Give me Flacco under fire

Let me just start this off by saying I find it silly that leading up to the AFC championship game, we have to spend this much time discussing Ed Reed, Joe Flacco and the relationship between the two.

We should be discussing Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and the Patriots' porous pass defense, not a national radio interview in which a defensive player called out his offensive teammates. And believe me, I'll have plenty on the Gronkowski/Brady/Pats' defense topics over the next couple days.

But as I try and move past this Reed/Flacco story, I'd like to point out that while I still don't understand the timing of Reed's comments, I do think there is some good that could come out of the Ravens safety challenging his quarterback, among others.

For whatever reason, Flacco seems to respond well to criticism. When people sour on him, question his play and raise doubts as to whether he's the Ravens' quarterback of the future, Flacco goes out and plays his best ball. On the flip side, when Flacco is coming off a strong performance, and people start wondering whether he's turned the corner and will start to play consistent, high-level football, he seems to regress.

Take a look at Flacco's stat lines from games earlier this season, and you'll see what I'm talking about:

* Week 1 vs. Steelers: 17-of-29 (58.6 percent) for 224 yards, three TDs in a 35-7 win
* Week 2 at Titans: 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) for 197 yards, one TD and two interceptions in a 26-13 loss
* Week 3 at Rams: 27-of-48 (56.3 percent) for 389 yards, three TDs, one lost fumble in a 37-7 win
* Week 4 vs. Jets: 10-of-31 (32.3 percent) for 163 yards, no TDs, one interception, one lost fumble in a 34-17 win

Going into the season opener against the Steelers, everyone was questioning whether Flacco and the Ravens had what it took to beat their arch rivals this season. Flacco puts up a very strong game, and people start talking about how things might be different this year and Flacco could become one of the elite QBs in the NFL.

Joe_Flacco-fist-pump-tall.jpgThen he goes out the next week, completes less than 50 percent of his passes and turns the ball over twice in a surprising loss to the Titans. People get down on Flacco, only to see him follow that up with a studly performance the next week out against a mediocre Rams team. Flacco then posts his lowest completion percentage of the season the following Sunday in a win over the Jets.

Same deal midway through the season, when no one believed Flacco had what it took to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field. What's the Ravens' quarterback do? He throws for 300 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the final minute to lead Baltimore to a huge road win, then plays average football for much of the final two months of the season.

Obviously, there were other factors at play during these games, but my point remains. If I'm the Ravens, I like a fired-up Flacco.

He's not the type to read every article being written about him or spend his nights plopped in front of the TV taking notes on who's criticizing his play so that he can go out and shut those people up. But Flacco certainly hears rumblings when the fan base is up in arms about him not progressing, and he definitely heard Reed say that against the Patriots, Flacco needs to elevate his play and take control of the offense.

During yesterday's session with the media, after spending the first minute and a half of his press conference answering questions about Reed's comments, Flacco was asked whether the Ravens have to make it to the Super Bowl to accomplish their goals this season.

"In order to be a special team, you have to win a Super Bowl," Flacco said. "You can't get to the playoffs and lose every year and expect to be considered a special team. We are definitely a good football team. That's without question. But to be a special team, you have to win championships. We're working towards that. That's why we're here right now. That's why we put ourselves in this position every year.

"The bottom line is that getting to the playoffs and getting to this position is a rare thing. We've been spoiled around here, but that's because we're a good football team. You say teams are not in this position a lot or young guys don't get used to this - you always hear that. Well, shoot, we should get used to it. We're a good friggin' football team. Why shouldn't we be here every year? ... I look at it as we're going to get this chance, we're going to win. We're going to win in Indianapolis, and then we're going to be here every other year and put ourselves in a position to go play in the Super Bowl every year."

As someone who has heard every one of Flacco's press conferences this season, I can tell you without question that the fourth-year quarterback sounded as motivated and inspired during that monologue as he has all year.

Flacco will be going up against the NFL's second-worst passing defense Sunday. There will be opportunities for him to make plays through the air and lead his team to an upset victory and an AFC championship. Given the way he's been put under the magnifying glass this week, I wouldn't be surprised if Flacco rises to the task.

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