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Joe Flacco Isn't Elite, He's a Winner

"All I do is win, win, win no matter what." - DJ Khaled on Joe Flacco

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Yesterday, former NFL Quarterback and ESPN NFL analyst Mark Brunell reignited the fire that is the debate of Joe Flacco's 'eliteness'. Brunell unveiled his 'QB Rankings' on ESPN, he split his rankings into two tiers, and notably excluded Flacco from the first tier and deemed him 'second tier' material. Brunell's opinions likely inadvertently started what seems to be the annual offseason tradition of discussing Flacco's 'eliteness'. This whole charade seemingly put on by the media every offseason is laughable and quite ridiculous. The truth is, Joe Flacco isn't elite, he's a winner. And being a winner is a hell of lot better than being 'elite'. It's time to end this nonsense, once and for all.

"I hate that my brain has been Pavlov'd so that every time I see the word "elite" I think of Joe Flacco."

- Redditor /u/AwesomeTed

So What Does 'Elite' Even Mean?

'Elite', it's a silly term isn't it? It's meaning can be very broad too, especially in the NFL context. It can mean different things to different people. The definiton of 'elite', from the dictionary anyways, is: "a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities." Now, who fits that description in the NFL? Well truthfully, it's hard to say. But the general consensus is that these four are the 'elite' QBs of the NFL:

  • Peyton Manning
  • Tom Brady
  • Drew Brees
  • Aaron Rodgers
I'd have to agree that these are the only true 'elite' guys in the NFL. These guys are sure to be enshrined in Canton, in my opinion. They're some of the best ever seen. My take on being 'elite' is that everyone knows you're on a different level and respects that. 'Eliteness' can't be taught, and it's a combination of so many tangibles and physical traits. It isn't all about the stats either. Or simply put, the truly 'elite' aren't part of the debate, as Bleacher Report's Dan Levy says.

Now, Ravens faithful, I need you to take off the purple-tinted glasses for a minute. Does our beloved QB fit that description? The answer? No. Joe Flacco isn't 'elite', but he's very good, and a winner too. However, he can be elite. (more on that later)

The Case For Joe Being "Very Good" (and even Elite, sometimes)

In my quest to figure out what exactly 'elite' meant, I asked the football discussion community /r/NFL "What traits do you look for in an 'elite quarterback'?" Here are some of the more popular responses:

Good arm strength. If the long ball isn't a threat, then your X receiver is just a decoy.
Able to take a hit. Because it's going to happen throughout the season.
They cannot crack under pressure and need to be able to stay in a ball game when the cards are against them.
He's gotta win. Preferentially in the playoffs.

Now granted, I did cherry pick a few of these. But still, don't these traits seem to describe Joe Flacco? Let's go down the list, and see if Joe has the traits of an 'elite'.

Joe is well-known for his great arm, his ability to sling it deep and stretch the field is unmatched. While sometimes the stats may differ, his form and throws speak for themselves. Flacco's deep-game is a difference maker, and one that teams can't simply take out of the game. Flacco paired with a speedy slot receiver is a recipe to wreak havoc on an opposing team's secondary. Even Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick praised this facet of Joe's game, saying Flacco "is one of the best deep ball passers in the NFL". Joe might not be elite, but his deep ball is.

"Durability is every bit as important as ability," said Coach Harbaugh about Flacco's unearthly durability. Unbeknownst to many, Flacco has never missed a NFL snap in his career. Durability is obviously a key to success, and it's probably no coincidence that the only two other active QBs who have started more consecutive games than Flacco have had successful NFL careers. Those two guys? Philip Rivers and Eli Manning.

The last one listed is clutch. That is something we all know Joe has, after all, his nickname is 'Joe Cool'. Joe doesn't have a fiery personality, and isn't one to make a big speech, or pump up the team. Joe lets his play speak for itself. The media seems to scrutinize Joe for being so calm, and for a lack of a better word, boring. Unfortunately for Joe, his profession typically requires a Type A personality, yet he's Type B. Thankfully, Baltimore fans embrace that and love our soft-spoken QB. He practically has ice in his veins, and has the calmest demeanor I've ever seen.

