Flacco begins season, salary drive with flourish

Posted Sept. 11, 2012, at 6:45 p.m.

BALTIMORE — In his effort to get a lucrative new contract from the Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco might not need to do anything more than let his performance speak for itself

Or, he could have coach John Harbaugh talk on his behalf.

After Flacco ripped apart the Cincinnati Bengals defense for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-13 rout Monday night, Harbaugh felt compelled to weigh in on negotiations between the team and his quarterback.

“Pay him whatever he asks for,” Harbaugh said. “Pay the man.”

Flacco is in the final season of a five-year, $12 million deal he signed as a rookie. He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, and given his performance against the Bengals, there’s no reason to believe Flacco won’t make it five postseasons in a row.

The guy is better than good.

“Scary good. That’s probably the word right there,” Harbaugh said. “All of our coaches, the organization, we know what we’ve got in this guy. He has won a lot of football games. Joe Flacco is going to be a great player. Joe Flacco is a great player. Joe Flacco has been a great player.”

Flacco operated Baltimore’s new no-huddle attack with uncanny precision, beginning with a 52-yard completion to Torrey Smith on the game’s first offensive play. Later, he split two defenders with a pinpoint spiral to Anquan Boldin the end zone.

With Flacco leading the way, the Ravens amassed 430 yards in offense, punted only twice and did not commit a turnover.

A year ago, Flacco and the Ravens reached the AFC championship game but fell short when Lee Evans couldn’t handle a potential touchdown pass in the closing minute before Billy Cundiff muffed a 32-yard field goal try.

This could be Flacco’s year.

“I don’t concern myself about that. That’s for you guys to talk about,” he said. “I think I play good every year; I think I play good every game. Obviously, we all have things to work on and improve on. I’m doing that just as much as everyone else is.”

Flacco contended a while ago that he’s among the NFL elite at the position. Harbaugh can’t argue the assessment.

“Of course he is. He’s a winner,” Harbaugh said. “He is one of the toughest quarterbacks I have ever been around. He is the best quarterback I’ve been around. What does that say? Probably not much, I haven’t been around a lot of quarterbacks. I am a special teams coach.”

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis had a feeling the no-huddle attack was perfect for Flacco, and the 17-year veteran enjoyed seeing his opinion confirmed on Monday night.

“We practiced against this offense all offseason, so to see it now, when everything is real, I think you have to take your hats off to how we worked as a team,” Lewis said. “Trust me, I am pro-Joe because he has proved himself year in and year out. Joe has gone to the playoffs every year that he’s been here. That’s an accomplishment within itself, because no one has ever done that.”

Flacco’s solid numbers against the Bengals can be attributed in part to the people around him. Ray Rice is a Pro Bowl running back, Smith and Jacoby Jones are potent downfield threats, Boldin is one of the best possession receivers in the NFL and the tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have a knack for finding a seam in the defense. Plus, the line provided Flacco ample time to set up and find the open man.

“We have talent out there and we have a good team,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of speed out there on the outside. We have linemen that are really good, especially when you can wear out the defensive front. There were big creases in there for Ray, there were big chunks down the field for us.”

Next up: a road game in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Eagles opened with a 17-16 victory at Cleveland.

“This Philadelphia team, they came off a big win, a tight game,” Flacco said. “It was a pretty crazy game, and they’re going to be at their home opener, and they’re going to be ready to go. It should be a lot of fun.”

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