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Joe Flacco is frustrated, and the Ravens need him at his best

As the Ravens (1-6) prepare for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers (2-5) at M&T Bank Stadium, quarterback Joe Flacco is trying to break from the inconsistent play that has conjured memories of the quarterback's struggles in 2013.

Joe Flacco angrily swung his arm through the air after an offensive penalty, walked dejectedly off the field following his interception and then spent several minutes after the Ravens' 26-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals lamenting communication issues on the team's final drive.

Normally a picture of confidence and calm, the Ravens' $120.6 million franchise quarterback has recently morphed into the face of the team's frustration.

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"It's just frustrating because you're not winning the game. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how it happens. It's frustrating," Flacco said following practice Wednesday afternoon. "You go home and you think about it. You think about it in the locker room, on the plane, on the bus. It's just the nature of what we do.

"We want to win football games and we want the opportunity to win football games. When you're not able to do it, when you're not able to pull through, yeah, you're going to think about it and it's going to be frustrating, and it's not going to be the easiest thing to deal with."

As the Ravens (1-6) prepare for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers (2-5) at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco is trying to break from the inconsistent play that has conjured memories of the quarterback's struggles in 2013.

It's not that he's played poorly, as he did for significant stretches of 2013. With an unsettled group of targets around him and a glaring lack of speed on offense, Flacco is seventh in the NFL with 1,857 passing yards and his 62.7 completion percentage would rank as the second highest mark of his eight-year career.

Before throwing the last-minute interception in the end zone against the Cardinals that ended the Ravens' comeback attempt Monday, Flacco was efficient and reasonably effective against one of the league's top secondaries. However, the Ravens — who have a struggling defense and make far too many mistakes on both sides of the ball — need him to be better, especially late in the game.

The offense has had the ball in the final three minutes of regulation, or in overtime, with a chance to tie the game or take the lead in all six of the Ravens' losses. In two of those defeats, Flacco had potential game-winning touchdown passes dropped in the end zone, so the team's various late-game problems aren't all on the quarterback.

But Flacco, who has 22 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career and a hard-earned reputation for being clutch, is held to a high standard, and he's thrown interceptions to end his team's comeback hopes in half of the team's losses. In fourth quarters this year, he has three touchdown passes, three interceptions, a completion percentage of just over 48 percent and a subpar 63.6 quarterback rating.

"We're going out there and we're executing at a good level for a lot of things. It's just little details, like I've said before," Flacco said. "I'm never going to question myself or question the guys around me. We're just going to look at each other and we're going to look in the mirror and I'm going to tell myself and everybody that we have to get better, I have to get better."

Flacco, though, did reiterate that he feels like the Ravens are operating with little margin of error. That hasn't always been the case in his career, and that certainly wasn't the case last season when he threw for a career-high 3,986 yards and 27 touchdown passes, with 12 interceptions.

"You can't go out there and make mistakes and you have to take advantage of every single drive," he said. "Every single play has huge weight in our game right now. Yeah, that definitely makes it a little tougher. That's just what we are right now. We have to adapt and become better because of it and we have to make those plays and we haven't been able to."

Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore praised the quarterback for his steadiness, even amid frustrating times. Asked if he's seen any change inFlacco, Gillmore said, "No, and you never will."

After several of the Ravens' losses, Flacco has said that he hasn't played well enough. He hasn't publicly criticized offensive coordinator Marc Trestman or shifted blame on struggling teammates. He chided himself following the San Francisco 49ers game for stupid decision-making. On Wednesday, he even acknowledged that critics' assertion that he's thrown off his back foot too much is "somewhat fair."

"I would say there are times where yeah, I've been on my back foot, where I wish I could stay in there strong and do a better job," he said. "But at the same time, it goes both ways. You feel little stuff and you want to be able to get the throw off and buy enough time to get the throw off. There's a fine line."

Such has been the case late in games, as well. If Steve Smith Sr. was able to catch a couple of passes in the end zone late in the game against the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, the conversation right now could be much different.

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If Gillmore wasn't knocked off balance by Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson, who made the game-saving interception Monday, much of the conversation could have been about how Flacco marched his offense down the field without any timeouts and with the communication system down on the Ravens' sideline.

"I thought Joe did a very good job, when we were not huddling, of not having a call but making a call," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He did a great job of making those calls and executing the calls. He got us down the field quickly. It was chaotic and I thought Joe did a great job of handling it."

Yet, the Ravens again came up short, further fueling the quarterback's growing frustration.

"We were just kind of out of control," Flacco said. "We were fortunate to get down to where we did but at the end of the day, you have to be able to overcome those things and put the ball in the end zone. We just couldn't put the ball in the end zone, obviously. It's just tough."

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Going down the wrong path

This season is starting to take on many similarities to the Ravens' 2013 campaign, which was arguably the worst year of quarterback Joe Flacco's career. Here are how his numbers rank through seven games this year, compared to the first seven in 2013.

Comp.-Att.-Yds; Comp. pct; TDs; INTs; Yds per game; Sacks;

2013: 160-269-1,917; 59.5; 8; 8; 273.9; 20;

2015: 180-287-1,857; 62.7; 9; 8; 253.4; 11;

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