From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- No doubt about it.When you beat the best -- and Joe Flacco did that in consecutive games -- the skeptics should be silenced."I'm so glad we're going to the Super Bowl right now," Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "so people can get off Joe's back."Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the second half, helping the Ravens reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years with a 28-13 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday.He beat two-time NFL MVP Tom Brady one week after outplaying Peyton Manning, who has won the award four times, in a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos. And that followed a 24-9 victory over budding star quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round."We've always believed in Joe," coach John Harbaugh said, "and for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row -- Luck's a pretty good quarterback, Manning's a pretty good quarterback and Brady's a great quarterback."All those guys are great players, but Joe's a great quarterback. And Joe has proven that. He's not just proven it this year, he's proven it for five years."No NFL quarterback -- not Brady, not Manning -- has more than Flacco's 62 victories, including the postseason, since the start of the 2008 season. No NFL quarterback has more than his six postseason wins on the road. And no other quarterback has a postseason victory in each of his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era."He's a great quarterback," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught two touchdown passes. "I don't know why people keep doubting him because the bigger the situation is, the bigger he plays, and he's proven that time and time again. So maybe they'll get off his back now."Finally, he will be the most accomplished quarterback in one of his playoff games when he faces the 49ers, who are favored by 4 points, in New Orleans on Feb. 3.San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have made a splash with his running and passing skills, but he's started just nine games in his two pro seasons.Flacco has started every Ravens game -- 80 in the regular season, 12 in the postseason -- since they took him with the 18th pick of the 2008 draft out of Delaware.As a rookie, he played poorly in a 23-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. He got back to that game last season, but the Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots.But on the same field Sunday, Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Brady went 29 for 54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions."These games are tough to win and we've put ourselves in the position to win these games and, eventually, you're going to push through and play the way you need to," he said.A week earlier in a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Broncos, he went 18 for 34 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That beat Manning's 28 for 43 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.Flacco's passer ratings in this year's postseason games highlight his superiority -- 125.6 to Luck's 59.8, 116.2 to Manning's 88.3 and 106.3 to Brady's 62.3."I've always been a Joe Flacco fan," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.The Patriots led 13-7 at halftime but in a span of 10 minutes and one second Flacco threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Dennis Pitta, and 3 and 11 yards to Boldin."They do a good job stopping the run and we knew we had to come out here in the second half and make some plays in the passing game," Flacco said.He sure did.After completing just 6 of 12 passes for 81 yards with no touchdowns before the break, he went 15 for 24 for 159 yards in the second half. He was 14 for 18 on the three touchdown drives and even scrambled once for 14 yards and a first down.In three playoff games this season he's thrown eight touchdown passes and not a single interception."He's been great all year, especially in these playoffs," Pitta said. "He deserves this more than anyone."Safety Ed Reed saw great potential in Flacco from the quarterback's rookie season."From the first snap (when) he went against our defense, I knew he was a smart guy," Reed said. "We blitzed him and he threw it straight to the sideline out of bounds because he knew we were coming. He's always been a leader (with) more than potential to lead us to where we're going right now."That should have been clear when Flacco guided the Baltimore offense to three AFC championship games in his five seasons.His opponents see it now that he's helped take the Ravens to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career."He is one of the elite quarterbacks," Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. "I know he gets a lot of flak for possibly not being that type of guy, but he is."And now Flacco can look to pad his resume with his first Super Bowl championship."It's about who can get ready and who can become their best at the right time and hit the ground running," he said. "And that's what we're doing."
The opening round of the IHSA football playoffs is loaded with great opening week games. Here are some Chicagoland matchups, from 8A through 4A, that have the potential to be very good “under-the-radar” type of games to watch this weekend.
No. 26 seed Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 seed West Aurora (9-0), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Many will look at this matchup and assume that perennial 8A power Maine South will just overpower West Aurora. But not so fast, my friends. The Blackhawks and head coach Nate Eimers feature a team loaded with talent and speed, including the Cross twins: senior RB/DB DaQuan Cross and senior RB/DB DaVion Cross. This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.
No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1) Friday 7:30 p.m.
This is easily one of the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of 7A. Why? Auburn and head coach Dan Appino’s Knights feature a huge offensive line and a strong running game. Also, the Knights never play outside of the NIC-10 conference until state playoff time. St. Rita had an up-and-down season, yet no one will ever accuse the Mustangs of not being battle-tested. They have Chicago Catholic Blue credentials and have non-conference wins over Rich Central and Marmion — two playoff teams.
[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]
No. 11 Lakes (6-3) at No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2) Friday 7:00 p.m.
Both hail from the Northern Lake County conference and despite Lakes’ 31-14 win over Grayslake North on Sept. 9, the Eagles are the lower seed/road team this week. Look for another terrific game here. It's always very difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season.
No. 9 Rich Central (6-3) at No. 8 Woodstock North (6-3), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Rich Central might have one of the state's biggest offensive lines, which includes senior OL/DL Caylon May (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). Woodstock North looks to run the football behind senior RB Casey Dycus. Everybody in the Thunder program continues to be excited, stemming from last week's 23-22 win over Rock Falls. Woodstock North blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt in overtime to secure the win and a state playoff bid.
No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Wheaton Academy hit a rough patch in its Metro Suburban Blue slate and lost three straight games to playoff teams (IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South). The Warriors are undoubtedly battle tested. However, Aurora Central Catholic's only loss came to Ridgewood (7-2) who won the Metro Suburban Red. Expect a packed house in Aurora on Friday night for, likely, a back-and-forth game.
CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.
“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”
It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.
Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as an another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.
After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.
“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.
“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.”
After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.
“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.
“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”