Joe Flacco's Transformation Of Ravens


Picture this.

It's a close game at the Superdome as the Ravens and 49ers trade punches in Super Bowl XLVII. Time is winding down in regulation.

So who's going to make the difference? Who's going to win it?

"Joe Flacco," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "He's on our team. He's the difference."

Twelve years ago, it was the Ravens' big, bad defense that led Baltimore to a victory in Super Bowl XXXV. They didn't surrender a single offensive touchdown to the New York Giants.

But times have changed in Baltimore, and it centers around No. 5.

"Joe has transformed us in a lot of ways," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It's been a process and Joe has been hugely successful doing it."

Flacco was tossed into the fire immediately, a rookie starter in Week 1.

While he hasn't always been trusted with the keys to the offense as he is now – such as when Baltimore decided to put the game on his shoulders in the AFC championship in New England – Flacco has won.

The stats speak for themselves. No quarterback in NFL history has reached the playoffs his first five years in the league, let alone win a game each time once he's in.

But there were consistently doubters of Flacco, those who thought his stats were propped up more by Baltimore's defense than indicators of the quarterback's talent.

It was evident that wasn't the case this season.

The defense struggled for the first half of the year and finished ranked 17th overall in yardage per game (350.9). The offense, however, was 16th overall in yardage per game (352.5).

It's the first time the Ravens offense finished ranked ahead of the defense since 1997, when Vinny Testaverde was flinging the ball around and linebacker Ray Lewis was just 23 years old.

When the special teams unit surrendered two touchdowns and the Broncos put up 35 points in the divisional playoffs, Flacco responded by outdueling one of the league's top defenses.

Now at the Super Bowl, Flacco is garnering national praise. While Flacco has hardly reacted to it, his teammates are happy to see the turning tide.

"He definitely deserves all the credit that he's been given," Reed said. "He deserves all the accolades and whatever he gets contractually, all that stuff. He deserves it."

Players like Lewis, Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata – stalwarts of the Ravens defense – are making room for the next era of Ravens football led by Flacco.

Before the Ravens' divisional playoff game in Denver, Lewis roughed Flacco up in the tunnel and told him he was the general now.

"This year, he took the next step in maturing as a man and really understanding what a leader has to do," Lewis said Monday from the Super Bowl.

"It's an offensive dominated team now," former Ravens head coach Brian Billick said during Media Day. "Once Ray Lewis leaves, this is going to be Joe Flacco's team. This [Super Bowl] will be the first step in that."

Flacco hasn't changed as a person.

He's still laid back "Joe Cool." His big endorsement deal from the Super Bowl was with Baltimore-based Haribo Gold Bears, a gummy bear company. Even his own father called Flacco "dull" in an interview with the New York Times.

"As dull as he is portrayed in the media, he's that dull," he said. "He is dull.*" *

Matt Birk said the offensive linemen wanted to buy Flacco a gift this year, so the veteran center who has snapped for Flacco* *all five years of his career went to the quarterback to ask what his hobbies are. Flacco didn't have any.

Flacco told them he simply likes hanging out in his basement. So Birk and the group got him a pinball machine.

"I don't know that he's transformed," Ngata said. "He's been the same guy."

But what Flacco has done to the Ravens is drastic.

"He's shown that Baltimore can also have an offense," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs simply said.

And how does the defense feel about that?

"I don't mind it," Ngata said. "If they score points like they have, I'll be more than happy to be an offensive team."

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