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Joe Flacco Jersey

It’s fitting that the Baltimore Ravens are trading quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver, the site of his most famous pass — the “Mile High Miracle.”

Flacco’s playoff success ultimately defines his legacy with the Ravens.

After arriving from Delaware — the minor leagues of football, Flacco would say — in 2008, he brought stability and a Lombardi Trophy to a franchise that had changed quarterbacks almost as often as the Cleveland Browns do. With toughness, resiliency and a shrug-of-the-shoulders demeanor, Flacco turned a team known primarily for defense into a perennial playoff contender.

He led Baltimore to the playoffs in six of the 10 seasons in which he started at least 10 games. He guided the Ravens to three AFC Championship Games. And, in 2012, he carried the franchise to a Super Bowl title by going on a run only matched by Joe Montana.

Flacco often chuckled at those debating whether he was elite, instead proving he was a winner at the most critical time of the season. When the regular season ended, “January Joe” — as fans would affectionately call him — repeatedly came through for the Ravens.

Injuries and inconsistency with Flacco over the past six seasons caused the Ravens to draft his successor in Lamar Jackson in 2018. It led to an unceremonious end for the winningest quarterback in Ravens history when Flacco injured his hip midway through the season and Jackson went on to lead Baltimore to the playoffs.

Much of the criticism of Flacco is what he isn’t. He isn’t a prolific passer like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. He isn’t an emotional leader like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers.

For Baltimore, Flacco was its blue-collar quarterback.

He celebrated becoming the NFL’s highest-paid player by going through a McDonald’s drive-thru for chicken nuggets. He missed the birth of his son in 2013 because it happened 30 minutes before kickoff (Flacco led the Ravens over the Browns that day).

The Ravens fell in love with Flacco in a pre-draft workout when he strong-armed throws in the rain and wind, revealing he would be a perfect AFC North quarterback. Team officials still had to persuade owner Steve Bisciotti, who pushed for trading up in the 2008 draft to take Matt Ryan.

From Flacco’s first game — when fans waved signs “Wacko for Flacco” — he was the foundation for the franchise’s most successful era.

It’s easy to forget the state of the team’s quarterback position before Flacco. He was under center for a decade for a Baltimore team that had gone through 15 starting quarterbacks in the 12 years prior to him, from Vinny Testaverde to Troy Smith.

It’s often overlooked at how Flacco overcame a less-than-stellar supporting cast. Flacco produced 116 victories despite never having a No. 1 wide receiver in his prime, lacking an All-Pro running back since Ray Rice in 2013 and going through five offensive coordinators in seven seasons.

The only times Flacco bristled were the plays where the Ravens split him out wide and put another quarterback under center. Flacco was an underrated competitor and believed the best chance to win was with the ball in his hands.

Perhaps that’s why Flacco thrived when it mattered the most, from those game-winning drives in Pittsburgh to the postseason. Since entering the league in 2008, Flacco has won 10 playoff games. Only Brady has won more over that span.

Flacco accomplished this in the toughest situations. He won postseason games in Pittsburgh, Denver and Kansas City. Flacco topped Bill Belichick twice in New England, and he would’ve won two AFC Championship Games in Foxborough if Lee Evans had caught that last-minute touchdown pass.

In his last 10 playoff games, Flacco has thrown 24 touchdowns and four interceptions with a 104.1 passer rating. He has thrown at least two touchdowns in eight straight playoff games, marking the longest streak in postseason history.

Flacco’s best moments came in 2012, when he beat Peyton Manning with his miraculous 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones and then outplayed Brady in the AFC Championship Game. Flacco was named Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player after becoming the second quarterback to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason (Montana was the other).

The Ravens rewarded Flacco by making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. His downfall was never living up to that six-year, $120.6 million deal.

Flacco’s final seasons were disappointing and frustrating because of the knee, back and hip injuries along with the inability to get Baltimore to the playoffs in his last three seasons as the full-time starter.

But the lasting memory of Flacco in Baltimore should be how he raised his game when the stakes were at their highest.

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