With the news that the Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to trade quarterback Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos, it’s time to reflect on the legacy of one of the most important players in Baltimore football history. Here are five defining games by which to remember No. 5:
Feb. 3, 2013 vs. San Francisco 49ers — Flacco had just outdueled Tom Brady in Foxborough, Mass., and Peyton Manning in Denver, but would he continue his sublime roll on the biggest stage possible in Super Bowl XLVII? He answered with a resounding affirmative when he hit Anquan Boldin for a 13-yard touchdown less than five minutes into the game and added touchdown strikes to Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones as the Ravens built a 21-3 lead on the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter. Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and no interceptions as the Ravens held on to win, 34-31. For his supremely efficient work, Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP. Afterward, he met Jay-Z and Beyonce, who’d performed at halftime. “I don’t think that would happen if we would’ve lost the game,” he said in his usual deadpan. After his triumphant playoff run, arguably the greatest for a quarterback in league history, Flacco signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract that made him the team’s unquestioned franchise player.
Jan. 12, 2013 vs. Denver Broncos — Was it an actual miracle? No one can say for sure. But the most memorable single throw of Flacco’s career, the 70-yard heave to Jones that propelled the Ravens to overtime and eventual victory in the AFC divisional round, certainly defied belief. He’d already gone pass for pass with Manning (first-team All-Pro that season for the sixth time in his career) on a frigid afternoon and evening in Denver. But the Ravens’ improbable playoff run was less than a minute from dying when Flacco took a shotgun snap, stepped forward to evade a pair of converging pass rushers and threw the ball as far as he could, over the heads of two defensive backs and into Jones’ eager arms. The pass was so startling that we tend to forget neither team scored in the first overtime. The game didn’t end until Justin Tucker connected from 47 yards after a series of runs by Ray Rice to start the second overtime.
Sept. 7, 2008 vs. Cincinnati Bengals — The plan was not for Flacco to start from day one. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome had deemed him the quarterback of the future when the team traded down, then up to draft the University of Delaware product in the first round. But midway through the preseason, incumbent starter Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith had legs up on him in a three-way quarterback battle. Only Smith’s tonsil infection and Boller’s sore shoulder cleared the way for Flacco to start the opener. His stat line that day — 15-for-29 for 129 yards and no touchdowns — was not his best. But Flacco got the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium rocking when he galloped around the right end for a 38-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, and the Ravens beat the Bengals, 17-10. Flacco’s debut was a sign of things to come for his rookie season; he’d finish with a modest 80.3 passer rating, but would lead the Ravens to an 11-5 regular-season mark and two more wins in the playoffs before they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. He’d never again have to battle to be the season-opening starter.
Nov. 6, 2011 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — The Ravens had one of their most talented teams in 2011, and they had already stomped the Steelers, 35-7, in their season opener. But Pittsburgh seemed poised to turn the tables when Flacco took the ball with 2:24 on the clock at Heinz Field. The rivals were playing in their usual prime-time slot, and the Steelers had scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to seize a 20-16 lead. The Ravens began the drive on their own 8-yard line. Flacco answered with seven completions, including third- and fourth-down conversions to Boldin and a 26-yard touchdown strike to Torrey Smith with 14 seconds left. The 23-20 victory ended up clinching the AFC North for the Ravens (the Steelers also finished 12-4). Flacco would trump this rally with his playoff heroics the next season, but given the stakes and the setting, he was never more clutch in the regular season.
Dec. 4, 2016 vs. Miami Dolphins — Gaudy statistical lines were never Flacco’s specialty, not even in his best seasons. But a week after he’d lamented the Ravens’ offensive conservatism during their 2016 stretch run, he delivered a gem against the playoff-bound Miami Dolphins, completing 36 of 47 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns. “The guy who was throwing the ball, he was playing lights out,” veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. said. Smith was one of 10 Ravens who caught passes from Flacco that day. He threw two touchdown passes to one of his favorite targets, tight end Dennis Pitta, and one each to Breshad Perriman and Terrance West. The team’s playoff hopes would be snuffed out by the Steelers on Christmas Day. But for one day in early December, Flacco was as good as he’d ever been.