Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:46 AM
NEW ORLEANS — After a performance such as this, there is only one thing left for an often-questioned quarterback to ask.
Hey, America? Was that elite enough for you?
Joe Flacco, Baltimore's new favorite flavor, was lights-out Sunday night. For a while there, he was as precise as Montana and as big-armed as Elway. He made big plays like whichever Manning you wish to name.
Flacco, the Ravens' quarterback, was brilliant in the 34-31 win over the 49ers. The Super Bowl itself went dark for some 34 minutes in the third period, but nothing could dim Flacco, the game's MVP. Standing on the podium, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy toward the Superdome roof, no quarterback has ever looked more vindicated.
Oh, there for a while, the 49ers' equally impressive Colin Kaepernick tried. Kaepernick played the second half as a blur, and in his 10th start in the NFL, he darned near pulled out the game.
In the end, however, Flacco was unflappable. He was steady, and he made the big plays, and he measured up the size of his stage. When things were going wrong, he was the steadying hand for his team.
By the end of the game, he was the best quarterback Baltimore has seen since the days of Johnny Unitas.
"Joe was phenomenal," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's got the guts of a burglar. He was doing it all night making plays."
There was the third-and-four play when Flacco fired a bullet up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
There was the third-and-seven play when Flacco was running from Ahmad Brooks and he heaved the ball down the sideline as if he was throwing it away. Then Boldin was coming from nowhere, leaping and rebounding the ball for a 31-yard gain.
This was Flacco's coming-out party, the way the Super Bowl was once for Tom Brady before he was elite and for Eli Manning before he was elite.
"We know what kind of player he is," said Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta. "He's showed up on the biggest stage and performed. He deserves everything."
The New York Times contributed to this report