By Julian Linden
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Joe Flacco joined the National Football League's (NFL) elite with a masterful Super Bowl performance on Sunday, leading his Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The 28-year-old quarterback threw three touchdown passes, all in the first half, without any interceptions, en route to capturing the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the NFL's title game.
Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes and threw for 287 yards, but the statistics and the MVP award were perhaps the least of his achievements. More significantly for Flacco, it elevated him to a rarified level where he has long believed he belonged but never quite got there.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, it's crazy, unbelievable," he said. "It's tough to put into words.
"They have to give it to one guy and I'm not going to complain that I got it."
Despite leading the Ravens in each of his five seasons in the NFL, Flacco has remained an underrated and understated playmaker, but no more.
He had said before the playoffs he was among the best quarterbacks in the game and kept true to his word with his flawless showing in the postseason.
During the playoffs, he threw for 11 touchdowns, matching the record set by Hall of Famer Joe Montana (1989) and Kurt Warner (2008) for the most by any player in a single postseason. Flacco also did not throw a single interception.
"It's pretty cool. Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback so to be out anywhere next to him is pretty cool," Flacco said.
Standing 6ft 6in tall and possessing a powerful right arm that allows him to hurl the ball like a missile, Flacco has all the perfect physical attributes.
He made a great start on Sunday, orchestrating a six-play, 51-yard drive on his team's first possession that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
In the second quarter, he threw a one-yard scoring pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, then a spectacular 56-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
"That was unbelievable. It was third and 19 and so it was the perfect time to run that little pump," Flacco said. I had to step up and throw the ball on the run and Jacoby had great concentration.
"I didn't want to overthrow him there. He just did a great job coming down with that football and getting in the end zone."
Timing is everything for an elite quarterback, and Flacco could not have timed his MVP-winning performance any better as his initial five-year-deal is about to expire.
As a pending free agent, Flacco's value has suddenly shot up, and he plans to make sure Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti makes good on a promise.
"We just won a Super Bowl so that's the last thing (contract negotiations) I'm concerned about but he did let me know that if the day came, I could go beat on his desk and really put it to him," Flacco said. "So that's exactly what I'm gong to do."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)