Joe Flacco has been the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens for as long as I’ve been a fan of the team, an era with great victories and devastating defeats that is coming to an end with his recent trade to the Denver Broncos. Flacco fit in perfectly with the hard-nosed Ravens’ teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s, making the playoffs in all of his first four seasons. In a historic 2012 postseason, Flacco carried the Ravens with his arm to a wild card win over the Colts and then upset wins against the Broncos, Patriots, and 49ers, putting together one of the most impressive playoff runs of all time. But for every brilliant moment, it seemed like there were even more inconsistent or frustrating moments, especially after he received a mega-contract following the Ravens’ Super Bowl win. From the perspective of a Ravens super-fan, here is the best and worst of Joe Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore.
Best: Throw to Jacoby Jones to upset the Broncos
This play remains the greatest I’ve ever seen, and quite possibly the most exciting I’ll ever see. Heading into a divisional round playoff matchup against the 13-3 Broncos in the frigid Denver air, the Ravens could have lost hope. They were also had an aging roster, had dropped big games in recent weeks (including to the same Broncos), and seemed overmatched on paper. Baltimore kept the score close for the first three quarters, but with just minutes left in regulation and down by seven points, the Ravens’ championship hopes had seemingly dissipated. Then, on 3rd down with 44 seconds remaining, 70 yards away from the Broncos’ end zone, Flacco caught the snap, hung back, moved up in the pocket, then wound up and heaved a pass with all of his might toward the right sideline and a streaking Jacoby Jones. The pass traveled nearly 55 yards in the air and was placed perfectly, just inches above the outstretched arms of Broncos safety Rahim Moore and into the waiting arms of Jones. The play sent the game into overtime and demonstrated why Flacco could be a special passer – the arm strength and deep ball accuracy, the composure in an adverse playoff environment, and the ability to step up and make a play for his team. Ironically, the team he beat is now the team he will play for, and I can only hope he doesn’t torch the Ravens in similar fashion.
Worst: Season-ending interceptions against the Steelers, Bengals
Flacco’s elite arm strength and occasional brilliance did not always show in big moments. In a 2010 playoff loss to the Steelers, a Flacco interception sealed a victory for Baltimore’s bitter rival. Three years later, the Ravens’ hopes of a repeat and a playoff berth were dashed when Flacco tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, against the rival Bengals in Week 17 (mercifully ending a regular season with a career-high 22 interceptions). Flacco’s interceptions and poor decision-making could be so frustrating and sometimes overshadowed even his finest moments.
Best: Super Bowl XLVII Triumph
Of all of the Ravens teams that made the playoffs with Joe Flacco at the helm, the 2012 one may have been one of the least likely of the bunch. Even less likely than that was the formula that the defense-based Ravens employed en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl – a reliance on the arm of Joe Flacco and his passing attack. Flacco certainly took advantage of his lone Super Bowl appearance, registering one of the best performances of his career with three touchdowns and nearly mistake-free football. He may not have been elite, but he was elite when it really counted on the sport’s biggest stage.
Worst: Post-Super Bowl contract
Aside from a glorious parade and a year’s worth of bragging rights, the Super Bowl win had tremendous implications on the Ravens, and it wasn’t all positive. Scared Flacco would bolt (and possibly to the division rival Browns), the Ravens paid up and rewarded Flacco with a record-setting six-year, $120 million contract, making Flacco the richest player in league history. Not only did Flacco fall off tremendously and only make the playoffs in one season since 2012, but the deal hamstrung the Ravens financially and prevented them from building an adequate contending team. The deal also forced Baltimore to change their offensive identity from run-first to pass-heavy, and when Flacco couldn’t keep up his Super Bowl MVP play and instead regressed, the offense faltered and the team fell short of their expectations.
Best: Beating the Titans as a rookie
The Ravens were expected to make a rebound following a 5-11 season in 2007 that resulted in the drafting of Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco and hiring of Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh. But the fresh-faced pair surpassed all expectations, with Flacco becoming the first rookie quarterback to win two road playoff games. The Ravens took care of business with a dominant 27-9 win in Miami in the Wild Card Round, but it was a 13-10 divisional round upset of the 13-3 Tennessee Titans that put the Ravens, and Flacco, on the map.
Worst: Not giving me a high five at training camp
The root of all of my years of Joe Flacco cynicism can be traced back to its probable source in the summer of 2009, at the Ravens training camp in Westminster, Maryland. As part of the Ravens Rookies Kids Club, I got to watch practice from a fenced in area just beyond the end zone, and when players made their rounds to sign autographs, I had a front-row seat. A noogie from Ray Lewis, words of support from Ed Reed and autographs from a couple other players left a definite impact on me, but when Flacco passed over the kids for the teens group, I was bummed and never viewed him the same. Interestingly, another offensive player, a second-year runner named Ray Rice, also passed over our group. So at least Flacco wasn’t that bad for us.
Best: Being traded to Broncos
For as much as I’ve hated on Flacco over the years, he was a critical part of the teams that made up the Ravens’ glory days and the Ravens’ teams I knew from my childhood. In fact, I feel a little bit sentimental over the departure of an era that brought so many road playoff wins and smiles to my face. With that being said, Flacco’s departure is one of the greatest days of my Ravens’ fandom. With the Broncos taking on Flacco’s monster contract and consistency issues, Baltimore can move on with the exciting new Lamar Jackson era and bring the charm back to Charm City. Plus, the Ravens get a mid-round draft pick for all the trouble. Joe, it was quite a ride.