Joe Flacco bidding for consideration among elite QBs

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before an AFC divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. (Jan. 12, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

This was a few minutes after the Ravens' unlikely comeback win over the Broncos Saturday in the AFC divisional playoffs, and Joe Flacco's face was still red -- still numb, too -- from the frigid temperatures at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Flacco had just pulled off a dramatic upset of Peyton Manning's top-seeded team in the second overtime. He saved the Ravens' season with a 70-yard touchdown pass near the end of regulation and then outlasted Manning to lead Baltimore back to the AFC Championship Game and a rematch with the Patriots.

Flacco thought back to last year's wacky ending at Gillette Stadium. It left the Ravens crushed after Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt with 11 seconds to play in a 23-20 loss.

"We know what it felt like last year. We walked off that field without that win," Flacco said. "We know what we've put to get back to this point. It's going to be a great game."

No argument there.

Even though we don't get Tom Brady-Peyton Manning Part IV of their epic playoff series, we do get what should be a breathtaking matchup. It's Flacco, who placed his stamp on NFL history with an absolutely brilliant effort against the Broncos in one of the greatest playoff games you'll ever see, against Brady, who earned his record 17th postseason victory Sunday, beating the Texans to advance to the AFC title game for an astonishing seventh time since becoming the Patriots' starter in 2001.

There's something that tells Flacco the result could be different this time. "We are definitely proud of being here," he said, "and we feel like it is going to take a lot for someone to come and kick us off that field come the AFC Championship Game."

Flacco no doubt will have a lot to do with whether the Ravens get to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season, when Ray Lewis and his relentless defense powered them to their only championship. Flacco boldly proclaimed before the season that he thought he was the best quarterback in the game, and his play this year, while erratic in spots, has convinced some skeptics that he's at least in the conversation when it comes to the league's top passers.

His performances the last two weeks, especially against Denver, have bolstered his case.

And if he beats Brady, who just might be the greatest quarterback who ever lived?

Then we'll talk.

No matter what happens against the Patriots, Flacco has at least one important admirer in his midst. "I've always been a Joe Flacco fan,'' Lewis said, "and I always will be."

The 37-year-old future Hall of Fame linebacker, who will retire after the postseason, said he noticed something unusual about Flacco on Saturday.

"To look in his eyes, he had something different about him," Lewis said. "I just wanted to encourage it . . . That will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history."

Flacco is the only quarterback ever to make the playoffs in his first five seasons. His postseason record is 7-4, and he's never been one and done. But he will need another signature performance to lay claim to a place among the greats.

Beat Brady in his house, then move on to the Super Bowl . . . that's where he needs to be.

His chance is here. Again.

Flacco was good enough to beat Brady last year, and we'd be talking about him differently if Evans had caught that pass. But it was Brady who went to his fifth Super Bowl, where he lost to the Giants, a game that still eats at him because of how close he was to a fourth ring.

Now Flacco stands in his way again, and the matchup should be extraordinary. Even if it's not the one most expected to see.

"I think the two best teams are in the finals,'' Brady said Sunday. "Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we, so it's very fitting.''

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs put it best. As he left the locker room Saturday, he told reporters, "You know you all had them [Broncos] picked. Sorry to destroy your Brady-Manning AFC championship."

No worries. Brady-Flacco will do just fine.

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