Luckily for the Ravens and Joe, having that calm demeanor is a unappreciated quality in the league, but it's lead to success. As we all know, Flacco led the team on a elite legendary run to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, in which he showcased his ice cold veins and ability to be clutch. His play was magical, and once-in-a-lifetime. Quarterbacks don't simply throw 11 TDs, 0 INTs, and get a QB rating of 117.2 in the playoffs every year. Despite what the critics say, that Joe was a product of a great defense, he was the main reason we won the Super Bowl. And that performance was elite, and totally justified his paycheck the next offseason. If you needed more evidence of Flacco's ability to lead the team, listen to this. In the 2013 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens trailed the Pats 13-7 at the half. Coach Harbaugh simply walked up to the defensive leaders (those guys who Flacco's success is apparently a product of) and said:

The rest is history, as you all know, Joe took the reins to the offense and scored 21 unanswered points, all his. After this, Joe concluded his epic playoff run by defeating the 49ers and winning his first Super Bowl. And that's who Joe is, a guy who is willing to sit back and do his job silently, not glamorously. But when his number is called, he's damn ready to play. That's why he's so clutch, and best known for his playoff heroics. I mean, the guy led his team to the AFC Championship in just his rookie year, and he was supposed to sit that year.

Just look at his NFL records, notice how almost all of them are postseason related?

  • First rookie quarterback to win two playoff games
  • Most wins by a quarterback in first six seasons: 62 (regular season only)
  • 2nd most combined regular and postseason wins in first three years as a quarterback: 36 (tied with Dan Marino)
  • Only quarterback to start and win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons
  • Most touchdowns in a postseason: 11 (tied with Joe Montana and Kurt Warner)
  • Most touchdowns without an interception in a postseason: 11 (tied with Joe Montana)
  • First quarterback to have a passer rating over 100 in all four games of a single postseason
  • Most consecutive playoff games with at least two passing touchdowns: 8
  • Most consecutive playoff games with at least three passing touchdowns: 3 (tied with Bernie Kosar, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Rodgers)
  • Most consecutive road playoff games with at least one passing touchdown: 7 (tied with Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre)
  • Most consecutive road playoff games with at least two passing touchdowns: 5
  • Fastest quarterback to record 5 touchdowns in a game: 16:03
  • Most road playoff wins for a quarterback: 7
Check out this convenient graph too, charting Flacco against some of the 'elites'.

(courtesy of

It's pretty clear Joe Flacco knows how to win, he may be shaky at times during the regular season, but when it counts, he's an anchor on the offense, a guy you can trust.

His Detractors

Here's the three things Flacco's critics say the most about him, allow me to dispel them.

His stats: he's never thrown for more than 4000 yards and 30 TDs.

He's simply a game manager, who only won because of a legendary defense.

Off the field, he's too 'boring'.

First, let's kill the stats argument. Stats aren't necessarily an indicator of success. You have to realize that here in Baltimore, no player ever has to carry the weight or workload on their shoulders. The Ravens play balanced, team football. They share the ball well. That's why when you think of league superstars, you don't exactly think of the Ravens. It's also why Ravens players also seem to be obsolete in fantasy football.

One must also realize that when Joe showed up, things were a little awkward here in Baltimore. The team's defense had an attitude that they carried the team, like in the 2000 season, when the Ravens won their first Lombardi Trophy. TE Dennis Pitta said it best, "We were built on defense. That was the philosophy: Limit mistakes, control the ball, let the defense win the game." Things reached a climax when Terrell Suggs said in an interview, "Troy [Smith] should be the starter. He's the better man for the job." It's pretty clear that this wasn't a QB-friendly environment. Yet despite all of this adversity, Flacco led them to the AFC Championship, as a rookie nonetheless.

On the stats end of things, what most notably held him back was OC Cam Cameron, who fought for Flacco to be drafted. Ravens fans scrutinized Cameron for holding back Flacco with shoddy playcalling, and called for Cameron's dismissal long before Coach Harbaugh finally pulled the trigger with only three weeks left in the 2012 regular season. Flacco's relationship with Cameron had become difficult, as Flacco wanted more control of the offense, and he wanted to be let loose. He had every right to want this, as it was his fifth-year in Cameron's system.

And so interim Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell took over, and he just simply "emphasized passing plays" instead of rewriting the playbook. Once Caldwell became the signal caller, Flacco took off on one of the hottest hot streaks ever, the legendary Super Bowl run. The epic playoff run changed Joe for the better, fellow teammates said that he became more talkative, and he got looser with the media. CB Ladarius Webb said "He seems more confident to me. He's making some throws he wouldn't usually try before this year, and he's putting it in there." With that confidence in place, Joe made the realization that it was his team now. After all, it was the end of an era, with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis both gone. It was time for Flacco to begin a new era.

After all of the dust had settled, Flacco looked back, and had this to say:

"I wish we'd been more willing to take risks," he says. "We were never willing to fail to get better. We always played safe. And we won, but we didn't really get better. I had no margin for error. I'd love to throw 40 touchdown passes a year. But I didn't even have a chance to do that."

What could Flacco have been? It's hard to say, but one can only imagine if Flacco had more control over the offense, his stats would've been far better. Instead, he was reduced to a 'game manager', and a scapegoat for when things went wrong. If anything, his 2014 season paints a picture of what his earlier seasons could've looked like, if only he had called the shots.

