Flacco has earned respect, but he still has work to do to match Brady's accolades

The football spilled out of Lee Evans' hands in the Ravens' AFC championship game loss last January, as he was unable to secure an accurate spiral from quarterback Joe Flacco.

Instead of delivering a potential game-winning touchdown pass to earn his first Super Bowl berth and win his duel with New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, Flacco was forced to settle for something he really wasn't pursuing: increased respect locally and nationally for outshining Brady statistically.

"Well, we didn't win the game," Flacco said. "So, it doesn't really matter what people say about that."

Now, Flacco gets another opportunity to lead his team against the Patriots in a rematch Sunday night at M&T; Bank Stadium.

During the championship game, Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a 95.4 quarterback rating. Meanwhile, Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 239 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns for a 57.5 quarterback rating.

Yet, Brady made his fifth Super Bowl appearance. And Brady could scarcely care about his statistics, just the bottom-line outcome.

"I was glad we won the game, and that's really what's most important," Brady said during a conference call. "Joe played a great game and certainly there are plays I wish I would have done a better job of. I'm hoping that I don't turn the ball over like I did in that game. If we turn the ball over like we did the last game, we're not going to come out of this game with a win."

Brady, 35, has engineered three Super Bowl victories and owns two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophies.

Flacco, 27, has lost both of his AFC championship game appearances during his first four NFL seasons.

"Tom has played well for a lot of years now, before I was in the league," Flacco said. "I don't know if we necessarily aspire to play like him. We aspire to go out there and play well each week and get our teams wins. ..

"I don't think the last game we played against them has anything to do with this game. We're both coming off a loss last week and want to get back on track. It should be a good game, like it always is."

Brady has won 16 career postseason games, tying him with Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana for the most in NFL history. And the former sixth-round draft pick from Michigan has passed for 40,531 yards and 303 touchdowns for a 96.3 career rating.

Meanwhile, Flacco has gotten his career off to a strong start, becoming the only starting quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. He's the Ravens' all-time leading passer with 14,347 yards and 83 touchdowns.

"If Joe had his choice, to not outduel Brady and win, I think he would take that over everything else," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think everybody puts so much pressure on Joe and everything is about Joe. It's a team thing. It's not about him going up against Brady this week. It's about the Ravens going against the Patriots. If we can come out on the victorious side, then I think Joe will take that over stats any day."

In four career games against the Patriots, including two playoff games, Flacco has completed 80 of 128 passes for 889 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.

Flacco has won 45 games in the regular season, the most ever by a starting quarterback in his first four years in the NFL. With 49 total victories, including the postseason, Flacco is tied with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for the most total wins by a starting quarterback since 2008.

"Joe is a good quarterback," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call. "He does a good job, can make all the throws, certainly has been effective with the deep ball this year. He’s always played well in games that we’ve seen him: decision-making, accuracy, making plays, getting the ball to all the receivers, tight ends, backs, using all of his weapons, handling the game at the line of scrimmage, audible and change of protections, no-huddle, things like that. He’s a good player.”

In four career games against the Patriots, including two playoff games, Flacco has completed 80 of 128 passes for 889 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.

However, the measuring stick of a Super Bowl appearance and victory has eluded Flacco.

"I just see him play and admire his leadership and his ability to lead the team," Brady said. "He played a great game in the AFC championship. He makes great reads. You see they really have allowed him to do a lot more things at the line of scrimmage, especially with their up-tempo offense.

"He looks like he can make all the throws from the highlights that coach Belichick shows us. He can put the ball on the money 60 yards down the field. He's a dynamic player for them. They are scoring a lot of points, so we have to be prepared to try and match what they do."

And the Ravens will try to keep pace with Brady, who's constantly facing complicated defensive coverage schemes, blitz packages and stunts in an attempt to slow down a high-octane offense.

With wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker and All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady doesn't lack for downfield targets.

"I think this week is about really focusing on Brady, kind of getting him off his spot, because if you let him sit in the pocket, it’s like a seven-on-seven for them," Lewis said.

Brady has completed 66.2 percent of his throws for 552 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 94.7 passer rating.

And Brady still has his classic throwing form and calm pocket presence working in his favor.

"He’s always right there at the elite level," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He always plays that way. He has his own style. Every quarterback does, but nobody does it any better than he does. He’s been doing it for a long time. Anytime there’s Tom Brady playing, they’re always going to be dangerous, and they’re always going to be successful.”



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