NEW ORLEANS >> Quarterback Joe Flacco put off contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens until after the season was done.
Seems like a terrific decision now, huh?
Capping a perfect postseason, the unassuming and unheralded Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three first-half touchdowns Sunday, earning Super Bowl MVP honors for leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
It was a back-and-forth game oddly interrupted more than a half-hour by a power outage.
“We gave the country a pretty good game to watch,” Flacco said.
Sure did his part, especially at the outset.
Flacco set aside any questions about just how good he is and whether he belongs in the conversation about the league’s best quarterbacks, becoming only the sixth in 47 Super Bowls to throw for three scores in a first half. He connected with Anquan Boldin for 13 yards, Dennis Pitta for 1, and Jacoby Jones for 56.
“Now they’re gonna have to talk about Joe Flacco,” center Matt Birk said. “Joe’s a stud. He showed it tonight.”
Not just Sunday, actually.
The admittedly mild-mannered guy, who played his college football far from the spotlight at Delaware, wrapped up Baltimore’s four-game run to the title with a record-equaling 11 TD passes and zero interceptions, going 73 of 126 for 1,140 yards. It was an impressive streak that included road victories against two of the game’s most respected QBs, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and a first-round home win against No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck.
“I’m a Joe Flacco fan. I’ve been a Joe Flacco fan,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who ended his 17-year career with a second championship. “To do what he did today, that’s what we always see.”
Flacco’s job in the second half Sunday was more about being safe than spectacular. He had helped Baltimore take a 21-6 halftime lead, and it grew to 28-6 when Jones returned the second-half kickoff a Super Bowl-record 108 yards.
That is when things got strange.
First, the lights inside the Superdome cut out, delaying action for more than a half-hour. And when play resumed, San Francisco quickly scored 17 consecutive points to make things interesting.
The Ravens held on down the stretch though, with two short field goals by rookie Justin Tucker padding the lead, and the Lewis-led defense stopping the 49ers on a fourth-and-goal at the 5.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way we stop them here,'” Flacco said. “But we did.”
Neither Flacco nor his team appeared to be ready to take on all comers as the regular season concluded.
After all, the Ravens lost four of their final five games in the regular season to stumble into the playoffs.
And Flacco, a fifth-year pro, finished only 12th in the 32-team NFL in passer rating at a merely passable 87.7 — way behind league leader Aaron Rodgers’ 108.0 — while compiling 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
Middle-of-the-pack, to say the least.
But he and his team definitely did shine when the results mattered most.
“I tell you what: We don’t make it easy,” Flacco said. “But that’s the way the city of Baltimore is. That’s the way we are.”
He simply becomes a different player in the playoffs. He set an NFL record for quarterbacks by leading his team to playoff wins in each of his first five seasons. He is 9-4 overall in the postseason.
His contract is up now. And he could wind up with one of the biggest deals in NFL history, perhaps commanding somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million a year.
There would have been an opportunity to sign something last offseason, but Flacco’s agent and the Ravens could not agree on how much he was worth.
The rest of the world wasn’t really certain, either.
Flacco delivered quite an answer Sunday.
“He’s taken a lot of criticism over his career, for whatever reason,” Pitta said. “But we’ve always believed in him. We’ve known the kind of player that he is. He’s showed up on the biggest stage and performed.”