For as long as the Ravens have been around, Ray Lewis has always been the team's unquestioned leader.
His teammates call him "The General."
But before Saturday's divisional-round matchup with the Denver Broncos, Lewis passed that title and the torch of leadership to a new man: quarterback Joe Flacco.
"In the tunnel, I told him, 'You're the General now. Lead us to a victory. You will lead us today. I'm just here to facilitate things,'" Lewis said.
Lewis' career is coming to a close as he's in his final postseason run, and it is Flacco's time to take command of a team that has its eyes set on a Super Bowl.
Flacco took a big step in that direction Saturday. The fifth-year quarterback did exactly what Lewis asked of him, turning in a memorable performance to lead the Ravens to a 38-35 comeback victory over the Broncos.
Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, outdueling future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning on the opposite sideline.
"He grew up today," Lewis said. "To watch what he did today is probably one of the greatest things that I'll always sit back and remember."
Flacco is the only quarterback in NFL history to go to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, and he now has the Ravens in the AFC championship for the third time in his career. But for as much success as Flacco has enjoyed, he has been criticized locally and nationally for his inconsistent play at times.
He has always stood up to the pressure and proven to be a consistent winner, but Saturday's victory may be his best postseason performance to date.
"To look into his eyes, he had something different about him today, and I just wanted to encourage it," Lewis said. "I've always been a Joe Flacco fan. And I always will be."
Not only did Flacco put up big numbers, but he had command of the game.
He consistently delivered one big throw after another, taking chances down the sidelines to lead the Ravens back from four separate deficits.
Flacco's most memorable play of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Ravens trailing by a touchdown, on their own 30-yard line, with no timeouts and 40 seconds left on the clock. The Broncos pass rush started to get to him in the pocket, but he rolled out to the right, and heaved a bomb down the sideline for speedy wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
Jones slipped just past the Broncos secondary and Flacco's pass hit him perfectly in stride, as he took the ball to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game with 31 seconds left and send it into overtime.
After the game, even Flacco had trouble finding the words to describe the play.
"There's no real way to explain it," Flacco said. "The opportunity arose and guys made plays."
"It was just crazy."
That play wasn't the only big drive that Flacco orchestrated throughout the game. Another key moment came just before halftime, as the Ravens were down seven points with 1:16 left in the half. Flacco needed just three plays to drive the Ravens down the field for a touchdown, which came on a 32-yard scoring grab by wide receiver Torrey Smith. Flacco lofted a pass down the sideline for Smith, who leaped over Pro Bowler Champ Bailey to make the catch and tie the game going into the locker room.
"[This game] says a lot [about Joe]," Smith said. "A lot of ups and downs throughout the game and he stayed level headed, kept that Joe face on, and he never doubted for a minute, stayed positive, and he made some big-time plays. He gave guys chances to make plays."
Flacco and the Ravens will now prepare for another AFC championship game, and he hopes to continue his impressive postseason with another victory next week to advance to his first-ever Super Bowl.
"Good play can show up in different ways," Flacco said. "Sometimes it shows up in throwing for a few yards and a few touchdowns. Other times it shows up in just managing the game and going to get your team a win. And there's other times where you just lose football games.
"I think this was a big game where we all kind of rose up and took care of each other. I think when that happens then everybody plays pretty well."