The banged-up Baltimore defense is in shambles, and barring a remarkable turnaround, it seems certain that it will be on quarterback Joe Flacco to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. When speaking with reporters after Sunday's 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Joe Flacco admittedly said more than he probably should have about the too-close-for-comfort ending, in which the Ravens defense allowed a touchdown after an 80-yard drive and then had to survive an onside kick recovery by the Cowboys and a missed field goal attempt by Dan Bailey to hold on. But Flacco had already worn a microphone during the game, so he figured he might as well come clean while he stood at the podium. "It was pretty tough to watch," said Flacco, who completed 17 of 26 attempts against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense for 234 yards and a touchdown. "I don't know if this is a good thing -- I'm miked up anyway -- but I said to Dennis [Pitta] when the ball is probably around the 30-yard line, I said they should probably just put the ball on the two-yard line and play this two-point conversion out and see what happens." That wasn't exactly a glowing endorsement for his defense, but I'll always appreciate it when a player is candid. Besides, who would he have been kidding if he said he was certain that the defense had it? The Ravens allowed 481 yards of offense to the Cowboys, the second time this season that they had given up more than 480 yards in one game. They got gouged on the ground for a second straight week, and the 227 rushing yards Sunday were the most the Ravens have allowed in team history. And the Ravens rarely got near quarterback Tony Romo with their pass rush as he threw for 261 yards. Given the vulnerability of the Ravens defense and the injuries to their emotional leader, Ray Lewis, and their shutdown cornerback, Lardarius Webb, it's clear more than ever that this team is only going to go as far as the rocket right arm of Joe Flacco can propel them. Sure, there may be games like last week when the proud defense digs deep in key moments and stirs up memories of past domination, but more often than not, the Ravens are going to have to keep the scoreboard operator occupied to win football games. Flacco won't be able to do it alone. Running back Ray Rice needs to be a big part of this offense, and the Ravens have plenty of other weapons -- like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta -- to attack opposing defenses with. But down the stretch, Flacco is going to have to go throw for throw with high-caliber quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning if the Ravens are going to make it back to the postseason and then advance to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.