Flacco seizes moment on grand stage

Momentum is not actually a determining factor in sports. Nor is manifest destiny, at least not in the way Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis describes it with God wanting Baltimore to win and then making that outcome happen, by, I don’t know, planting atrocious, goal-line pass plays in 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s brain for that final decisive series.

Nice work, God. Solid touch.

That is why Super Bowl XLVII never was about God gifting Lewis a ring, as much as he wanted that to be so, or the 34-minute power outage, or even that brutal no-call on what was a pass interference by Baltimore at the end, although that is getting warmer. What Super Bowls and sporting events always boil down to is which team and players rise up to meet the moment.

And why Baltimore defeated San Francisco, 34-31, was because the quarterback so many believed to be incapable of greatness delivered just that.

Joe Flacco won Baltimore a Super Bowl, and his Most Valuable Player award serves as a reminder of who exactly is running that town now. He is a bigger reason than Ray Lewis that Lewis is retiring as champ.

"I’m a Joe Flacco fan. I’ve been a Joe Flacco fan," Lewis said. “For him to come in and do what he did today, and made some of the throws he made, that is what we’ve always seen. We’ve always said that when you win a championship, one man won’t win the ring. It will be a complete team. We won as a complete team."

Lewis began his postgame comments by saying he "can begin to think about self now," which seems absurd. I do not know what he and his Ravens thought about all week, but all they talked about was Lewis. What struck me was how they allowed this to be all about Lewis — his retirement, his fiery speeches, defending him against Deer Antler Velvet and double-murder talk.

They love him, and wanted to provide a sendoff befitting his 17 years of greatness. Don’t get twisted, though, the truth is Lewis has not looked much like himself lately and mostly was a liability against San Fran. As much as he carried a mediocre quarterback to a ring in 2001, an elite quarterback hoisted him to another this playoffs.

And Flacco absolutely has wedged his name into that “elite” category, with his performance in New Orleans and really all postseason. This is not to say we were wrong about him before; greatness just requires a moment to reveal itself.

Flacco owned his. And by doing what he did, he changed his narrative. He went from being a second-tier, not quite sure you can win with him guy to a ring maker. On Thursday, I had asked Flacco about just this idea of how a player gets labeled as one thing or another and how hard it is to shake that label — elite versus not elite, a guy capable of winning a Super Bowl for his team and a guy needing his team to win a Super Bowl for him.

“At some point, you get that and at some point you have to go out and prove people wrong,” Flacco said. “The bottom line is you are getting labeled by a bunch of people who really do not know what they are talking about. They are just listening to people who think they know what they are talking about.”

It was as animated a defense as I had heard Flacco make of himself.

He was right, of course. What if referees had called holding on that final 49ers offensive play? It was the right call. They had been calling it all game. What if San Francisco scores? And wins?

Does this split-second decision really decide whether Flacco is elite? Would his 22 for 33 for 287 yard and three touchdowns be less impressive?

Yes. And no.

He would not have a ring but he would still be the guy who finished the 2012 playoffs with 11 touchdown passes, joining an elite crew of Joe Montana and Kurt Warner. Maybe, more importantly, when things were starting to fall apart for Baltimore, when the Niners and quarterback Colin Kaepernick were making a run, Flacco did not do anything stupid. He did not force anything. He did not throw a pick, keeping up a postseason trend. He moved chains and got field goals, the points that eventually provided the W. He was the guy we weren’t sure he could be.

The rap on him was he would do something not quite stupid but something that would require the defense to bail water for him.

Now he is an elite quarterback and about to be paid as such.

“It’s cool,” Flacco said when asked about his upcoming contract talks, “but (the Ravens owner) did let me know that if the day came I could go beat on his desk and really put it to him. So that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

The reason we like to talk about things like momentum and destiny is because we are looking for reasons things happen, why a team like the Niners can go from getting crushed to being back in things, why a team like Baltimore can start winning in the playoffs. We mistake noise for signal, we give meaning to the meaningless, we ignore the obvious.

This was not about Ray or lights or anything other than a quarterback rising to meet the moment and then making it his.