Now ignoring his 2013 season, which was a disaster for the team on many levels, (but let's not get into that) we find his 2014 season, arguably statistically his best one yet. Gary Kubiak called the shots this year, in a West Coast scheme that worked very well for Flacco. He set career highs in TD and Passing YDS. He owned the offense, and turned in consistently good performances. If you read his 2014 game logs, none of his games really stick out as bad. His five touchdowns in the first half against Tampa Bay made headlines though, as he showed off the 'trifecta', his superb accuracy, decision-making, and deep ball. If not for injuries in the secondary, 2014 could have been Joe's second Super Bowl run. Although you can't call him out for not trying, as the Ravens narrowly fell to the Patriots in a tightly-contested AFC Divisional Round Game. The 2014 season gave Ravens fans, and the whole league, a glimpse of what Joe could've been in previous seasons. Unfortunately, not many outisde of Baltimore noticed, and Flacco's contributions went largely unnoticed.

Now onto the second argument, that Flacco is only a product of Baltimore's legendary defense. For this one, I'll just let the Coach prove the critics wrong.

"To suggest Joe has been on some great teams and we've won in spite of him, or regardless of how he played, is absolutely false." - John Harbaugh

While Joe did seem to be a 'game manager' for a while, he still led the team, unbeknownst to many. As Harbaugh says, in the 2009 AFC Wild Card Game against the Patriots, Flacco put up a paltry 4-10 for 34 yards stat line. Yet what many don't know is that Flacco's hip was "so badly bruised that half his thigh was the color of an eggplant", yet Flacco still played.  According to Harbaugh, Flacco showcased his will to win by his actions on a fateful third down. It was late in the game, and New England was "threatening to creep back into the contest", "Flacco dropped back on third and seven, saw no one open, then scrambled for his life, extending the ball over the marker at the last second as a defender closed in on him. First down." Harbaugh says of Joe, "That is one of the greatest examples of why he's a winning quarterback." "People point to that game like he should be embarrassed because he only completed four passes. But Joe chases wins. He doesn't force things. He throws balls away to keep us in games."

So despite being on a team still hung over on dominating with defense in a league ever evolving towards offense, Joe still made his mark, and led his team to three AFC Championship games in five seasons. You can't simply succeed in the postseason with a good defense, you need offense too. Joe is the main reason we won that 2012 Super Bowl, and he is most certainly not a product of a good defensive team.

Finally, the final 'flaw' according to the press, his personality. I personally love 'Joe Cool' for who he is, I mean who buys McDonald's after signing the largest contact in NFL history for a QB? To add to the 'average' lifestyle of Joe, he married his high school sweetheart, and when his contract news broke, he was at a family pizza night. And what exactly is Flacco going to do with all of that contact money?

I touched on this earlier, but Flacco is a Type B guy trapped in a profession where he's expected to be a Type A guy. The good news is, he's comfortable with who he is, as evidenced by this quote.

"You think I'm boring? I think that's cool," Flacco says. "I don't know if I'm an everyday person, but I don't think I'm an a—hole. If you think I'm boring, I don't see why it's a negative thing. All I've ever wanted was to be respected within the building."

- Joe Flacco

Plus his relaxed demeanor and personality puts everyone on the offense at ease, and makes him a much better QB. Flacco has said that he isn't a 'yeller', and believes that as long as his players are turning in a good effort, there's no point to disciplining them. "The game's over. Let's move on and get better.", says Flacco.

I love Flacco's personality, and so do many Ravens fans, and even the players. Why does he receives criticism for it? Who knows. It's kind of funny because the one time Joe flashed some confidence and said something out of character, he received so much criticism. He was what the media wanted him to be, yet was still persecuted.

So please never change Joe, never change. We love you for who you are.


As I said in the title, Joe Flacco isn't necessarily elite, but he's a natural winner. At times, Flacco can be elite, see the Super Bowl run, for example. But what really matters in this league is winning. No one cares if you're good, but can't win. In this day and age, fans want titles, and rings. Joe knows how to deliver both, he loves winning, and he knows how to do it. Just look at the records, look at the stat books, Joe Flacco is a winner. No doubt about it. I leave you with this quote, from the man himself.

"And hey, we might lose one or two games because we're being really super aggressive, but you know what? That's what's gonna get us to the Super Bowl. And that's what's gonna win it for us. And I love winning, and I'm gonna continue to win no matter what my numbers are. I don't care if I throw for 2,000 yards a year. I wanna throw for 5 or 6,000 yards a year, because I think that's what's best for our team."

- Joe Flacco