As always there is far too much discussion about how good or how not that good Joe Flacco is this offseason. It's a poor and all too often recycled story and most of the time I wish it would get dropped from everyone’s rotation.
That being said, and in my defense mostly to the fault of how much is written about the topic, it's something I can't ever stop thinking about (I spend more time in the shower thinking about how good Joe Flacco is than a normally adjusted adult male should). And due to THIS LIST and the fact that this is the internet, we're just going to have to keep it coming. So let's throw a few more twigs on this stupid, stupid fire and help me get these thoughts off of my chest and down the drain once and for all.
This is my very thoroughly thought out (read: biased) theory on Joe Flacco and why he's great. It's a two part theory that I will argue using two of the most critical plays from this past season as the primary examples. As you can guess, I know nothing and have talked to no one reliable about this. Here we go.
Joe Cool is often said ironically by pundits, which makes sense because it can be used in two ways. It can mean cool as in collected, someone who doesn't get rattled easily and keeps a level head when the pressure gets turned up which is a description that I think fits Flacco perfectly. And cool can mean cool. As in the old ladies want him, guys want to be him, super likable, exciting star quarterback fashion which as his father would tell you, Joe Flacco is most certainly not.
I've gone back and forth with myself over the past five years as to how good I think Flacco is. To be clear I've always thought he was good, and that he would get better as his career unfolded. Fairly, the Ravens' past history with young quarterbacks who seemed to have all the physical tools gave me some reservations. What I always said when someone asked me what I thought about Joe Flacco was "I'm glad that he's the Ravens' quarterback." And I meant it. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach I was afraid he was just a rich man's Kyle Boller, but in my head I always knew he would be great.
The first reason for this is that he has the obvious physical tools. Flacco wasn't another Boller because he was clearly more gifted from day one. He has what is often called the strongest arm in the league, and from his first season he could make some very difficult throws. I remember commentators constantly praising the go-to sideline throws he made to Derek Mason during his rookie campaign as being as good as anyone could throw them.
The second reason though became more and more obvious as his career went along. Flacco would never get that angry, determined look that other great quarterbacks get late in games. Whenever I see Tom Brady getting ready to march down the field with a minute left on the clock I feel like there is a certain fire in his eyes; when you hear him in press conferences you can tell that he is passionate about those moments and it's his will that gets things done. I never really see or hear that from Flacco. Instead, Flacco is cool. Actually he is more than cool. He is unemotional and unwavering. He snaps the ball, calculates the decision he feels would give his team the best chance to win, and he does that. Because Joe Flacco is a god damn robot. And he doesn't second guess the decision because his steadfast robot brain tells him that win or lose it was the best decision to make at the time.
To be clear I don't think he cares about winning less than Brady or other quarterbacks. I don't think he's less competitive because I don't believe anyone could make it this far as a professional athlete if they didn't have that sort of drive. I just think that at some point a coach or somebody sold him on the old adage we hear from everyone in sports: that you can't let your emotions go to your head, that you have to trust the process, do the things that you have practiced doing over and over again, and know that doing this will give you the best chance of winning whether you do or not. And over the course of his football career, he internalized this into his hard-wiring, programmed the computer in his brain to perfection, and became the embodiment (albeit the dull, temporarily unibrowed, cyborg embodiment) of what is one of the most perennial lessons in sports. It's why, even when he short circuits and makes a bad throw or has a bad game, he is so able to bounce back.
Oh yea I promised examples. This first one goes more towards the physical tools argument. It's the overtime-forcing Jacoby Jones Hail Mary from the Denver game. Robot and professional football player Joe Flacco (who, if robots can even be inspired was getting some reassurance from the fact that the team's all-time greatest player had clearly replaced his arm with some mechanical contraption and reinvented himself with a new face mask as Robo-Ray Lewis) sees the field, and understands that his team's best shot is a bomb to Jacoby Jones, who was having a great day and streaking down the right side of the field. Even though Jones was originally covered, Flacco would make this throw 100 times out of 100, because if you played this out 100 times, this is the play that would most often result in tying the game. But this example is more about his physical tools because I think most competent quarterbacks would make the same decision. What separates Flacco here is that rocket launcher equipped as an appendage in place of a human arm; no other quarterback is better equipped to actually make that play.
My second example follows a similar premise but is more in line with arguing my robot hypothesis as it is a play that took no un-human degree of skill, but also a play that I believe most human quarterbacks would not make. It's the 4th and 29 dump pass to Ray Rice in San Diego. I'm sure I don't have to remind you what happened.
After the win against San Diego, aside from the obvious fact that Rice deserved most of the credit, I heard two prevailing arguments as to why Flacco should get no praise for the play he made. The first was a decent point if a little unfair. The Chargers’ defense did a horrible job and as good as Ray Rice is, someone should have tackled him or at least slowed him down. The tape shows at least one defender completely giving up. The second argument was and is just a stupid one. This is the "oh well if they lost Flacco looks like an idiot for dumping it off on a 4th and 29" argument. It's dumb, the result of overly emotional and critical human minds missing the real picture. If Rice had gotten tackled and the Ravens had lost the game, there surely would have been those deriding Flacco for dumping it off. But they'd be wrong, because Flacco made the play that gave his team the best chance of winning. With nobody else open to throw to, he gave the ball to his best playmaker in space. It's a play that over the past five years has worked wonders for Ravens. And again, even though he would get torn apart by the media had the play failed, 100 times out of 100 I believe Flacco would have made the same play. Because no matter how unlikely it was to succeed it was the play most likely to succeed, and because robots don't care what Skip Bayless thinks about them.
It's not just that Flacco made the play. It's that I don't believe there are many other quarterbacks who would. My gut (my pitifully human gut) makes me feel that most quarterbacks would look downfield and try to fit it into the least-not-open receiver. Win or lose, Flacco made the best throw available.
And that's why he is one of the best in the league. Maybe Flacco continues to have the occasional throw away game throughout his career. His wiring guarantees he will have the bounce back game too, and what he is when everything clicks (and I think it usually does) is good enough to live with the occasions when it doesn't. So it's ridiculous to think that at the very least Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, or Sam Bradford (not to mention a few other quarterbacks on that top 10 list) will be better than Flacco in a few years. They are but mere humans. Joe Flacco might not be sexy, he might be a little dull, he is most certainly more machine than man, and honestly maybe that's even unfair. But as the officials said about another outsider who tried to play the game, ain't no rule saying a robot can't play football. And until the NFL changes that, Joe Flacco is our quarterback, and as always, I'm glad he is.