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“They have a great complement of receivers and tight ends and backs. They get the ball to everybody,” Belichick said. “The receivers are productive, their tight ends are very productive and of course, Rice is their leading receiver. You take one guy away and they can beat you with … a lot of different guys.”

Flacco threw two touchdown passes against Houston and had a solid 97.1 quarterback rating. He’s also 44-20 during the regular season and the only starting quarterback in NFL history to reach the playoffs in each of his first four years.

“A quarterback has to do what his team needs him to do to win, and Joe has done that,” Belichick said.

Flacco is 5-3 in the postseason. To become 6-3, he’s going to have to get the Ravens into the end zone.

“As an offense, an offensive guy, I would think so,” Flacco said. “At the same time, we have a good defense. The way (the Patriots) have played all year, the way they’ve played in the past, they put points on the board. So I think as an offense, you have to go in there and put points on the board, too.”

Flacco will be facing the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense, so there may be an opportunity for him to succeed. He might even be put in a position to win the game with a last-minute drive, as he did at Pittsburgh in November.

In spite of all his accomplishments, Flacco still absorbs a surprising amount of criticism. A victory over New England might change all that.

“Like I told Joe, no one wins games by themselves,” said Lewis, the only remaining Ravens player from the 2000 Super Bowl champions. “We are in this as a family; we are in this as a team. Nothing on the outside matters. What matters is what we think on the inside of this building and what we feel about him and the confidence we have in him. Everything else, you can throw out the window. Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last four years. If that was anybody else, they would be praising him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into the position to win.”

The only thing missing is that elusive final step _ winning it all.