Paul Domowitch: Flacco doesn't win, but who can blame him?

Posted: January 23, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Joe Flacco outplayed the great Tom Brady.

Threw two touchdown passes to Brady's none. Threw one interception to Brady's two. Threw for 48 more yards than the Hall of Fame lock with the supermodel wife. Even ran for 25 more yards than Tom Terrific.

But fairly or unfairly, quarterbacks are judged more by their ring collection than their passing yards or touchdown throws, or even their playoff appearances.

Thanks to a 32-yard field goal attempt by the Ravens' Billy Cundiff that sailed wide left with 11 seconds left yesterday, Brady is headed to his fifth Super Bowl, while Flacco is going back to Baltimore, where he will continue to be viewed as a good-but-not-great quarterback until he has his hands around a Lombardi Trophy.

What other people think of him shouldn't matter to Flacco. But it does because, well, he's human, and all humans care about what other people think of them even if they say they don't.

Flacco says it doesn't matter, but then he says things that make it pretty clear that it does.

Too much.

When asked whether he thought his 22-for-36, 306-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Ravens' 23-20 AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots might change people's perception of him, he said, "I don't care. Look at the film. If you look at the film, you'll see how I play. I pretty much play the same way every week.

"If you think I played better this week than other weeks, I think you're wrong. I really don't care. I don't know if I ever will prove anything. It's not really up to me. My job is to go out there and play. And give our team the best shot to win."

Flacco did that. With the Patriots holding Ray Rice to 3.2 yards per carry, the University of Delaware product from Audubon, N.J., stepped up and matched Brady completion for completion.

For a split-second shortly before Cundiff's miss, it looked like it would be Flacco and the Ravens going to the Super Bowl rather than Brady and the Patriots again.

After getting the ball back with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Flacco coolly engineered a big-time drive that took the Ravens from their 21 to the New England 14. Completed five of seven passes, including four to veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Then he went for the kill. Lofted a pass into the end zone for wide receiver Lee Evans that he dropped over the head of Patriots rookie defensive back Sterling Moore and into Evans' arms in the end zone.

For a split-second, Evans had it. Then he didn't. Before he could put the ball away, Moore managed to slip his arm in and knock the ball out of Evans' hands.

"We were just running a little slant-and-go there," Flacco said. "Normally, I'd get off of it because they had a safety on that side. But we had a chance to make a corner turn his head and get lost here. I threw it over [Moore's] head and gave [Evans] a chance to make a play."

But it was Moore - an undrafted rookie out of Southern Methodist whose missed third-quarter tackle on wide receiver Torrey Smith allowed Smith to scored on a 29-yard catch-and-run that gave the Ravens a 17-16 lead at the time - who made the play of his young career.

"It wasn't in my mind to slap the ball out," Moore said. "It was just a split-second decision and I'm glad it worked out."

Said Evans, in his first year with the Ravens after 7 with Buffalo: "I felt like I had it, but it came out. The most disappointing part of this is that I feel I let everybody down. This is the greatest team that I have been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. It's hard to sit here and accept how or why things happened, but it's the reality. It was a great pass by Joe, and it was just a pass that was not completed by me. Nobody else can take the fall for that."

The Ravens ran one more play after the incompletion to Evans. Moore came up big again, knocking away Flacco's pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.

Then Cundiff, who had converted 10 of 12 field-goal attempts from 30-to-39 yards this season, missed the 32-yarder that would have sent the game into overtime.

"Football's a team game," Flacco said. "My opinion is you've got to do the best you can to get in the end zone. A field goal would have only sent it into overtime, so you never know what's gonna happen at that point.

"When you get a good opportunity like we did down there, when you're in position to score a touchdown, we've got to put it on ourselves and get a touchdown there and end the game."

Flacco had a chance earlier in the fourth quarter to put his team in the lead. Thought he had tight end Ed Dickson open down the middle for a touchdown. But Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes came out of nowhere and intercepted the pass.

"The guy [Spikes] made a helluva play," Flacco said. "I thought I had Ed running down the middle open and [Spikes] puts his right hand up and takes the ball away."

The interception was really the only mistake Flacco made the entire game. He finished with a 95.4 passer rating, which was almost 38 points higher than Brady's. But that's little consolation to Flacco.

"I thought Joe played a great game today," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He played well enough to win this game. His best football is in front of him. He's only going to get better.

"He's our kind of guy. He's a tough guy, a competitive guy, a leader. I can't wait to see where this thing goes with him."

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