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Chad Pemberton: Ravens, Flacco lay dubious claim to title as NFL's best

Feb. 08, 2013 @ 12:36 AM

The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, as I'm sure you've heard, and I'm still not totally convinced that makes a whole lot of sense based on the 20 games they played this season.

This is the same Baltimore team that couldn't muster one measly offensive touchdown against Kansas City in Week 5 or against the Byron Leftwich-lead Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. The same team that needed a lucky -- OK, downright miraculous -- conversion on fourth-and-29 by Ray Rice to beat a pitiful San Diego team in overtime in Week 12.

It's funny how much the regular season doesn't matter as long as a team makes it to the playoffs. Baltimore's postseason was a brilliant four-game winning streak at the most opportune time, and nobody will remember that the Ravens, just a couple of months ago, were seen as nothing more than an aging, injury-riddled team that had little to offer in terms of intimidation but a lot to offer in terms of mediocrity.

So I remind myself of an important caveat that should be attached as a footnote to every season. That the Super Bowl determines a league champion, not necessarily which team is the best. Baltimore is certainly one of the eight best teams in the league, but if not for Denver Broncos' defensive back Rahim Moore tripping and blowing a seemingly basic coverage, we're having a completely different conversation right now.

I'm always amazed at how slim the margin between winning and losing is in the NFL. And routinely appalled at how absolute and unflinching our reactions are only after the games are played. And disgusted by the lack of nuance in the discourse of professional football, especially when it comes to talking about quarterbacks.

Which brings me to Joe Flacco, who is now "Officially Elite" (apparently) in the eyes of the masses because of his performance over the last month or so. First, the credit because it is due: Flacco's post-season performance -- four games, 73-0f-126 (57.9 percent), 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and a Total-QBR of 83.6 -- is probably the second best in the history of the NFL, behind Joe Montana's post-season run following the 1989 season -- three games, 65-for-83 (78.3 percent), 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Especially when you take into consideration the teams Flacco faced. During the regular season, Denver's defense ranked second in yards allowed per game (290.8) and fourth in points allowed (18.1), New England's defense ranked ninth in points allowed per game (20.7). San Francisco's defense ranked third in yards allowed per game (294.4) and second in points allowed per game (17.1).

But ... and this is where I'm skeptical and challenge the narrative pushed by mainstream. Is a brilliant four-game stretch that culminates with a championship ring and a Super Bowl MVP award a sensible rationale to completely alter how we talk about Flacco as a quarterback?

Has everyone conveniently forgotten that Flacco had the 25th best Total-QBR this season (46.8)? And that the four seasons prior he never once cracked the top 10 in Total-QBR? Does it really make reasonable sense to push a narrative based on a four-game sample that totally and utterly contradicts what is evidenced in the 80-game sample from Flacco's five regular seasons? Why does he have to be "Elite?" Why is it Flacco can't simply be a pretty good franchise quarterback, who has the capacity for dreadful, mind-meltingly awful performances and the occasional head-scratching brilliance?

The paradigm for how we describe quarterbacks shouldn't be as clear cut as "Elite" or "Not Elite." Because analyzing a quarterback like Flacco leads to conclusions that are a little more complicated than handing out a label that can be slapped on like a bumper sticker. Soon enough those bumper stickers will look out of date anyway.

Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at pemberton@herald-dispatch.com.

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