Debunking the Myth of Joe Flacco and His Success versus the New England Patriots in the Postseason


Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) sacked by New England Patriots tackle Seaver Siliga (71) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

With the hand-wringing and fear of the Baltimore Ravens on the sports talk radio dial in Boston, it almost seems as the Patriots are facing their undefeated 2007 squad in the Divisional Playoffs rather than the 2014 Baltimore Ravens. Suddenly, the Ravens defense has morphed into the Seattle Seahawks and New England will be unable to run the ball and quarterback Tom Brady is destined to be smushed into a pancake. The Patriots will be run over, they will be lucky to slow first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino Joe Flacco and his amazing deep passing attack. Whatever the reason, the media is fanning the flames and the insecure pre-2001 Patriots supporter buried deep inside the fan base is eating it up this week.




There are a number of issues and questions that need to be addressed to keep New England fans from hyperventilating before Saturday night so leading-up to kickoff Saturday night these will be examined here at throughout the week in addition to all the other relevant New England Patriots news.  Let’s start with the big one and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco’s success against the Patriots in the postseason:


Revisiting Joe Flacco’s Postseason Dominance Against New England:

Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) throws the ball while being pressured by New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

With the talk of how Joe Flacco “owns” the Patriots in the post-season, it seems that there is a bit of revisionist history going on in regards to Flacco and the Patriots. Flacco has had some good games and some bad games against the Patriots. Backed by a strong running game and a defense led by future Hall-of-Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, Baltimore as a franchise has been very successful under head coach John Harbaugh in the postseason. Reviewing the game tape of the past performances shows a different story and some extenuating circumstances to say the least.


1/10/10: Wild Card Round – Baltimore 33 New England 14

Dec 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A flawed New England defense with a front seven consisting of Vince Wilfork, Derrick Burgess Jarvis Green, Ty Warren, Adalius Thomas, Tully Banta-Cain, Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Pierre Woods, Junior Seau, and Derrick Burgess could not stop the Ravens. Seau was an antique, Thomas was washing out of New England, and Ty Warren was a shadow of his former self. The rest were barely above practice squad level leaving Wilfork and Mayo trying to hold the line.


It was the Ravens rushing attack and defense that won the game after the Ravens leapt out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. The Patriots went fumble, three-and-out, interception, and interception in the first quarter. The Ravens had an 83-yard Ray Rice run on their first play and then had touchdown drives of 17 yards, 25 yards, and a three-and-out and a field goal after taking over first-and-goal (all stats from unless otherwise noted).


Flacco was 4 of 10 for 34 yards, an interception, and 10.0 QB rating.  Meanwhile, the Ravens rushed for 234 yards and the defense forced four turnovers. Not sure this is a game that analysts will point to when they mention Flacco’s postseason heroics.


1/22/12: AFC Championship Game – New England 23 Baltimore 20:

Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; ESPN broadcaster and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on the Monday Night Football set at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 37-28. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Known as the “Billy Cundiff Game”, while New England quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions. New England won the game, but the attention was on Flacco as he was 22 of 36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Flacco got big games from Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Anquan Boldin catching his passes. The Patriots had tight end Rob Gronkowski slowed by what was later called a “high ankle sprain” that all but took him out of the game plan in the second half. Of course, it was much more than a sprain as Gronkowski later had to have surgery on the ankle in the offseason after he was clearly hobbled in the Super Bowl versus the Giants.


Of course, Flacco hardly lit up a dynamic New England secondary that season. Devin McCourty (now a free safety) was the top cornerback with slot cornerback Kyle Arrington force to play outside. James Ihedigbo was at strong safety and Patrick Chung was miscast at free safety. Arrington left the game with an eye injury and unknown Sterling Moore took over outside. At the end of the game, the secondary trying to stop Flacco included Antwaun Molden, Nathan Jones, and Julian Edelman pulling double-duty stepping in at slot cornerback for much of the fourth quarter. That is hardly the secondary Flacco will be facing on Saturday.


1/20/2013: AFC Championship Game – Baltimore 28 – New England 13

Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) gains two yards against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The rematch in the AFC Championship Game following the 2012 season saw Flacco throw for 240 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta were again the key targets in the passing game. The Ravens scored three touchdowns in the second half while the Patriots went conservative early in the game and ended up punting three times while in Baltimore territory in their first seven drives. Remember, it was 13-7 New England in the lead at the half and Baltimore was ahead just 14-13 entering the fourth quarter.


For the Patriots, beyond the conservative play calling, it was another game without Rob Gronkowski in the playoffs as he was sidelined by a broken forearm. This was the game that Bernard Pollard knocked out Stevan Ridley forcing a fumble and instead of cutting the lead to 21 to 20, it was 28-13 Baltimore a few plays later.


Flacco was just 6 of 12 passing for 81 yards in the first half of the game. A lot of that was due to the presence of cornerback Aqib Talib at cornerback. A balky hip injury forced Talib from the game near the end of the first quarter defending Boldin on a third-down pass. Soon afterwards, the Ravens had their first scoring drive as the Ravens attacked cornerback Kyle Arrington who was pushed outside from the slot cornerback position again and pushed Alfonzo Dennard to the top cornerback role. Special teams ace Marquice Cole had to be called upon to man the slot cornerback role after playing less than 200 snaps on defense all season.


In addition, with Talib out, the Patriots were forced to turn to backup slot cornerback Marquice Cole when Arrington moved outside. Dennard was called for a key pass interference penalty on Baltimore’s third quarter go-ahead drive. Arrington was beat deep twice by Torrey Smith. The biggest weakness was Cole at the slot cornerback as Boldin ate him alive with four receptions on all four targets with Cole in coverage for 57 yards and a touchdown.


Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) is sacked by New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary suffered due to the lack of pass rush as well.  Chandler Jones played just two snaps the entire game as he was out with an ankle injury he suffered against Houston the week prior. The Patriots starting defensive ends were Rob Ninkovich and Justin Francis. Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Scott were coming off the bench as well which explains the clean pocket Flacco had throughout much of the game.


For the heck of it, in the regular season last year Flacco was just 22 of 37 for 260 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a must-win game that the Ravens lost 41-7 at home. Flacco had a 56.9 quarterback rating that game. In 2012 the Ravens beat New England 31-30 at home in week three as Flacco had a huge game going 28 of 38 for 382 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for a 120.7 quarterback rating.  Finally, in 2009 in week four Flacco was 27 of 47 in 23-20 loss in New England for just 264 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a78.7 passer rating.


The Ravens will face a far different New England defense on Saturday. All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis anchors the secondary with All-Pro free safety Devin McCourty and former “Legion of Boom” cornerback Brandon Browner. Patrick Chung fit in well at strong safety (rather than back in centerfield at free safety) this season. Kyle Arrington was effective again at slot cornerback and Logan Ryan was adequate for depth. The Patriots have moved McCourty to a more cornerback role in the dime defense as well bringing on Duron Harmon and hard-hitting Tavon Wilson. Even having rookie undrafted free agent Malcolm Butler is a big step up from Marquice Cole or Julian Edelman stepping on the field in case of an injury.


No one takes anything away from Joe Flacco as his record speaks for itself in the playoffs. His run in 2012 was magical and he plays as well on the road as any NFL quarterback has done. But the success of Baltimore versus New England in the playoffs in the past has far more to do with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and a rash of New England injuries in the postseason.


Make no mistake, Flacco may still have success on Saturday in Foxboro, MA, but it is very likely he will find himself working much harder than he did in his previous playoff match-ups.