He has led the Ravens to seven postseason wins in 11 tries. Mostly a game manager earlier in his career, he has thrown for 1,485 yards and 12 touchdowns against two interceptions in his past six playoff games. In two games this postseason, he has thrown for 613 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, clearly outplaying Manning and Luck.

"I would like to think that I go out there and play consistently and approach everything the same way. I think that has been proven out. We've won a lot of football games around here," said Flacco, who scoffed at the notion that the game speeds up in the playoffs.

"There's no need to blow it out of proportion and get overwhelmed by that kind of thing. I think when you have that mindset, it is easy to go out there and stay calm and play in that moment."

Flacco's rookie contract expires after the season, and taking the Ravens to their second Super Bowl in team history would further strengthen his bargaining position.

However, the way he has carried himself during the past week, you would think that the Ravens were readying for a Week 10 matchup against the Cleveland Browns.

"That's just who he is," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He doesn't flinch in any situation. You can trust a guy like that."

'Big-game quarterback'

Ernie Accorsi, the former assistant general manager of the Baltimore Colts and later a general manager of both the Cleveland Browns and Giants, believes that quarterback is the most important position in sports.

In evaluating them, he looks beyond regular-season performance and leans on one criterion: "You judge a quarterback on his ability to take his team down the field and into the end zone with a championship on the line."

As shaky as he has looked at times during his career, Flacco has led 15 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or in overtime, two of them in the postseason.

However, he was denied his career-defining moment last January when Lee Evans couldn't hang on to a potential touchdown pass and then Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field-goal attempt as the Ravens fell to the Patriots in the AFC championship game. The loss didn't hurt Flacco's postseason reputation.

"He's been incredible as a postseason quarterback," Accorsi said. "He made it and made it back. He is a big-game quarterback. He's won big game after big game. He's doing things that no one else ever did."

Accorsi was responsible for pulling off the 2004 draft-day trade that brought Eli Manning to the Giants. He watched Manning battle inconsistency in his first four regular seasons and be all but declared a bust. Manning was called mistake-prone, emotionless, uninspiring, inconsistent — all words that Flacco has heard during his time in Baltimore.

However, Manning got hot in the 2007 playoffs, led the Giants to three road victories and then engineered a late drive to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, thwarting New England's undefeated season.

Four years and plenty of criticism later, Manning did it again, beating the Patriots and winning his second Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. Now, Manning's reputation as one of the game's clutch quarterbacks — and his legacy in New York — is secure.

"I really was close to the scene with Eli in New York," Namath said. "Until he won a championship, they were ready to run him out of town. Both Eli and Joe seem to have a similar demeanor, and they don't point the finger at someone else. From a team concept, their demeanor, the kinds of guys they are, the way they carry themselves is wonderful. But for entertainment, the fans sometimes want to see a different kind of charisma."

Flacco doesn't know Manning particularly well, but he does understand how a quarterback's reputation changes after he wins a Super Bowl.

"Was he all of a sudden a different quarterback because he won that one game?" Flacco said in September when asked about Manning. "It's kind of crazy how much we put on that one game, but that's the way it is. That's what you have to deal with."

A day after Flacco helped send his organization into the offseason, Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway, a Super-Bowl winning quarterback, said at a news conference that you "make your money in the regular season. You make your legacy in the postseason."

Whether he acknowledges it or not, Flacco is in the process of doing just that, and Sunday night against Bill Belichick and Brady, he has his best opportunity yet.