By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) Joe Flacco may finally have earned the respect of his many critics around the NFL.

Prior to this year, he had actually done pretty well for himself in a Ravens’ uniform, particularly in the postseason.

While there were no Super Bowl appearances on his resume, he had a 5-4 record as a postseason quarterback and that wasn’t bad by any stretch.

But now that record is 8-4 and that includes a 6-4 mark on the road. He is the winningest road postseason quarterback in NFL history.

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, Flacco is not just going for a ride as the Ravens’ defense leads the way.

While the Baltimore defense has turned it around in the postseason after an indifferent performance in the regular season – 17th overall and 17th against the pass – it’s the accuracy and big-play ability of Flacco that has pushed the Ravens to their first Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.

Flacco got hot at the end of the regular season. He has a 15-3 TD-to-interception ration since Week 13 and his ability to make the big throws at the key moment should not be doubted.

While he got a great deal of help from the Denver secondary, his 70-yard TD pass in the final minute of the fourth quarter allowed the Ravens to tie the game and then win it in overtime.

His second-half magic continued in the AFC championship against New England.

The Ravens were trailing 13-7 at halftime when head coach John Harbaugh realized that Flacco had to open things up with the passing game.

When Harbaugh let Flacco know that he was going to start cutting it loose, the quarterback got the news that he had wanted all along. Flacco knew his receivers had an advantage over the Patriots’ defensive backs and that edge grew stronger once cornerback Aqib Talib was forced out of the game with a hamstring problem.

Flacco took advantage of New England by throwing for 240 yards and 3 TDs without an interception.

The ability to play his best football in the most important games is why Ozzie Newsome drafted him with the Ravens first-round pick in the 2008 draft.

However, don’t slap that elite tag on Flacco. He was just average in the regular season, ranking 19th in the league in completion percentage, 14th in yardage and 15th in touchdowns.

Flacco is not Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan or Drew Brees.

None of those quarterbacks are in the Super Bowl.

Flacco is because he has raised his level of play when it matters most. He has the size, arm strength, quick release and enough accuracy to have led his team to road victories over the top two seeds in the AFC.

Flacco will have his work cut out for him if the 49ers play defense the way they did through the first three quarters of the regular season. During that portion of the schedule, the Niners were the most physical defense in the league and they inflicted pain thanks to the play of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.

That unit has slowed down considerably. They quickly fell behind 17-0 to the Falcons and if they allow that to happen against the Ravens, Flacco has proven he will not let up.

He is a second-half quarterback who plays his best in the biggest games.

He will be more than happy to prove that one more time against the 49ers.

steve silverman small Silverman: ‘Non Elite’ Flacco Is Simply Unflappable

Steve Silverman

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.

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