THE BLOG
03/10/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated May 10, 2013

The Joe Flacco Paradox: Distinguishing Elite From Flawless

My mother tells me that there is no magic spouse-finding formula. She says that when you meet the right person, "Well, you'll just know."

But if Manti Te'o taught us anything, it's that you should get to know someone before you fall in love with them. Let's take a second to check out the newest member of the "elite quarterbacks" conversation before we decide we're head-over-heels for him.

Meet Joe: A 28-year-old gunslinger with a 9-4 postseason record and a shiny new Super Bowl ring. He threw 11 touchdowns and a zero interceptions this postseason en route to the Super Bowl XLVII MVP award.

But basing our relationship with Joe on four games -- less than two hours of quarterbacking -- feels like the football equivalent of starting a relationship on Twitter. Don't you think we're taking things a little fast? Let's examine Joe's past before we get too excited.

The most intimidating thing about Joe is his eyebrows -- along with their Kennedy-Khrushchev power dynamic -- while the least intimidating is his 2013 passer rating. At 87.7, it ranked 12th among active quarterbacks below Tony Romo, Matt Schaub and Phillip Rivers. To the newly-converted disciples of ESPN's QBR, Flacco looks even tamer -- his subpar 46.8 ranked 25th in the league.

But maybe you don't need consistently elite numbers to step inside the circle of the elite. Maybe you can be the kid with just-okay SAT's, whose tearjerker essay leaves Harvard admissions officers sobbing into their handkerchiefs as they wave you through.

In football terms, you would need a rite-of-passage moment on the field that transcends numbers. The moment should be one that a quarterback can point to at any time in his life and say, "Oh, I'm not 'elite' because my numbers are dipping? Well I did that." A few names come to mind here, all from various points on the spectrum of the elite.

Amidst an up-and-down track record, for instance, Ben Roethlisberger will always have his two-and-a-half minute drill that took back Super Bowl XL. Eli has his miracle David Tyree connection, not to mention the déjà vu instant that came four years later with Mario Manningham. Peyton has the largest comeback in conference championship history from the night he finally escaped the postseason Patriots. Brady has his immortal Snow Bowl performance and two time-expiring, Super Bowl-winning drives.

Flacco, on the other hand, has a third-and-one conversion that came with seven minutes to go and his team already leading.

At best, the play prevented the Ravens from having to punt with half a quarter remaining, a two-point lead, and the stingiest defense in the NFL. At worst, it was a needlessly risky decision that Anquan Boldin salvaged with another phenomenal grab in tight coverage.

The next-closest thing to a "moment" for Flacco came during the divisional round when his 70-yard desperation heave to Jacoby Jones, compounded with one of the greatest displays of defensive incompetence in history, sent the Ravens to overtime in Denver.

Unfortunately Flacco had already forfeited his chance to truly succeed in the clutch when he dumped third and fourth down incompletions inside the four-minute mark. John Fox and Peyton Manning had won the game until Rahim Moore decided to hand it back to Jones instead of simply backpedaling for five seconds, committing pass interference, or just lying down somewhere around the 50-yard line like a landmine.

Following the fluke score, Flacco squandered two overtime possessions before Manning coughed up an interception behind midfield to set up Justin Tucker's game-sealing kick. Even in Flacco's most memorable finish, he didn't reach out and grab a victory for his teammates -- he just didn't get in their way.

This commendably mistake-free while still less-than-awe-inspiring brand of football defined Flacco's entire post-season run. He played his role dutifully and prudently, bearing in mind the understanding that he and his championship-caliber team had agreed upon:

If Flacco could avoid throwing interceptions against Indy, his elite defense would keep the Colts out of the end zone all afternoon. If Flacco could stall for two overtime periods at Denver, his elite defense would squeeze a game-winning interception out of Peyton Manning. If he could keep the game close early in New England, his elite defense would shut out Tom Brady's unstoppable offense in the second half. If Flacco could score during the first half of the Super Bowl, his elite defense would produce a heroic four-down goal-line stand to kill Kaepernick's comeback dreams -- Joe and his offense could even take a two-quarter vacation from scoring touchdowns.

Flacco stuck to the script, and punter Sam Koch put a fitting end to the operation by playing keep-away in the end zone and conceding a ring-clinching safety.

Joe Flacco proved during these playoffs that he's a safe bet and that he won't cost your team a Super Bowl -- he just hasn't proven he can go out and steal you one.

Still glaringly absent from his resume is that moment where you say, "This couldn't have happened without him -- his defense didn't take over, his receivers didn't bail him out, the opponent wasn't soft or incompetent -- he did this."

Joe will have plenty of opportunities to seize that moment in the future. He will face more do-or-die situations, and the responsibility will fall squarely on his shoulders as his aging defensemen retire one by one.

If and when that moment comes, Joe will finally join the ranks of Brady and Manning at the Table of the Elite. I can't tell you what that moment will look like or how you'll know it's arrived, but when it does happen... Well, you'll just know.