FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Joe Flacco beat two of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks to get the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl.
Now he’s the man with the rich resume going into the biggest game of his life.
Flacco helped end Tom Brady’s season one week after he did the same to Peyton Manning, throwing three touchdown passes in the second half and leading the Ravens to a 28-13 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday.
"We didn’t come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win," Flacco said. "We came here and we were in the AFC championship game and you have to go play to win."
Do that one more time, against the San Francisco 49ers, and he’ll add a Super Bowl championship to a stellar postseason record.
He’ll just have to outplay first-year starter Colin Kaepernick. Finally, he’s the quarterback to beat.
"He’s a great quarterback," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught two touchdown passes. "I don’t know why people keep doubting him because the bigger the situation is, the bigger he plays, and he’s proven that time and time again."
The 49ers, though, opened as 5-point favorites for the NFL championship game.
Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards against the Patriots. One week earlier, he completed 18 of 34 passes for a postseason franchise record 331 yards in a 38-35 double-overtime win over Manning and the Denver Broncos. In each game he threw for three touchdowns—and no interceptions.
Brady was 29 for 54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. And Manning went 28 for 43 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Oh, and Flacco beat the Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck 24-9 in the wild-card round.
"We’ve always believed in Joe," coach John Harbaugh said, "and for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row -- Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, Manning’s a pretty good quarterback and Brady’s a great quarterback.
"All those guys are great players, but Joe’s a great quarterback. And Joe has proven that. He’s not just proven it this year, he’s proven it for five years."
Flacco won his sixth postseason game on the road, the most in NFL history. He is the only quarterback with a postseason victory on each of his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era. He’s 8-4 in playoff games.
His 62 victories, including the postseason, are more than any NFL quarterback since the start of the 2008 season.
More than Brady. More than Manning.
And now the 18th pick of the 2008 draft out who didn’t play at a small-time school—he was a star at Delaware—he’s going to the NFL championship game for the first time.
"From the first snap (when) he went against our defense, I knew he was a smart guy," safety Ed Reed said. "He blitzed him and he threw it straight to the sideline out of bounds because he knew we were coming. He’s always been a leader (with) more than potential to lead us to where we’re going right now."
It looked like he would lead the Ravens right out of the postseason in the first half when he completed just 6 of 12 passes for 81 yards with no touchdowns. But in the second half he went 15 for 24 for 159 yards with all three touchdowns.
"We hadn’t gotten much going on offense," he said. "They do a good job stopping the run and we knew we had to come out here in the second half and make some plays in the passing game."
The Ravens didn’t do that on their first series in the third quarter.
Then Flacco got rolling.
On his next three series he threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Dennis Pitta and 3 yards and 11 yards to Boldin—all in a span of 10:01.
Just like that, a 13-7 deficit was replaced by a 28-13 lead.
With Flacco at the helm.
"These games are tough to win and we’ve put ourselves in the position to win these games and, eventually, you’re going to push through and play the way you need to," he said.
No matter who the opposing quarterback is.