OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't come close to throwing as many touchdown passes as Peyton Manning. He isn't in the same neighborhood as Drew Brees in terms of passing yards.
But during the most important part of the game, there have been few better than Flacco this season.
Flacco's 82.1 Total QBR in the fourth quarter is third among quarterbacks with more than seven starts. Only Andrew Luck (83.4) and Manning (82.6) are ahead of him. Flacco's eight touchdowns in the fourth quarter are second only to Manning's 10.
His clutch play has been even better recently. Since October, in the last five minutes of games, Flacco has the NFL's best QBR (96.9) and passer rating (132.4), completing 63.3 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Flacco can look so pedestrian for most of the game and then look so brilliant when the game is on the line. In Sunday's thrilling 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Flacco threw three interceptions on the Ravens' first 13 drives before delivering touchdown passes on two of their final three possessions, including the game winner with four seconds remaining.
Why does it seem that Flacco plays his best at the end of games?
"I think we’ve had so much experience in tight games and in big, meaningful games, that when we do get in situations where we have to play well down in the crunch time, the situation isn’t too big for us," Flacco said. "We’re able to relax and just play football as we always would, whereas if you’re not in those situations a lot and you start to think about the consequences of what happens if you don’t do what you should do, that’s when the situation can get too big and can overwhelm some people."
It's interesting that Flacco continually said "we," meaning it's the success of the team and not just him. But the Ravens have relied heavily on the poise of Flacco, who has produced winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in three of Baltimore's past five wins.
Flacco has received a lot of criticism because his overall numbers don't reflect his $120.6 million contract. He is tied for the third-most interceptions thrown this season (17) and ranks 30th in passer rating (77.0).
To find his best numbers, you need to look at crunch time. Flacco's best quarter this season has been the fourth, and it isn't even close. He has thrown for more yards (913) and has a higher completion rate (66.1 percent) in the fourth quarter than in any other quarter. His eight touchdowns in the fourth quarter are twice as many as in any other quarter this season.
On Monday night, Flacco faces a Detroit Lions defense that has been reeling in the fourth quarter. The Lions have given up the second-most points in the fourth quarter this season (112).
“Since last year, when we got to those situations, he’s the same person -- cool, calm, collected. Never panics," wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who caught the Mile High Miracle from Flacco in last season's AFC divisional playoff game in Denver.
In Sunday's win, when Flacco had to put the Ravens in the lead twice, he barely said a word, which is comforting to those in the huddle with him. In workmanlike fashion, he completed seven of his final 10 passes for 62 yards and two touchdowns (passer rating of 125.8).
"He said, ‘Let’s go,’ and that’s the way he is. That’s the kind of guy you want to be in battle with," running back Ray Rice said. "In these types of situations, there is no teetering from Joe Flacco. He lined us up, got the play called, lined us up again, and it was his show. That’s Joe Flacco right there.”
There is always going to be a running debate about whether Flacco is elite. But Flacco is clutch, and it's hard to dispute otherwise.