. That was probably the difference in the game."
The Ravens defense fed off the emotions surrounding safety Ed Reed, whose brother went missing in Louisiana last week, and tied a team playoff record with five turnovers. The special teams contributed with three field goals by Billy Cundiff (19, 29 and 29 yards).
When it came to the offense, it was the Joe Show. The running game failed to get any traction early (running backs combined for 38 yards in the first three quarters). The pass protection failed to give Flacco a safe pocket (four sacks allowed).
Flacco had to carry the offense by hitting tight end Todd Heap (10 catches for 108 yards) over the middle and scrambling to keep drives alive.
He didn't resemble the quarterback who threw one touchdown and six interceptions in the playoffs the past two seasons.
"Joe was stone cold out there," guard Ben Grubbs said. "No matter how many times he got hit, he's always a stone cold killer back there. The way he performed today was unbelievable."
Flacco's biggest mistake came when he had the ball stripped from behind by Tamba Hali, who beat left tackle Michael Oher off the edge. Two plays after Flacco's fifth fumble lost this season, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles sprinted past the entire Ravens defense for a 41-yard touchdown.
The longest touchdown run allowed by the Ravens in their playoff history put them behind 7-3 late in the first quarter.
As he's done so many times in his career, Flacco bounced back in convincing fashion. Unlike those other times, he did it this time with his feet as well as his arm.
On the Ravens' last drive of the first half, Flacco ran three times for 24 yards (a season high in any one game for him, much less one drive) and completed three passes to Heap for 46 yards to get the Ravens in the red zone.
"I like to run every now and then if they want to let me do it," Flacco said. "When you do that, it makes it tough on the defense. You obviously see what Michael Vick does and I'm not comparing myself to him."
Flacco finished off the 11-play, 80-yard drive by finding an uncovered Ray Rice for a 9-yard touchdown with 19 seconds before halftime to put the Ravens ahead, 13-7.
"A lot of playoff games are going to be decided by two-minute drives either at the end of the half or the end of the game," Flacco said. "For us to get that right there, that was a big part of the game."
In a season when the Ravens have struggled to finish off teams, Flacco did exactly that late in the third quarter.
Ravens safety Dawan Landry set up Flacco by intercepting Cassel, the Chiefs' third turnover of the third quarter. Six plays later, Flacco threw a 4-yard touchdown to a leaping Boldin in the back of the end zone for a 23-7 lead. Flacco's second touchdown pass of the game arched over two jumping Chiefs linebackers and into the hands of Boldin, who scored for the first time in five games.
"He was making great throws," Heap said. "Some of the throws that he made were right on point. Obviously, Joe has a lot of fun doing that. That's what he likes to do. He has an arm that he can make any throw."
This sets up rivalry weekend in the AFC next weekend. The Ravens play at Pittsburgh, and the New York Jets head to New England.
"This is the NFL at its best," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "This is what the world wants to see. This is Armageddon for all four teams, and there can only be one winner at the end."
twitter.com/jamisonhensleyCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun