But Flacco acknowledged that he would be "irritated" if people assumed he wasn't already a leader.

Days after the 30-point loss to the Houston Texans last October, one team meeting grew tense. Some defensive players, led by safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, voiced their frustration to coach John Harbaugh about having to wear full pads in practice before departing for the bye week. There were also complaints about the game plan for Houston.

The Ravens came out throwing, but Flacco threw two interceptions and the offense couldn't sustain drives, forcing a proud, tired defense to remain on the field for more than 38 minutes.

The defense felt embarrassed, leading to raised voices and finger-pointing. Flacco stood up and interjected. He told the room that the coaches put together the right game plan and that he took the blame for the offense's not executing it. And instead of dwelling on the loss, he encouraged everyone to focus on the long road ahead.

"Joe didn't take anybody's side — us or the coaches," tight end Ed Dickson said. "He just said, 'We've got to do better, guys.'"

Weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain backed Flacco, telling his fellow defenders it was up to them to go onto the field and stop somebody.

That heated meeting was a significant moment for a Ravens team that grew into a champion.

"It was just a crazy meeting. … It was just one of those things that happen in the moment," Flacco said. "The last thing we needed was a divided locker room and people getting [angry] at this person for this. We needed to stick together as a team and lose as a team and win as a team. Losing one game wasn't going to define who we were, and that was the biggest thing I was trying to get across."

Former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who played with Flacco during the quarterback's first three seasons, said that even early in his career, Flacco led by his actions and demeanor, even if he wasn't saying much. Mason could count on Flacco to never be rattled in the huddle.

"His leadership came with his calmness. He never was a big talker in the huddle. He never was a rah-rah guy," Mason said. "And I don't think that's changed because I don't think that's him."

The next challenge

One thing that could stand to change with Flacco is his consistency. He has won more games in his first five seasons than any other quarterback. With him under center, the Ravens never have missed the playoffs. And he has been to three AFC championship games and one Super Bowl. But Flacco has yet to put together a 16-game season impressive enough to get him selected to the Pro Bowl.

While team goals are his first priority, Flacco concedes that he does care about individual honors.

"It would be a lie if I said no," Flacco said. "Yeah, you want to be a Pro Bowl quarterback so that's another thing that people can stop saying. But at the same time, it's not the No. 1 thing on my list. … It's not going to end my world if it doesn't happen."

In 2012, Flacco established career highs with 317 completions and 3,817 passing yards. His 22 touchdown passes were the second-highest total of his career and his 10 interceptions tied a career low. And even though the Ravens asked him to attempt many difficult downfield throws, Flacco raised his completion percentage by more than 2 points.

"When you look at [what] he can do, there are moments he can play as well as any quarterback in the NFL," said Tim Hasselbeck, a former NFL quarterback who is now an ESPN analyst. "The difference is not having those weeks where guys leave the stadium and think, 'How the heck did that just happen?' That's the challenge. I really believe in the NFL, it's about consistency as far as what separates the good players from the best players."

After Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron in December, Flacco threw 15 touchdown passes and just one interception in seven starts, though he played sparingly in the regular-season finale.

If Flacco is to play at a similar level this fall, he will have to do it without two favorite targets. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded in the offseason and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a hip injury early in training camp that is expected to keep him out most of the season. Looking for the right mix of pass-catchers, the Ravens have shuffled new wide receivers in with the first-team offense, including rookies Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown. Behind the scenes, Flacco had pushed for those youngsters to get chances.

"It's going to be a total group effort, just like it always is, and it's going to be an ongoing process of getting a comfort level with all the guys that are out there. But it's always like that," Flacco said. "What fun would it be if we were perfect in everything that we did? Football is not about that."

That challenge is what Flacco lives for, not the fame and the prosperity that come when he conquers it. After achieving his childhood dream by winning the Super Bowl, all Flacco wanted to do was get back to work and see whether he could do it again.