It’s never really made much sense.

His name comes up in conversations about the NFL’s better quarterbacks, it lingers long enough for someone to mention that he has a big arm and then – poof – it gets tossed into the “doesn’t qualify for elite status” pile that apparently merits little, if any, appreciation.

Joe Flacco … they hardly know ye.

He, or rather how he is viewed by the apparent vast majority, is an amazing study in contrasts – between reality and “reality” saturated with fantasies about the Baltimore Ravens’ past, when defense and a ground game got the team wins.

Newsflash – Flacco, not Ray Rice, not Ray Lewis, is Baltimore’s best player. He has been for awhile. While the nation gets caught up in the tough little guy putting up big numbers or him pulling off a fourth-and-forever miracle, or the memories of when Lewis and Ed Reed were as good as their reps are, Flacco merely is the difference between mediocre squad and AFC Championship Game participant.

Yet respect – true respect – seems to escape him, and pretty much has since he left small-town Audobon, N.J., for the college ranks. At the University of Pittsburgh, he got stuck behind Tyler Palko, a legendary scholastic player from western Pennsylvania who eventually got a cup of coffee in the NFL, before transferring to the University of Delaware.

He starred for the Blue Hens – but, well, you know, they are a FCS program. His size (6-6, 245) and skills were too hard for the NFL to miss, and he’s started ever since the first game of his rookie season, racking up a 54-26 record in the process. Yet, he remains a second-fiddle character to Matt Ryan from the same draft class, even though the latter just recorded the first playoff win of his career this past weekend. Flacco has been a postseason fixture – and winner – for five seasons now.

The big fella is never gonna put up Brees-like stats during the regular reason. With the organization’s commitment to a balanced attack, and running chips the caliber of Rice and now Bernard Pierce in the fold, there will be no pass-heavy hand played with any consistency. Check his career path. You can bank 3,600 yards, 21 TDs and a 60-percent completion rate every season. Not great, not exceptional, but solid.

When he needs to be something more, though, and that especially has been the case at crucial junctures the last three years, Flacco has been money – far, far more often than not.

Honestly, far more often than others who are considered elite while he is not.

Sunday’s outperforming of Peyton Manning was nothing new. This guy outdueled the immortal Tom Brady a year ago this week – in the same game, at the same location, Brady’s home field in Foxboro, Mass. Yeah, the Patriots prevailed 23-20 … when the potential game-winning TD pass from Flacco was dropped in the end zone by Lee Evans.

He’s outshone all the big-timers at one point or another when the bright lights come on – Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers. Truth be told, since Flacco became more of a focal point in the team’s offense in 2010, he’s faced Brady four times and clearly outplayed him in three of those matchups. The other time was a draw.

He already beat Tom Terrific this season, spearheading a fourth-quarter rally from a nine-point deficit to win 31-30 in Baltimore. Brady was very good in that one, completing 28 of 41 passing attempts for 335 yards and a score. Flacco was brilliant: 28-for-39, 382 yards and three TDs.

He has proven himself time and again. He’s 7-4 in the postseason, and five road wins are part of that record – including one at New England. A surefire Hall of Famer such as Peyton Manning (9-11 postseason) can only dream of that type of success in the playoffs.

This is Flacco’s fifth season in the NFL. Sunday will mark his third appearance in an AFC title contest. Granted, it was the defense and Rice who got the Ravens to that point more than their QB did back in the 2008 season, and he didn’t play well against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. But he was a major factor in the team squaring off with the Patriots last season at this juncture and he was “game on” in that one, completing 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two scores. He had the Ravens on the precipice of their second Super Bowl appearance in the final minute, then Evans dropped the ball … and then Billy Cundiff shanked the game-tying field-goal attempt.

Make no mistake, though, Flacco showed up in that one … and it’s time people started realizing this guy is a prime-time performer.

He doesn’t have to prove a darn thing this Sunday. Just don’t be surprised if he does. Again.