1. Players don't cross a magic threshold and suddenly become "elite."

In fact, the never-ending debate about what label Joe Flacco has earned, or has not earned, is not only maddening, it's pointless. Labels don't win or lose games when you're down four with 90 yards go and two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. So instead of viewing what happened against the Steelers as another opportunity to boast that Flacco has turned the corner and he's finally an "elite" quarterback going forward, just live in the moment -- if only for a few days -- and appreciate this clutch performance for what it was. A beautiful thing. Almost nothing Flacco could do at this point would surprise me. He could follow up this game by throwing four interceptions against Seattle, or he could throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns. Every time you think you feel comfortable making blanket statements about him, he'll play a game (or a lead a drive) that makes you briefly believe the opposite. He gives both his sycophants and his haters emotional whiplash, and even though I don't fall into either category, I think I'm done trying to predict how anything projects going forward with him. Every Flacco game is like it's own Jackson Pollack painting. Some of them are art, some of them are a mess, and they have only a vague connection to one another. Instead, let me just say how impressive it was to see him consistently come up big on "important" plays Sunday night. The Ravens converted 14 times on third down against the Steelers, a team record, and almost all of them came on throws by Flacco. Throws where he zipped a pass through a tight window or put the ball where only his guy could get it. He changed plays at the line of scrimmage, got the ball out quickly and didn't let it affect him when his receivers repeatedly dropped throws he put right in their hands. His fourth-down throw to Anquan Boldin on the final drive might not have looked like much, but I can't emphasize enough how decisive he looked on that play. He knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball, then he went there. If it wasn't his best performance as a Raven, it's at least in the conversation. This was actually the eighth game-winning drive of his career, but it somehow felt bigger than the previous seven combined. Yes, he took a bad sack in the fourth quarter, and yes, he fumbled once again. But none of it mattered because of that final drive. The throw Smith dropped might actually have been his best throw of the night. He made a great move to avoid the rush, stepped up in the pocket and launched a perfect spiral. When it didn't work out, he didn't sulk. He simply hit Boldin for a first down, then came back to Smith two plays later. "If you take the second half against Arizona and combine it with this game, Joe is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL right now," running back Ray Rice said. It's funny, but right before the final drive, the SteelersÂ’ scoreboard flashed Ben Roethlisberger's stats next to Flacco's, and the PA started blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd's "What's Your Name." The stadium roared. John Harbaugh, of all people, was livid about this. (The Ravens coach was so fired up in the locker room after the victory, he actually pulled me aside to explain this, unprompted.) Harbaugh said he thought the lyrics -- namely, "Hey, little girl" -- were intended to be a shot at his quarterback's manhood, and that made his blood boil. That's part of the reason he was so fired up when Flacco engineered the game-winning drive, so much so that he cut his chin jumping up and down and celebrating with players. Since Harbaugh was so juiced up about the way he felt Flacco had been disrespected, I asked Flacco whether he had any recollection of hearing the Skynyrd song or felt similar to the way his coach did. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, with a look of genuine confusion on his face. "They were playing a song?" In some respects, that anecdote perfectly sums up Joe Flacco. He inspires such passion, from both his supporters and from his critics, and yet he seems fairly oblivious to almost all of it. I'd love to tell Ravens fans this game means he's going to play great football the rest of the year, especially in the clutch, but who knows whether that's true. Greatness isn't a destination. It's constant hard labor. And there is a lot of hard labor left this season. Regardless of what happens next, he was fun to watch Sunday. Just this once, I don't want to over-analyze it. I just want to appreciate how beautiful that last throw was, and remember how quiet it was at Heinz Field when the ball landed in Smith's arms.
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