FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Joe Flacco doesn’t put up the numbers, get the respect or have the three Super Bowl rings that Tom Brady has. The Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback does have one edge on the Patriots star.
Flacco is 1-0 against Brady in postseason games.
He can stay undefeated and defy the doubters if the Ravens upset the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game on Sunday.
Sure, Flacco was just the 18th-ranked quarterback in the NFL this season, but he’s the only one since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Brady did it in two of his first four.
“A quarterback has to do what his team needs him to do to win and Joe has done that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been a solid guy since his rookie year in terms of managing the game and using the clock and making good decisions and those types of things.”
In Flacco’s four years, the Ravens are 44-20 in the regular season and 5-3 in the playoffs. In the same span, although Brady missed the last 15 games with a knee injury in 2008, the Patriots are 48-16 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.
And the Patriots defense has struggled during the regular season. Only one team allowed more yards passing during the regular season.
The defense did have an outstanding game in last Saturday night’s 45-10 divisional win, giving up just 252 yards, but that was against the overmatched Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
“Last week won’t have anything to do with this week,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We have to play better. We have to make more plays because each game you play it gets tougher and tougher, especially when you’re dealing with a ball club we’re going to face in the Ravens. They’re a stingy team.”
The playoff-tested Flacco has a lot more experience than Tebow. He also has running back Ray Rice, who led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, and deep threats Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
The Ravens’ running attack has been more effective than their passing game, but the Patriots could be hurt if they don’t pay enough attention to Flacco and his receivers.
“They have a great running game,” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said, “but as a secondary, you’ve got to realize Anquan Boldin (has been) a great receiver for years in this league and so is Lee Evans. Then with Torrey Smith being a rookie, what jumps out on the (video) screen is that he can fly and he gets vertical.”
The Patriots, dealing with injuries on defense all season, should be close to full strength.
They don’t have Andre Carter, their leader in sacks before a knee injury ended his season in the 14th game.
But safety Patrick Chung, their best defensive back, and linebacker Brandon Spikes returned from seven games on the sidelines to play the last regular-season game and first playoff game.
“You can’t say enough about (Chung),” cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “He brings a very physical element, or more physical element, to our defense. His presence is definitely known and felt when he’s back in the lineup.”
The Patriots had the AFC’s best record at 13-3, but the Ravens were 12-4, although they were just 4-4 on the road.
But they and Flacco were at their best against the best.
They’re 7-0 against playoff teams, including a 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in last Sunday’s divisional game.
In those games against playoff teams, Flacco has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions against four of the NFL’s top seven-rated defenses — Pittsburgh (first), Houston (second), San Francisco (fourth) and Cincinnati (seventh).
The Ravens gained just 227 yards against the Texans, but Flacco had a 97.1 quarterback rating.
“Joe Flacco is a very capable quarterback,” defensive backs coach Josh Boyer said. “He is a guy that can throw the ball 65 yards down the field. He can hit the intermediate routes. He is very smart. He understands when to go to the check downs. Even at times he takes some good sacks. He doesn’t put his team in bad situations.”
But he’s unlikely to lead one sustained drive after another.
Still, if he doesn’t give the opponent extra chances by turning the ball over, the Ravens could score enough to win behind their dominant defense.
Especially against a Patriots defense that allowed an average of 411.1 yards during the regular season.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh thinks they’re better than that.
“I see a very capable defense,” he said. “I see a lot of talented players who play very hard. (They have) a very big, physical front, talented back end, (and are) obviously well-coached with a good scheme. So I see a big obstacle in front of us.”
Of course, this is no time to point out an opponent’s weaknesses.
Wilfork isn’t about to do it either.
Flacco “has great poise in the pocket,” he said. “He’s going to stand in that pocket and deliver a good football even if he’s getting hit. … You can’t ask for anything better. A quarterback that can take a beating and licks and still deliver the ball downfield, that’s pretty good. We have our hands full there also.
“There are a lot of things that we have to do very well to be successful. It’s not just slowing down their running attack.”