In January of 1990 -- the 1989 playoffs -- Joe Montana rattled off three straight incredible games. The 49ers legend compiled 800 yards on 65-of-83 passing (78 percent), fired 11 touchdowns and didn't throw a single interception. His five touchdowns and 297 yards paced San Francisco to a 55-10 demolition of John Elway's Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. The performance capped what remains the best postseason ever from a quarterback.
Joe Flacco's January and February of 2013 didn't eclipse Montana's accomplishments, but he arguably came as close as anybody in the 23 years since, and almost certainly closer than any other Super Bowl winner. Flacco did it in one extra game and 43 extra pass attempts, but he matched Montana's playoff record 11 touchdowns (also shared with Kurt Warner in the 2008 season) and zero interceptions. His 1,140 yards rank third all-time, just behind Warner and Eli Manning in last year's playoffs.
We only have WPA and EPA data dating back to the 2000 season, but Flacco's playoff run ranks second in both to Warner, and tops of any Super Bowl winner:
Flacco racked up 1.84 WPA and 49.4 EPA, easily leading all other 2012 playoff participants; his 8.3 AYPA led all quarterbacks as well and his 0.34 EPA/P trailed just Russell Wilson. Only his completion percentage (57.9) lags compared to the rest of the elite playoff performances, but he made up for it with absurd proficiency with the deep ball: at least four completions thrown at least 15 yards down the field per game, and a total of 17 on 35 attempts. These deep balls racked up 561 yards -- nearly half Flacco's playoff total -- on just over a quarter of his attempts.
Colin Kaepernick's playoff performance shouldn't be forgotten despite his club's excruciatingly close loss to Flacco's Ravens. His 33.8 EPA ranks as the tenth highest playoff mark since 2000. His 9.98 YPA is the highest ever from a quarterback in his first or second year in the NFL, and he added 25 rushes for 264 yards (10.6 per carry) on top. His seven total touchdowns trail just Ben Roethlisberger (nine in 2004), Kurt Warner (eight as a 28 year old in 1999) and Dan Marino (eight in 1984). All three threw at least three interceptions; Kaepernick navigated his three games with just two picks.
Both quarterbacks seem poised to lead their respective teams for years to come. Kaepernick fully justified Jim Harbaugh's decision to replace Alex Smith midseason, and Joe Flacco is in position to garner one of the richest quarterback deals of all time.
Is Flacco really an elite quarterback now? Even including his stellar playoffs, he still ranks no greater than fifth in any of the following Advanced NFL Stats efficiency/win probability categories: WPA (6th), EPA (11th), WPA per game (9th), EPA per play (12th), and AYPA (5th).
But perhaps I protest to much. Joe Flacco was definitely elite for the month where it counts the most. Regardless of how the rest of his career goes, his run through the 2012 playoffs will live on as one of the best months of quarterback play the NFL has ever seen.