|Evan Habeeb/US Presswire|
|Joe Flacco boasts a sparkling 101.1 quarterback rating through the Baltimore Ravens' first three games this season.|
Last week, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco committed the grievous error of saying yes, he does believe he can hang on the same field as the New England Patriots' Tom Brady. After Rodney Harrison called it a lie on national television, Flacco went and beat Brady on the same national television and here we are again, having this debate over a quarterback's confidence in himself.
As if Ray Lewis would let his quarterback think he was anything but the best.
Eli Manning last year, Flacco this year -- it's an ongoing, absolutely ludicrous pickle to be put in. Asked if he believes in himself, Flacco's lambasted if he says yes, probably not a starter if he says no.
Flacco is certainly good. He's certainly capable of winning big games. He can engineer comebacks (like he did Sunday night, and like he has more than anyone else in Ravens history) and he can keep getting better. The worry this summer was last year's career-low completion percentage (57.6). Through three games of the 2012 campaign, it's a career-high 64.5.
His coaches trust him enough to have him direct a no-huddle offense. Flacco is the only quarterback ever to win a playoff game in each of his first four years in the NFL. He's only the fourth to go to the playoffs at all in his first four seasons. He's twice gone to the AFC Championship Game (no, not as fan). He lost two of his top three receivers (Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and his tight end (Todd Heap) before the 2011 season and still came close to playing in the Super Bowl. If Lee Evans had held on to that perfect touchdown spiral in Foxborough, Mass., last January, perhaps Harrison wouldn't have had this conniption on Sunday night:
Super Bowl-winning coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy: "He's not the best quarterback in the NFL, but I'm glad he feels that way. That's what you want your quarterback to say."
Super Bowl-winning safety and current NBC analyst Harrison: "You want your quarterback to lie to himself?"
This all started back in the offseason, when Flacco was point-blank asked on Baltimore radio station WNST-AM if he considered himself a top-five quarterback. Flacco plainly and guilelessly responded, "I assume everybody thinks they're a top-five quarterback. I mean, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm top five, I think I'm the best."
On NBC's pregame show Sunday night, Bob Costas gave Flacco a chance to scoot out of his words. Flacco, just as plainly, said no, thank you.
Flacco: "Yes, that's what I think."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- part giddy, part loopy on his 50th birthday, after both a grueling win and grueling day (wide receiver Torrey Smith courageously played in the game less than 24 hours after his younger brother's death) -- headed off any questions about his quarterback's performance in the wee hours of Monday morning by saying, "It was fantastic. It was elite. I see that one coming."
This isn't, however, a referendum on whether Flacco is indeed elite or top-five or whatever someone wants to goad him into labeling himself. If Billy Cundiff had made what should've been a game-tying chip-shot field goal last January in Foxborough, the Ravens might have won in overtime, and Flacco probably wouldn't be asked about any of it. If Flacco and the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, they'll have a 1.5-game lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. At that point, it might be OK to say it's not the Ravens' quick-strike, multi-faceted offense that's worrisome, but the Terrell Suggs-less defense.
No, the question today is: Why are we so bothered when a quarterback expresses self-confidence?
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie says he's the second-best receiver on the New York Jets, and we roll with it. We like bombast in defensive players, we'll take it in receivers and running backs, but quarterbacks? What in the name of Joe Namath was Flacco thinking?
The knock on Flacco when he became the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft was that he might be missing some of that intangible leader-competitiveness, the stuff Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor calls "swag." Flacco transferred out of Pitt instead of trying to unseat Tyler Palko. He wasn't a rah-rah obvious captain, a la Robert Griffin III. And now that he finally has some swagger, all he hears is, "Pipe down."
Flacco won 44 regular-season games over his first four seasons in the league. No other signal-caller won more in that span. With that kind of track record, it's a wonder anyone cares what Flacco thinks of himself.
Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala.