He entered Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium with questions about yet another inconsistent regular season and the fate of his struggling team on his shoulders. One week, he will look like one of the NFL's very best, completing passes that most quarterbacks wish they could complete. The next week, he will shank so many throws that it would take him an hour or so to replace his divots. His slumped shoulders, bowed head and indifferent body language are either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the numbers on the scoreboard. But ultimately, he is a winner, and his reputation was forged in the playoffs. Sunday was not Eli Manning's finest performance, and now his New York Giants are on teetering on the brink of elimination. On the opposite sideline, when he wasn't marching his Ravens up and down the field, Joe Flacco could look at Manning and see the kind of quarterback he might one day become. Their first four seasons in the NFL are comparable, but the obvious difference is that Manning's fourth season ended with confetti dropping and Flacco's ended with Lee Evans dropping the game-winning catch in the AFC championship game. Flacco would be perceived differently if Evans had caught that pass, just as Manning gets a pass for games like Sunday's because only Tom Brady has more championship bling than him among active NFL quarterbacks. In a private moment, Flacco, who threw two touchdown passes Sunday and dove into the end zone for another to outduel Eli, would probably admit that he wouldn't mind following Manning's career path, given that he got a couple of Lombardi Trophies along the way. As Ravens coach John Harbaugh keeps hammering home, everything the Ravens want to accomplish this season is still right there ahead of them. And Flacco can make everyone forget his roller coaster regular season -- Sunday's game was Flacco's fifth with at least 300 passing yards, tying Vinny Testaverde's single-season franchise record, but it followed his sixth game in which his passer rating was below 80 -- if he plays like he did Sunday and leads the Ravens deep into the playoffs. He will also make himself a sizable chunk of change as well, this being a contract year and all. It would be nice if Flacco could be more consistent in the first 17 weeks of the season, but what he does in the final four matters the most.
Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
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