Ever wanted to go back to college for the day? Don’t miss: 3 top lecturers in Baltimore

It's time for Joe Flacco to raise his game

The Ravens' best hope of improving down the stretch is if Joe Flacco begins playing at a high level again.

If the Ravens are to win the AFC North and possibly advance deep into the playoffs, they need quarterback Joe Flacco to heat up now.

Somehow, they've got to get him going. Flacco turned in a solid performance Sunday in the Ravens 19-14 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, but they needed four field goals from Justin Tucker to pull out the victory.

Leaving points on the board might suffice against Cleveland and Cincinnati, which was without star receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard, but it won't work against potent offenses with quarterbacks such as Oakland's Derek Carr and New England's Tom Brady.

"I'm comfortable in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football, but in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we're not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this," Flacco said. "We've got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away."

Flacco is actually at a possible take-off point where he could get on a hot streak like he did in the 2012 season. While he has played poorly during the first half of this season, he has put together a string of 10 solid quarters, going back to the second half of the Cleveland game on Nov.10.

He isn't playing like an NFL MVP, but he's a quarterback who appears to be more comfortable in the pocket. He doesn't have nervous feet, and the Ravens have helped him as far as the scheme.

They are moving him in the pocket more, using rollouts and waggles. And the Ravens have added more "bunch" packages to help their receivers get off the line of scrimmage cleanly, and crossing routes to take advantage of their speed.

On Sunday, Flacco completed 25 of 36 passes for 234 yards. He had one intercepted and another one nearly picked off for a possible touchdown, but he never committed a big, boneheaded turnover that killed momentum.

You know the one, when he is falling backward and then floats a pass back to the left side of the field where it gets picked off.

Instead, Flacco has managed the game well. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 269 yards against Dallas last week. The Ravens are going to need him to do more from this point on.

"I definitely wasn't feeling great about what kind of position we put ourselves in," Flacco said about the end of the game. "I'd love to be able to finish them off, go put a touchdown or two or three on the board in the second half and just get this game over for sure."

The onus is on Flacco. We're not challenging his passion for the game — as former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis did —but singling him out through the process of elimination.

The Ravens play good defense, and their front seven is as good as any in the league, but their pass defense struggles and they can't beat a quality quarterback. On offense, the Ravens have two solid running backs in Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West, but they aren't home run hitters like Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott.

The Ravens have a solid group of receivers, but Breshad Perriman is inconsistent and Steve Smith's health is always questionable at age 37. The offensive line has made progress in recent weeks, but they aren't going to get a lot better playing with a rookie in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and two veterans battling injuries in guard Marshal Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah.

So the most logical choice is Flacco. He has postseason experience and can affect so many other positions. If Flacco plays better, so will the Ravens. Guaranteed.

"I thought Joe was really good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When he dropped back, he was executing. He was seeing the field really well. He threw some strikes in there."

But it's not just about accuracy. If Flacco wants to get his teammates jazzed up, put in some extra time in the film room over at "The Castle." Instead of checking down so much, go through the entire progression first.

Flacco has to be better for his team to be better. He needs to challenge himself because he is the best hope as far as optimism for this team.

When you look at the best teams in this league, they all have good quarterbacks. The rest of the NFL is a pig pile of teams.

Pittsburgh has a good quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers' defense is horrendous. Oakland has a strong offense because of Carr, but their defense isn't that good, either. Kansas City is just plain soft, and Denver needs a quarterback. The Ravens play good defense, but they need more consistency on offense and they can achieve that through Flacco.

Football is a team game and it would be unfair to say that Flacco is the Ravens' main problem. But he could be the answer because he is a Super Bowl winning quarterback with an impressive resume in the post season.

If he plays well, the Ravens are a better team. If he heats up, he could carry them quite a distance.

It's time for him to turn it on.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad