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Commentary: Flacco needs to be elite now

During a much more upbeat time, giddy Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco enjoyed some back-and-forth postgame banter following the team's opening win over the Bengals.

Harbaugh was in the process of calling Flacco "scary good," responding to the obligatory question about whether Flacco is elite with "of course he is," and telling anyone who would listen to "pay him whatever he wants."

A jovial Flacco chimed in with "you heard that," before opining: "I think I play good every year, I think I play good every game."

Some five months earlier, Flacco said on the radio that he considers himself to be the best quarterback in the NFL. During that interview, on WNST, he also said: "I wanna throw for 40 touchdowns a year and I wanna throw for 6,000 yards a year."

Well, he might have to.

For what must be the first time since the late-1990s, the Ravens go into a game today (in Houston) knowing they probably need to score 35 points to win.

The era of Baltimore as a defensive juggernaut is over, at least for 2012.

Leader Ray Lewis, who plays more downs than any other linebacker, is out after tearing his triceps last Sunday. Top cover man Lardarius Webb, who never gives up touchdowns, is out after tearing his left ACL Sunday. Sackmaster Terrell Suggs has yet to play this year, and even if he can return today he's unlikely to be himself, after tearing his Achilles in the spring.

If you had listed a hierarchy of players the Ravens absolutely couldn't afford to lose, that trio would make up three of the five. (And Haloti Ngata tweaked his knee Sunday and Ed Reed said this week he's playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder).

And the Ravens weren't playing well defensively even with Webb and Lewis. They rank only 26th in the 32-team NFL in yards allowed and 23rd in sacks. They've given up consecutive 200-yard rushing games.

Remember the Billick-era days when the sorry Ravens offense had to rely on the defense to save it? Consider the cleat officially on the other foot.

Flacco & Co. will need to put up big numbers for the 5-1 Ravens to keep winning and hold their lead in the AFC North. So far, his contract year is going well, but his numbers are not spectacular. Flacco ranks 12th among quarterbacks in yards per game (281.7), 11th in touchdowns (11), 10th in QB rating (92.0) and 18th in completion percentage.

He has, however, done the things he has needed to do to win games, just as he has his entire career. Nineteen quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Flacco has. When the Ravens have really needed good fourth-quarter drives, against New England and Dallas, Flacco has delivered.

Flacco has the arm and the weapons. He has worked his way into the top 10 of NFL quarterbacks. He needs to shoot up the list now.

When lauding Flacco back in Week 1, Harbaugh said the quarterback has "won a lot of football games" with the Ravens.

Now he'll have to win games for the Ravens.

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