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Flacco shoulders blame for Ravens' slide

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - Joe Flacco has fumbled three times and thrown three interceptions in his last three games, each of which the Baltimore Ravens have lost.

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Flacco understands that an NFL quarterback often receives an inordinate amount of criticism in defeat and perhaps too much credit for a victory. In this case, however, he accepts full responsibility for Baltimore's longest skid since 2009.

``All of it,'' Flacco said Wednesday. ``It starts with the quarterback.''

It's tough to argue. Flacco's fumble set up the tying score in a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 2. A fumble and an interception in the third quarter led to two Washington field goals in an overtime defeat on Dec. 9, and last Sunday he had two first-half turnovers in a 34-17 drubbing by Denver.

Flacco can only hope the lasting image of his 2012 season isn't the one of him lying face down on the turf following his futile chase of Chris Harris, who went 98 yards with an interception to put the Broncos up 17-0 at halftime.

Flacco laying prone on the goal line, agonizing over his critical mistake, typified a season that has turned decidedly flat.

If the Ravens (9-5) are to pull out of their tailspin and make some noise in the postseason, Flacco will have to right himself in a hurry. He's got no doubt it's going to happen, starting this Sunday at home against the defending world champion New York Giants (8-6). Baltimore can clinch its second straight AFC North title with a win.

``I'm confident. Our team is confident,'' he said. ``These are tough situations, but it's about how you stand up. You can't blink. I don't know if we've necessarily been in this kind of situation in the past, but we've dealt with things that are similar and we know how to move forward and push through.''

Since taking over the starting job out of training camp in his rookie season, Flacco has endured only two three-game losing streaks. So this is rather unusual territory for the Ravens career leader in yards passing, touchdown passes and completion percentage.

``I hope we go out there and play fast, physical and smart and I hope we win football games,'' he said. ``I don't hope. I know that's what we're going to do. It's what we've done here.''

In spite of his recent struggle, Flacco deserves credit for helping the Ravens reach the playoffs in five straight seasons. Flacco is the only quarterback in NFL history to reach the postseason in each of his first four years, and now he's 5 for 5.

``I'm pretty proud of it, but it's not something that I or we think about on a regular basis,'' he said.

Flacco may not be among the elite NFL quarterbacks, but he's earned respect from his teammates and the opposition.

``He's a confident player, tough as nails,'' Baltimore offensive tackle Michael Oher said.

``I see a good young quarterback who's growing in the system that John (Harbaugh) and his staff developed in Baltimore,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ``And he seems to be getting better all the time.''

Flacco has never been to the Super Bowl, but he has twice taken Baltimore to the AFC title game. Last year, he nearly engineered an upset of the New England Patriots in the conference championship but was undone by a dropped pass and a botched field-goal try.

``He makes a lot of plays and has turned into a guy who's a good leader,'' said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner. ``Last year he was right there, a play away from making the Super Bowl.''

It's impossible to determine how this season will end, but at this juncture the Ravens don't look the part of a Super Bowl contender. Not yet, anyway.

Flacco's struggle against Pittsburgh and Washington played a role in Harbaugh's decision last week to dump offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Now it's up to Flacco to make the quick adjustment to Jim Caldwell, who called the plays against Denver.

``We've had to go through a lot of adversity this year, and Joe being Joe, he's responded to it really well,'' Ravens running back Ray Rice said. ``It's not easy going through a change this late in the season, but the way he's handled it, he's still Joe. This week gives us a great opportunity to bounce back. Everything that we want is still in front of us. Quarterback is the toughest position in the game, and I just think with that amount of pressure he's handled it really well. Joe is still a great quarterback. He's our quarterback, and we're going to defend him to the end.''

---

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