By Larry Fine
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - He is the "Cool Joe" that makes the Baltimore Ravens go, and in Sunday's Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco could take a giant step toward assuming the team's leadership role from retiring linebacker Ray Lewis.
The strong-armed quarterback, quiet but brimming with confidence, lifted his game in the postseason, throwing eight touchdowns without an interception and earning consideration as one of the game's top quarterbacks.
The only National Football League quarterbacks to notch more touchdowns without an interception in a postseason were former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famers Steve Young (nine TDs in 1994) and Joe Montana (11 TDs in 1989).
"He's been doing what he's been doing all year long for us," fullback Vonta Leach told Reuters at Tuesday's Media Day at the Superdome.
"A lot of people are making a big deal now just because it's the playoffs, but Joe has been leading for our team all year long. He's just been Flacco."
None other than Lewis himself recently anointed Flacco as the team's next 'General', but the linebacker said he hoped the Ravens quarterback would work on becoming a more vocal leader.
Flacco, true to his nature, said he would lead in his own way.
"No, I haven't worked on it," he told reporters. "Don't know if I agree with it. There are a lot of different ways to lead, and the bottom line is it's about motivating your players to get the best out of them and having belief that you can go do it in any situation.
"You've got to do it your own way, and I think naturally as you get more comfortable with people and people understand you more ... you become more vocal as time goes on."
Flacco has followed his convictions before.
Stuck behind an incumbent quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh, Flacco left for the University of Delaware at a lower college division level and the move paid off as he got to show off the talent that moved Baltimore to select him with the 18th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Thrust into a starting role as a rookie, Flacco helped the Ravens reach the playoffs and has become the only quarterback to reach the postseason in each of his first five seasons.
Still, there were ups-and-downs for Flacco, who was seen as inconsistent despite his rifle arm.
Now surrounded by deep receiving threats in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, and sure-handed Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta along with versatile running back Ray Rice, the Ravens have shifted into a high-powered offense after years of being known primarily as a defensive power.
"You knew the talent was there," former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who steered Baltimore to a Super Bowl title 12 years ago, said about Flacco on Tuesday.
"They've wrapped the right combo of talents around him. He seems so resilient and it doesn't get too big for him, and those are good qualities to have."
Kurt Warner, who won the Super Bowl in 2000 with the St. Louis Rams and returned to the Super Bowl nine years later with the Arizona Cardinals, said Flacco had the knack to rise to the occasion.
"I've always felt that Joe is a franchise quarterback," Warner told Reuters. "The one thing about Joe to draw questions is consistency.
"Joe is kind of up-and-down throughout the seasons but the great thing with him is that when it becomes crunch time, when it becomes playoff time, he plays his best football. That's the kind of guy you want leading your football team."
Flacco, who threw for 25 TDs and 10 interceptions in the regular season, outdueled number one draft pick Andrew Luck of the Colts, future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning of the Broncos and New England's Tom Brady on the way to the Super Bowl.
Over his last seven playoff games going back to 2010, he has tossed 15 TD passes and just two interceptions and his six playoff road wins are the most ever by an NFL quarterback.
Flacco, 28, said he does not really care if others do not consider him an elite quarterback.
"I'm just going to let my play speak for itself," he said.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)
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