The questions about whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback have followed him like a relentless pass rusher for years. Players and coaches have repeatedly defended him in public and in private against criticism they fail to understand.

Flacco might have silenced his final critics here on Sunday, as he delivered his fourth straight superb performance of this postseason to lead the Ravens to a 34-31 win over the 49ers for the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Flacco finished 22 for 33 for 287 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

"They got to give it to one guy," Flacco said laughing, "and I'm not gonna complain that I got it."

The inconsistency that has dogged Flacco at times throughout his career simply vanished this postseason. In four playoff games, he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, tying a postseason record for touchdown passes held by Joe Montana and Kurt Warner. His quarterback rating in the Super Bowl was 124.2 and topped 100 in all four postseason games.

It couldn't come at a better time for the fifth-year quarterback, who is due to become a free agent in March, and it's likely this postseason run translated into millions of dollars.

"He's been through a lot," said tight end Dennis Pitta, one of Flacco's best friends on the team. "He's taken a lot of criticism for whatever reason, but he's never changed. He's stayed confident, and we've always had confidence in him, and on the biggest stages he performs the best. He was unbelievable this whole postseason."

Flacco's contract has been a popular subject since last spring. After the season opener, after the Ravens routed Cincinnati, coach John Harbaugh walked into his postgame news conference and said, "Pay the man!"

One way or the other, the Ravens will. Flacco will either be signed to a long-term deal, or the Ravens will apply the franchise tag. Owner Steve Bisciotti said this week that, "We have a franchise quarterback, he's going to get franchise money. … We've got our quarterback for the next 10 years and we're going to ride Joe."