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Despite 5-3 playoff record, Ravens’ Flacco tries to sidestep blitz from critics

- - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco was eating dinner out when he saw a clip of teammate Terrell Suggs defending his play on television.

But following Suggs was a clip of longtime Ravens safety Ed Reed, speaking on a Sirius-XM NFL radio show. Reed told the show that Flacco didn't play up to par in Baltimore's 20-13 win over Houston.

"I was a little caught off guard about it," Flacco said.

The two have since talked, with Flacco saying everything's fine between them. Flacco's had plenty of detractors during his four years in the NFL, whether it be analysts or other players around the league. Before this season started, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Flacco would never win a Super Bowl. ESPN commentator Skip Bayless frequently has debated Suggs on the topic.

Needless to say, there are a number of people who don't believe Flacco can win a Super Bowl, let alone defeat New England in Sunday's AFC championship game.

"I'm shocked at just how people can speak about someone who is a flat-out winner," veteran linebacker Ray Lewis said. "There's no one side to anything. There's no one player that makes one team great. It takes a team effort. ... I've said from day one, when I first saw that kid throw a football, that that kid is special."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he spoke with Reed and listened to the interview. He believes Reed's words were misunderstood.

"We understand where each other is coming from," Harbaugh said. "I'm sure there are some things he would have like to have said a little better. If you look at the whole context and hear the tone of his voice and the message he was trying to communicate, it's a good message."

Flacco has posted 44 wins in his first four seasons, the most wins among any NFL quarterback in that time span. Flacco is 5-3 in postseason games, having appeared in the playoffs in each of his seasons in the league.

His numbers aren't gaudy, and his playing style isn't flashy. Flacco threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season. He posted an 80.9 quarterback rating — about five points lower than his career average.

But when the Ravens needed a game-winning drive at Pittsburgh in Week 9, Flacco put them on his back and marched 92 yards in 2:09, capping the drive with a 26-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Torrey Smith.

In the pass-happy NFL, Flacco's numbers don't strike fear into opponents. But Flacco can run the offense effectively, considering Ray Rice notched 2,068 total yards this season, the most among running backs in the NFL.

"We don't do a ton of things to be real explosive and in the top of the league statistically," Flacco said. "But we have the ability to be a really good offense."

Suggs once again defended Flacco on ESPN's "First Take" on Tuesday, the show on which Bayless appears. Suggs declined to rehash the Flacco defense he gave on the show, except to say that Flacco has become just another misfit along with the rest of the Ravens.

"This team as a whole, we've never been anybody's favorite," Suggs said. "I think he fits right in with us."

Sunday's game against New England could help change the way Flacco is perceived. With a strong showing and a win, Flacco could move up the ranks in the quarterback conversation. If he leads the Ravens to a Super Bowl win, it will be hard to discount Flacco's winning ways.

"The perception probably won't change, but it does not really matter," Flacco said.

At the beginning of the season, beating Pittsburgh was of utmost importance. He accomplished that twice en route to the Ravens winning the AFC North. The only step left is winning a conference championship and advancing to the Super Bowl.

"Look what this guy has done," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Criticism, he knows is part of the deal. But my man obviously deserves some credit because he is one of the best I've been around."