Joe Flacco smiled as he sat on the bench late in Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
He had just finished one of his best performances of the season, and he got to enjoy the final series from the sidelines as the Ravens put in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor to finish off the Ravens' 33-14 victory.
Flacco was shown on the Ravens video boards, bringing big cheers from the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. It was a far cry from the boos and criticism Flacco had endured following last week's loss to the Broncos.
With the pressure on him to perform, Flacco responded in a big way and led the Ravens to a critical late-season victory.
"I know he's been getting a lot of gripe the last couple of weeks, probably even from teammates," safety Ed Reed said. "It's a process. It's a process we are all in together. He had a great game."
Flacco finished the day with 25-of-36 passing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He was sharp and effective throughout the day, and led the Ravens offense to a season-high 533 total yards.
He spread the ball around to seven receivers, was quick to release the ball in the pocket and also kept plays alive with his feet. Flacco had the Ravens offense clicking, and orchestrated the up-tempo approach to near perfection.
"Joe was lights out today," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "He threw for over 300 yards and was seeing the field great and delivering the ball right where it had to be. He made a ton of big plays and got* *our offense started fast and rolling from the beginning."
The performance from Flacco came after a rocky couple of weeks.
He had struggled recently, committing six turnovers during the three-game losing streak. His play and his impending free agency had become a popular topic among the local and national media, with some even questioning whether he was the long-term solution for the Ravens at quarterback.
Following the dismissal of Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron after the Week 14 loss to Washington, Flacco admitted that more pressure would fall on him to lead the offense and play at a high level for the rest of the season.
The magnifying glass was then placed squarely on Flacco following last week's loss, where he had two critical turnovers, including an interception return for touchdown that ended up being the game-changing play.
"When you lose three straight,* *people look at the quarterback, that's part of the job," Flacco said. "I think a lot is made and sometimes it really isn't that much, and it's not my job to really listen to [the criticism], so I don't. … I believe in myself. I believe in this team."
The showing from Flacco Sunday displayed the resiliency of the fifth-year quarterback, who has now led the Ravens to AFC North titles in back-to-back seasons.
"I think it says that he's a very good quarterback, number one," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It also says that he has a lot of determination, a lot of pride, and he was able to handle that. That's probably the biggest thing. You have to have think skin, skin like an armadillo."
His teammates spoke highly of what Flacco was able to do with his back against the wall.
"I've always said that he's handled the pressure better than anybody I've ever seen," running back Ray Rice said. "He's done a great job handling it – and as I said, we go as Joe goes."
"I think Joe plays big every week," tight end Ed Dickson added. "When Joe is in the zone, he looks like one of the best quarterbacks out there. We told him as an offensive group that we have his back. … I think Joe stepped up big and he showed a little emotion today."
Flacco said that his confidence never wavered, and spoke adamantly after last week's loss to Denver that the Ravens would have to respond and find out what kind of team they are in the final weeks of the season.
There is still plenty of football left to be played, but Sunday's win over the Giants was a step in the right direction.
"I think that we showed ourselves and we showed people today that we are that kind of team," Flacco said. "We're here to stay and we just have to do all we can to get better, to play like this and even get better than this throughout the remaining weeks."