NEW ORLEANS — Until this Super Bowl, Joe Flacco always believed in himself more than many other folks did.
Maybe that’s because the Baltimore Ravens quarterback never put up the most scintillating statistics. Or because he kept falling short of a championship.
This much was clear: Flacco didn’t get the top-of-the-line contract he wanted last offseason, so he put off negotiations until this season was done, confident he would prove himself.
That decision worked out rather well.
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.
“He did let me know if the day came, I could go beat on his desk and really give it to him,” Flacco said with a smile. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
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 wouldn’t take any other quarterback over Joe,” offensive lineman Michael Oher said. “People give him slack, and I don’t know why.”
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. Two short field goals by rookie Justin Tucker padded the lead, and the Ray Lewis-led defense stopped the 49ers on a fourth-and-goal at the 5 with under 2 minutes left.
“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 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,” said Flacco, who set an NFL quarterback record by leading his team to playoff wins in each of his first five seasons. He is 9-4 overall in the postseason, but was 0-2 in AFC championship games until this year.
And now his contract is up. He could wind up with one of the most lucrative 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.
“I’m a Joe Flacco fan. I’ve been a Joe Flacco fan,” said Ravens linebacker Lewis, who ended his 17-year career with a second championship. “To do what he did today, that’s what we always see.”