Flacco carries Ravens' offense into duel with Steelers

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens usually talk all week about establishing the run, then end up throwing the ball for most of the game.

Fortunately, Joe Flacco has been up to the task.

Flacco has already reached career highs in attempts and completions. With the Ravens (8-6) edging closer to a Christmas Day showdown with Pittsburgh (9-5) for first place in the AFC North, Flacco stands on the brink of his first 4,000-yard passing season.

''It will mean a lot if we win a couple games down the stretch and get into the playoffs,'' the ninth-year quarterback said Wednesday. ''Other than that, it just means I'll stop being asked about it.''

Flacco has completed 374 of 579 passes for 3,788 yards and 19 touchdowns. He's also thrown 13 interceptions, the second-most of his career.

Regardless, he's carried an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 3.9 yards on 325 attempts. The Ravens have tried to get running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon involved, but it ultimately it's up to Flacco to make things happen.

''We've had to throw the ball a lot more in a lot of instances,'' Flacco acknowledged.

Lately, it's worked. Flacco has eight touchdown passes in his last three games, and Baltimore has won five of seven following a four-game skid.

''We've hit our bumps here and there, but now we're starting to hit our stride,'' Flacco said. ''The second half of the season it's come together with some of the new guys and our offensive line play and myself.''

Flacco has rebounded nicely from a knee injury that cut his season short by six games last year. Now he heads to Pittsburgh, a place where he's 5-3 (including playoffs) since the start of the 2010 season - the most wins of any NFL visiting quarterback during that span.

''I do know that he's had really good games in Pittsburgh, and we need another great game from him,'' coach John Harbaugh said.

Flacco's success at Heinz Field stems from a longtime desire to play well in that kind of environment.

''When you dream of being in the NFL, you dream of going into hostile environments in high pressure situations where a lot's on the line and people are into it,'' he said. ''You picture going into a place in front of 70,000 people who hate you. That's what makes it fun.''

The Steelers are 50-20 at home since the start of the 2008 season, but during that time Flacco is 4-4 and 5-6 including playoffs. In those eight regular-season games, he's thrown nine touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Needless to say, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has made stopping Flacco a big part of the defensive game plan for Sunday.

''I've been looking at the things they've done of late and the things that are going to be significant in determining the outcome of the game,'' Tomlin said. ''No question that Joe is going to be a big element of that.''

Though Flacco's arm will go a long way toward determining Baltimore's playoff fate, his persona off the field is also important to the team's success.

''He's not fake. He doesn't sugarcoat anything,'' Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. ''If he plays great or he plays like crap, he's going to tell you. When your leader, the face of the franchise, does that, everybody follows suit. When you have that from the top, it makes things go smoothly.

''Great teammate, great person, great father. He's definitely a special person.''


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