Nickel Package: Five Things to Watch in Ravens vs. 49ers
Aaron Wilson: As the Ravens (13-6) square off with the San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1) in tonight's Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, here's a checklist of key areas and people to keep an eye on:
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1( Reuters photo / February 2, 2013 )
How will Joe Flacco perform on the big stage?
This is the big moment for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, where he can potentially answer all critics by duplicating his stellar postseason on the NFL's grandest stage.
If Flacco simply performs the way he has in three playoff victories, where he outdueled Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, it could go a long way toward determining the outcome of this Super Bowl between the Ravens and the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers
Every other quarterback in NFL history with at least eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the playoffs have won the Super Bowl and been named the game's Most Valuable Player.
The only quarterbacks who have ever performed better in NFL playoff history than Flacco are Joe Montana (11 touchdowns and no interceptions during the 1989 season) and Steve Young (nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the 1994 season).
If the Ravens win this game, it will mark the ninth playoff game they've won with Flacco in his first five NFL seasons. That would tie Flacco with Brady for the most playoff wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons.
Flacco is already the first quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to make the playoffs and win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. Winning 62 games in five years, including the playoffs, makes Flacco the winningest quarterback in the league during that span.
He's been especially sharp this postseason with 51 of 93 accuracy, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a 114.7 passer rating.
"For Joe to do the things he did coming into this business his first five years, that speaks volumes," inside linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Because that meant he always kept his head on the prize."
The prize is there for the taking, though. With a Super Bowl victory, Flacco separates himself from the quarterback pack.
Stoic and low-key, Flacco has a dry sense of humor. He seemed calm and composed as normal this week, and everyone from Lewis to Ron Jaworski and Trent Dilfer are expecting a strong football game from the towering New Jersey native.
"I think Joe is a little underrated," Dilfer said during a conference call last week. "But I don't use this 'elite' label very often. There's definitely four or five guys in the league that have kind of a seat at the table of greatness. That's kind of an elite table, if you want to say it.
"I think Joe drives a lot of what they do. And when they're successful, a lot of it is because he's successful and he's making plays that are kind of outside the scheme."
It's imperative for Flacco that he continue to be able to strike deep the way he has so far in the playoffs.
He'll have a challenge attacking 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson, a Pro Bowl selection who blends a hard-hitting nature with playmaking capabilities.
Look for Flacco to try to throw deep to Torrey Smith (Maryland) as well as mixing in underneath intermediate passes to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta.
Boldin is on a roll, riding a wave of momentum with 26 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns in his past five playoff games. During this postseason, Boldin has been a favorite target for Flacco with 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns.