January 20, 2013

AFC Championship: At QB, it should be a battle

Tom has proven he can be terrific, but Flacco is no ordinary Joe

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The NFL, already regarded as a quarterback's league, celebrated the arrival of new blood -- and a new breed -- of signal-callers this fall, especially in the NFC.

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Tom Brady holds the NFL record for career playoff wins for a starting quarterback and is looking for another.

The Associated Press

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Joe Flacco keeps improving every season for Baltimore, and will have to be at the top of his game against the Pats.

The Associated Press

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

WHO: Ravens at Patriots

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Foxborough, Mass.

Russell Wilson of Seattle, Robert Griffin III of Washington and Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco brought an exciting, almost reckless, brand of football that translated into winning seasons. Their ability to throw and run pushed all three teams into the playoffs, with San Francisco advancing to the NFC title game Sunday at Atlanta.

But in the AFC, two old-school pocket passers will match up as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots take on Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium, with the winner going to the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

It's the second consecutive year that the teams -- and these quarterbacks -- meet in the title game.

And while it may seem like a mismatch at the position, it might be closer than anyone would like to think.

Yes, Brady has proven himself countless times: most playoff wins (17) of any starting quarterback in NFL history, winner of three Super Bowl titles, twice the Super Bowl MVP, winner of five AFC titles. He is hailed by many as the measuring stick for today's quarterbacks.

But Flacco is no slouch when it comes to the playoffs either. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons in the league, with a 7-4 record. While Brady is playing in his seventh AFC title game in 11 years, Flacco is playing in his third in five.

The Ravens certainly feel comfortable with him behind center.

"Joe Flacco is truly our leader," said Ray Rice, the Ravens' star running back. "Not only has he taken the role of our leader, but he is leading us down this whole stretch He does everything he needs to do as a quarterback."

And in the end, it will be the play of the quarterbacks that determines who advances.

The Patriots know what they are facing: a strong-armed, big (6-foot-6, 245 pounds), poised quarterback who throws the long ball as well as anyone in the league. The Ravens are averaging 20.4 yards per catch in the playoffs, while Flacco has thrown five touchdowns (of 20, 18, 59, 32 and 70 yards) with no interceptions.

"He is a great quarterback," said Vince Wilfork, the Patriots' 6-foot-2, 325-pound man-mountain in the middle of the defensive line. "I don't care what anybody says about him. The one thing he does is he stays poised, no matter how bad things get or how good things are."

The Ravens also know what they're facing: A well-prepared, big (6-4, 225 pounds) poised quarterback who directs a high-octane offense that gasses opposing defenses. The Patriots ran 1,191 plays this year, most in the NFL, playing at a staggering pace.

"He is who he is," said Dean Pees, the Ravens' defensive coordinator who previously held that position for three years with the Patriots. "I went up against him up there in practice for six years. He's as competitive of a person as I've ever been around. He can give you this little boyish look on TV, but he is a very, very, very competitive guy. He didn't even like losing in practice."

While everyone agrees that Brady is heading to the Hall of Fame, Flacco is still building an already-impressive resume.

He had perhaps his best season yet, throwing for a career-best 3,817 yards passing, with 22 touchdowns and a career-low 10 interceptions. The Ravens ranked third in the NFL this year in plays of 20 or more yards, with 72. Of those, 62 were passes, with 11 going for touchdowns.

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