First there was Joe Montana. Then there was Joe Flacco.
Many consider Flacco’s run through the 2013 playoffs and Montana’s 1990 playoff run as the two best single postseasons of all-time. Flacco and Montana are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in a single postseason. Both were pivotal pieces to each teams’ respective Super Bowl run. The two have become nearly synonymous when discussing single-season playoff success. Today’s Flashback Friday takes a look back at those two historic runs in an attempt to see which playoff run should be considered the best of all-time.
The following chart shows the raw stats from Joe Montana’s 1990 and Joe Flacco’s 2013 playoff runs, respectively:
Montana had a much higher completion percentage and a near-perfect passer rating during the 49ers’ run through Super Bowl XXIV. Flacco threw for more yards per game and more total yards, but the Ravens played four playoff games compared to the 49ers’ three. This difference also explains why Flacco had more completions and attempts.
It is easy to say that Montana had the better postseason based on the numbers, and that would be a completely fair argument. A near-80% completion percentage and a passer rating higher than 146 is unfathomable and seemingly outer-worldly. Joe Montana had the single-greatest postseason of all-time in terms of pure statistics. That cannot be denied. But, out of the three playoff games that year, two were at home, and one was on a neutral field. The 49ers’ defense also gave up 13, 3, and 10 points, respectively in those three games. That comes to an average of eight points per game given up during that postseason.
The Ravens, on the other hand, played in two road games during their postseason run against the top two seeds in the AFC. The first road game came against the 13-3 #1 seeded Broncos, who were riding an 11-game winning streak and had an additional week of rest to prepare. They were also facing Peyton Manning, who hadn’t lost to the Ravens since 2001 and had won nine straight games against Baltimore.
The Broncos also scored 35 points in the game, which was more than the 49ers allowed during their entire 1990 run. The Ravens still won, behind several clutch throws from Flacco, including the now infamous Mile High Miracle in the waning seconds of regulation.
Flacco also had a memorable throw to Pitta on third and long that saved the Ravens from having to punt from their own end zone in the middle of the first overtime period. Go back and watch that throw. Flacco made it look effortless. The Ravens defeated the Patriots, the number two seed in the AFC, the following week in Foxboro in the AFC Championship game. Flacco bested Tom Brady to earn his first Super Bowl appearance. The Ravens went on to defeat the 49ers in the Super Bowl, and Flacco was named MVP of the game.
The Ravens gave up 31 points to the Niners in the contest, but that wasn’t enough to keep up with Flacco and the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens gave up an average of 22 points/game during the playoffs that year, which was the third most by any Super Bowl-winning team in NFL History.
So while Joe Montana clearly had the best postseason from a statistical standpoint, Flacco arguably had the more impressive postseason. His level of play was of the highest level, and it was still barely enough to beat the Broncos and to hang on against the 49ers. The 49ers won their postseason games 41-13, 30-3, and 55-10, which comes to an average margin of 33 points per game. The Ravens won 24-9, 38-35 (2 OT), 28-13, and 34-31. The Ravens won their four games by a COMBINED 36 points.
Montana and the 49ers delivered butt-kicking after butt-kicking in impressive fashion. In reality though, Montana could have been nothing more than a game manager in those three games and the Niners would have rolled through the competition. On the flip side, the Ravens don’t win Super Bowl 47 without Joe Flacco’s four straight monster performances. The number of consecutive, impressive performances in hostile, underdog-like circumstances that Flacco had should be enough to make his run the most impressive playoff performance ever.
What do you consider more impressive: Thoroughly trashing three straight opponents at home in route to a Super Bowl, or four consecutive big-game performances while overcoming obstacle after obstacle in hostile territory?
It’s a subjective question that is based on one’s personal preferences that’s going to lead to opposing viewpoints and different answers. Regardless of your answer, it was probably close.
The simple fact that Flacco shares something of this magnitude with one of the all-time greats shows just how special he is.