NEW ORLEANS - Joe Flacco took a giant step on his journey toward eliteness Sunday night.
If you want to be considered an elite quarterback, you need to win a Super Bowl. Audubon Joe has that now, leading the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
He put the finishing touches on a phenomenal postseason by completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was named the game's MVP.
Flacco, who had just an 87.7 passer rating in the regular season, finished with a 113.8 rating in the Ravens' four postseason wins. He threw 11 touchdown passes in the playoffs and no interceptions in 126 attempts. The only other quarterback in NFL history who has thrown that many postseason touchdowns without an interception is Joe Montana.
"Somebody mentioned that to me," Flacco said after the game. "I never asked them what the number was or anything. I kind of avoided it. But it's pretty cool. Joe Montana was my favorite quarterback. To be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool."
Flacco was on fire in the first half, completing 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and all three of his touchdowns as the Ravens built a seemingly comfortable 21-6 lead.
He completed nine of 13 passes for just 95 yards in the second half, as the Niners climbed back into it, only to be stopped by the Ravens defense at the Baltimore 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Flacco said. "Crazy. Unbelievable. I don't even think it's sunk in that we're here. It's pretty cool."
Flacco put the Ravens up 21-3 with 1:45 left in the second quarter when he hit wide receiver Jacoby Jones with a 56-yard touchdown pass. Jones ran a double move on cornerback Chris Culliver, Flacco stepped up to avoid a rush and used the league's strongest arm to get the ball downfield to Jones.
"It was third down [and 10]," Flacco said. "It was the perfect time to run that little pump that we run. I finally said to 'Q' [Anquan Boldin], 'You think I should pump it here. Right as I was saying that, our coordinator [Jim Caldwell] said to me [in the radio helmet], 'We're gonna pump this.'
"It was the perfect situation. Just enough so that that they could come up and bite on it, thinking we were going to throw the ball to the sticks. I had to step up and throw the ball. Jacoby had great concentration. I just threw it and he did a great job of coming down with the football."
Said Ravens coach John Harbaugh: "He was phenomenal. We were sitting there one time, third and 6 inches, and Joe's got three play options. And he decides to throw the fade to Anquan.
"And he throws it right on the money and Anquan goes up and makes the catch. That just shows you that he's got guts. He's got the guts of a burglar. He was making plays like that all night."
The Niners, who erased a 17-0 deficit to beat the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, came roaring back in the second half after the game was delayed 34 minutes early in the third quarter when the lights in the Superdome went out.
They scored 17 unanswered points after the Ravens went up 28-6 at the beginning of the third quarter on a 108-yard kickoff return by Jones.
"Games go like that some time," Flacco said in his best what-me-worry voice. "That's why you've got to take care of the football and get first downs. We have a team that, no matter what the situation, we're going to overcome it to the best of our ability. It's kind of fitting that we won like that today."
Flacco didn't think the power outage had any effect on the game.
"Those things happen, and both teams had to deal with it," he said. "We came back out. They were facing a third-and-13. We stopped them. We just didn't do anything with the ball."
Flacco hasn't thrown an interception in six games. His last pick came in the Ravens' 34-17, Week 14 loss to the Broncos.
"I'm not a guy who throws a lot of picks in general," he said. "We played 20 games this year. I think I've thrown 10 of them. It just happens that way. The team came together and got healthy. We hit our stride at the right time."
Flacco's contract expires in March. He put a hold on his negotiations before the season, and the gamble has paid off in a big way.
"We just won a Super Bowl," he said. "That's the last thing I'm concerned about. But [owner Steve Bisciotti] did let me know that if the day came, I could go beat on his desk and put it to him. And that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Elite? Not elite? Flacco says he doesn't care what people think. He won the Super Bowl Sunday night and that's all that matters to him right now.
"I've never cared [what people think of me]," he said. "I never wanted to put myself in a position where I felt I had to defend myself. It's just not right. I don't have to do that. But we'll have this thing forever."