As the Ravens drove down the field in the game's final minutes, defensive end Chris Canty tried to calm the nerves around him on the sidelines.
"I felt like Joe was going to lead the troops down on the game-winning drive," Canty said. "I thought it was classic Flacco in the playoffs – he's going to come up big."
Canty had good reason to feel optimistic.
As usual, playoff Flacco was dueling. In freezing temperatures, facing a secondary lauded for having shutdown cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, Flacco consistently cut them.
Flacco stood toe-to-toe with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
In the end, one play left Flacco on the losing side and Brady the winner. But Flacco's performance shouldn't be overlooked.
"What about No. 5?" outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, transitioning from a compliment to Brady.
"He played a hell of a game. I think that's definitely something we can build on. Joe, he's always been dominant in this part of the season. We just fell one play short. They made one more play than we did."
Flacco finished the night 28-for-45 with 292 passing yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He was especially deadly in the first half, piling up 146 passing yards on 17 of 22 completions and three touchdowns.
In the process, he set a new NFL record with eight straight postseason games with at least two touchdown passes, surpassing Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, and Saints gunslinger Drew Brees.
Flacco and the offense gave the Ravens two separate 14-point leads. In the end, that still wasn't enough as the Patriots mounted their biggest comeback in franchise history. Nobody in the postgame locker room pointed the finger at Flacco.
"The offense scored 31 points," Canty said. "They held up their end of the bargain. Defensively, we didn't do enough."
Flacco was aggressive throughout the postseason, and that continued Saturday night in Foxborough. As he said he would during the week, he went right at Revis and Browner and beat them both. He delivered big completions on two separate fourth-down situations.
He was aggressive right to the end.
With the Ravens driving in the final minutes, Flacco saw a chance to take the lead with the deep pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith. Flacco and the Ravens had seen something on tape from an earlier Patriots-Packers game that led them to believe they could win deep.With a minute, 46 seconds left from New England's 36-yard line, Flacco tried to hit Smith over the top. Safety Duron Harmon made a nice play, however, shading to that side and making an interception in front of Smith.
"I took my shot and it just didn't work out," Flacco said.
Flacco and the Ravens could have tried to work more short passes to march down the field, but as they did successfully in Pittsburgh, they were aggressive and went for the throat. Flacco didn't fault the strategy. It's partly what has made him so good in the playoffs, and got the team to this point.
"At the end of the game, when you're trying to go take a lead and win a football game, you've got to do what you can to* *put points on the board when you get the chance to do it and let the defense take care of it from there."
Smith didn't see Harmon until the last minute and tried to hit him to jar the ball loose, but he couldn't save Flacco from the interception. Smith still walked away with nothing but rave reviews for his quarterback.
"Joe's a beast, man," Smith said. "He's as good as anyone. He plays his game when it comes to crunch time. It sucks for him that we weren't able to come up with that one last play that we needed, because he played a heck of a game."