"[W]e've got our Matt Ryan, we've got our Flacco, we've got our Sanchez right here."
The above was a quote from HC Leslie Frazier when the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 draft. This was also a quote that bothered a lot of people- myself included. I mean, when he said it, basically I thought "so... we either have Matt Ryan, or we have our huge first round reach that will not turn out to be much?"
(A side note- yes, Frazier was referencing Ponder's ability to start right away in 2011, which he did not do, and therefore he was just listing QBs who started as rookies. But I still didn't like the fact that he threw Flacco and Sanchez in by means of comparison at the time.)
Well, the quote is still disturbing- if we got our Sanchez, then either we failed horribly, and Frazier has absolutely no clue what a real QB looks like. Granted, Sanchez was still the starter at that point, but it's not like people were high on him- already he was being considered one of the worst starters in the NFL. The thing was, Flacco was right there with him in that analysis.
And now Flacco is a Super Bowl MVP, after having one of the- if in fact not the period- best post seasons a QB has ever had. Yes, better than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, better than Joe Montana and John Elway. 11 TDs, 0 INTs, and absolutely clutch plays when it mattered the most. It was Flacco, not Ray Lewis, who spurred the Ravens from limping into the postseason into a dominant run to the Lombardi, taking out Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady (in a big way), and Colin Kaepernick in the process.
It reminds me of 2007, when a QB who that same season had been questioned by his own owner- publicly no less- about his ability to win big games led a team on the most amazing post-season run I've ever experienced. And by the way, he also threw I believe 27 picks against the Vikings in game that very season (I do like bringing that up). And it wasn't a flash in the pan- Eli Manning would repeat that same success just a few years later, netting more SB rings and SB MVPs than his far more touted big brother Pey-pey.
We will have to see how successful the Ravens can be after this season. They're certainly going to be entering a bit of a rebuilding phase- Ray Lewis will be gone, I expect Ed Reed as well, and with their salary cap issues (and the fact that they now owe that QB of theirs about $100 million dollars), several of their other big time players may not be back either. We'll also have to see how Flacco responds to that situation- if Anquan Boldin, for example, becomes a salary cap casualty, will he still be able to bomb it down the field in the closing seconds to win a big game?
Who knows. But the fact is that when it mattered the most, the Ravens had a QB who delivered in massive and critical ways, just like when it mattered the most, the Giants have had a QB who has delivered in the same fashion. Rebuilding seasons can be stomached a lot easier when you're fresh off a Super Bowl win.
A lot of people have compared the Raven's style of overall football to the Vikings: heavy focus on defense, with an offense that features a big-time running back (even if they didn't always use him enough in the regular season) and an otherwise ball-control offense. Admittedly, the passing games are night-and-day: the Ravens may not pass as much as, say, the Patriots, but when they do it's very heavy on the middle and deep passes. But part of that is personnel- the Ravens have a very solid receiving corps that I sometimes think is almost a little unsung. And yes, Flacco has a helluva arm, something that some people have questioned about Ponder (which I think is a bit dumb, as he has made the big passes before, just not a lot).
But overall, should the Vikings take hope in Flacco's surge? Just like Eli Manning before him, he proved that you don't have to be a rookie sensation to become a great QB (we're ignoring the stupid ‘elite' argument here) who can win a Lombardi. Is it possible that for all of Ponder's struggles, he too could eventually rise to such heights and take the big time?
Again, returning to that opening quote, it's something that could give us fits for some time. Ponder could, just as easily, become the next Mark Sanchez- the guy that we waste several years on hoping he turns it around, only to finally come to the conclusion that it's been a failed experiment. (That said, I do believe our front office won't be stupid enough to give him an enormous albatross of a contract just before figuring that out.)
But if we Vikings fans take anything from this Super Bowl- aside from the fact that MATT BIRK HAS A RING AND RANDY MOSS DOES NOT WOOOOOOOT- it's that sometimes a little patience can go a long way. Don't get me wrong- I remember as well as the rest of you that I've had my moments of burning Ponder effigies and raising a pitchfork high above my head. But maybe after watching last night's (surprisingly good) game, just one season after Flacco wasn't considered good enough to give a contract extension to, I've come to the conclusion that we've got to give Ponder a bit more time before coming to our final conclusions on him.
Because hey, even if they're not all Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, sometimes they can turn out to be Joe Flacco and Eli Manning.