If you're among those who still believe Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lacks leadership skills, you weren't in the media room Sunday after the Ravens' stunning loss to the New Orleans Saints.
It wasn't stunning because the Ravens lost (the Saints have a 5-1 record), but rather, because of how they lost: missing out on overtime after a tough, competitive game when Justin Tucker missed an extra point for the first time after making 222 in a row.
Everyone was still reeling – coaches, players, fans – when Flacco stepped to the podium to take questions from the media. Right away, it came up: What about that hard-to-swallow ending?
"Listen, this is part of football, man," he said.
As Flacco spoke, Tucker quietly slipped into the room and stood in a corner, waiting to speak next. He couldn't help but listen as the subject turned to how to handle being blamed for a defeat.
"I've been there. I've been there plenty of times," Flacco said.
He could see Tucker was in the room, and no doubt, his comments were intended for the kicker, one of his closest friends. Tucker, 28, is the more decorated player, having played in Pro Bowls and made All-Pro lists – boxes Flacco has never checked. But Flacco, 33, is more seasoned, having experienced a realistic football life of ups and downs, as opposed to Tucker, who'd never really failed in six-plus years in Baltimore.
Tucker was leading a fantasy life of sorts with that avoidance of despair, partly due to his own immense talent, but also some good fortune. Because the world isn't perfect, not for anyone. We all experience moments to regret. And when Tucker's suddenly was upon him Sunday, Flacco instinctively stepped into the role of locker room elder, mentor with a lesson to impart. You want to know how to survive this? Well, I know.
"There's no sense in putting your head down and crying about stuff like this. You just have to move on. There's good lessons in everything," Flacco said.
Though intended for Tucker, his message also surely was aimed at his teammates, especially the younger ones, newer to the NFL. Calm down. You're a pro. This is life. Deal with it.
Honestly, it was a good message for anyone wanting to bury their heads after a defeat that gave the Ravens a 4-3 record, not what they want but still putting them squarely in the middle of the playoff mix, with everything to play for.
"At the end of the year, we can't be looking back and regretting a game getting away because of how we thought about it the week before," Flacco said. "You just have to go, ball out, and at the end of the 16 games, you have to be able to look back at what you did and be proud of how you reacted to things."
After Flacco finished speaking, Tucker stepped to the podium and took questions, taking full responsibility for his crucial miss.
"I'll let this hurt for another couple of hours, and then I'll do everything I can to move on," he said.
He didn't need anyone to show him how to respond. He asked to be on the podium, a clear sign he wouldn't be ducking any responsibility. His mature display has received widespread kudos.
Nonetheless, it was Flacco who spoke first, set the tone, framed the narrative for how this moment should be digested – as an undeniable stunner to be moved on from as quickly as possible.
It was another example of his no-nonsense, level-headed approach, which the Ravens have adopted – to their benefit, I believe. Their MO is to play hard and then lock up last week's game in a box and forget about it, regardless of what happened. Honestly, it's the only way to survive in a topsy-turvy, hyper-competitive league where what happened last week seldom means much.
Don't expect that to change as the Ravens head into Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
I don't know how long Flacco will quarterback the team now that Lamar Jackson is around. It could be years, or not so long.
But whenever he is no longer here, his leadership and maturity will be missed.