Whatever happens, let's agree Joe Flacco has been clutch in playoffs

Peter Schmuck
Contact ReporterThe Schmuck Stops Here
If the Ravens win Saturday, they probably will have Joe Flacco to thank.

This should come as a surprise to no one, but if the Ravens are still standing after Saturday night's playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, it will be because Joe Flacco is still one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the NFL.

No doubt, there are Ravens fans who are wondering about that right now. The past few weeks haven't been the most consistent or productive of Flacco's seven-year pro career. He had an absolutely horrible game in Houston and had to rally his teammates in the final quarter of what should have been a slam-dunk win against the Browns this past Sunday.

The Ravens, quite frankly, haven't looked much like a playoff contender for a while and Flacco will have to be the guy to change that against a very good Steelers team in a very hostile and inclement environment.

We're not exactly dreaming the impossible dream here. Flacco has quite a history of performing at a very high level under postseason pressure. His teammates know what he can do and fully expect him to lead them deeper into the playoffs.

"(We) have all kinds of confidence in Joe,'' receiver Torrey Smith said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and any time he steps on the field, we believe in him, and it's on us to make it that way, as a unit and a receiving corps, tight ends and offensive line. If we go out there and do our job, Joe will go out there and do his thing."

The last two times Flacco led the Ravens into the playoffs, he was all-but unstoppable. The Ravens would have reached the Super Bowl after both the 2011 and 2012 seasons if veteran receiver Lee Evans had fully secured a last-minute touchdown pass in the AFC Championship Game three years ago at Gillette Stadium.

During the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run, Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes and did not throw an interception.

That might seem like a long time ago, but postseason legacies are built in the postseason, and you can go back to those two very successful years and find periods during the regular season when Flacco and the Ravens didn't play all that well.

Obviously, something clicked in the postseason and it should be apparent from the way Flacco stared down some of the best defenses and outplayed some of the best quarterbacks of his generation that he was the lead dog.

There has been some tough sledding since the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans 23 months ago, but Flacco showed he can still hoist this team on his back when he fired everybody up at halftime on Sunday and then led a fourth quarter turnaround that secured the sixth playoff seed.

"You're going to find most of the teams that get to this level are going to have quarterbacks who can play under pressure and can make plays when it matters,'' head coach John Harbaugh said this week. "Joe basically took it over in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, and that's what had to be done. Joe is capable of doing that. Yes, it's a great asset. It's a necessary asset at this stage of the game and, like I've said many times, I love Joe. I think he's the best quarterback in football, and I'm glad he's our guy."

Harbaugh might have a tough time getting universal agreement on where Flacco ranks among the NFL's great quarterbacks, but ESPN's Jamison Hensley recently rolled out an interesting statistic that suggests he belongs in any conversation about the best postseason QBs of the current era.

Since 2010, Flacco's combined passer rating in the postseason is 105.0, which is higher than Aaron Rodgers (100.3), Drew Brees (97.8), Peyton Manning (94.8) and Tom Brady (91.5).

He still needs to prove that he can win a playoff game in Pittsburgh, where he is 0-2 in the postseason, but his six road playoff victories are an NFL record and he has won three of the last six games he has started at Heinz Field.

The Ravens have significant issues on the offensive line and in the secondary, which would appear to put Flacco in danger from the Steelers pass rush and leave the Ravens defense vulnerable to another big performance by Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But the Steelers are listed as only a 3-point favorite in Las Vegas, which means the oddsmakers think this is going to be a very typical AFC North throwdown.

One thing should be beyond question, however. If the Ravens lose on Saturday night, it won't be for lack of a premier quarterback.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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