OWINGS MILLS, Maryland — As a reward for his outstanding performance in last season's playoffs, Joe Flacco became the highest-paid player in NFL history.
His $120.6 million contract now stands third behind Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. Flacco is currently ranked 26th among quarterbacks statistically as he strives to turn around his season and that of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes without an interception during the 2012 postseason while compiling a 117.2 quarterback rating. Soon after being voted Super Bowl MVP, he signed a six-year contract that seemingly cemented his future with the Ravens.
This year, however, his numbers have taken a nosedive. Flacco has thrown a career-high 13 interceptions and his 75.3 rating is far lower than in any of his previous five seasons.
That's one reason the Ravens (4-6) own the league's 30th-ranked offense and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"We're disappointed in the way we've played," Flacco said Wednesday. "We all wish we could play better. I wish I could play better."
The running game has stumbled, Flacco has been sacked 33 times and his receivers have dropped dozens of passes.
Failing to move the ball is one thing, but giving it to the other team is much worse. Including the playoffs, Flacco threw 657 times and was intercepted only 10 times last season. This year, he's thrown 377 times, with just as many interceptions as touchdowns (13).
"I'm a guy that does not like to throw interceptions," he said. "Yeah, it's annoying. Believe me, I'd tell you if I didn't think I was being patient or if I thought I was throwing the ball to the wrong spot or just not seeing guys and stuff like that.
"I've thrown more picks than I'd like to, I've thrown more picks than I should. But at the same time, I still feel like I'm playing patient football, I still feel like I'm taking some chances that I need to take. I've thrown more picks. I need to live with that. But it's not something I like, no."
Flacco came into the league at the same time John Harbaugh was hired as Baltimore's head coach. Flacco has started every game since being a 2008 first-round pick. Harbaugh clearly has no intention of making a change at quarterback anytime soon.
"I'll tell you this about Joe Flacco: Joe is a great quarterback. Joe is our quarterback, he's my quarterback," Harbaugh said. "Does anybody have any doubt about that at this point? I know we don't. Joe has played great football, and Joe is going to continue to play great football even better. Look at the plays he's made, scrambling around and making throws and things like that."
Flacco and Harbaugh have never had a losing record this late into an NFL season, and still they've got a shot at getting back into the postseason.
"Listen, we all wish we could play better and that starts with me," Flacco said. "Yeah, when you are a 4-6 football team, obviously you haven't played the way you wanted to or the way you think you could. But everything that we want to do is still ahead of us."
Sunday's game against the New York Jets (5-5) begins a stretch of three straight home games for Baltimore. The Ravens are 36-8 at home under Flacco and 9-1 at home in November.
"We just have to take care of this game and continue to get better, do all we can to win it and then move on to the next one and move on to the next one," Flacco said.
The last line of the New York defense will be safety Ed Reed, the former Ravens star who knows exactly how good Flacco can be.
"Joe is growing," Reed said. "He is still a young quarterback with years under him, but he's going to be around this league for a long time because he has all the attributes of a great quarterback."
Notes: TE Dennis Pitta practiced for the first time since dislocating and fracturing his hip on July 27. ... During a conference call with the Baltimore media, Reed lashed out at the Houston Texans, who cut him this month. "That defense is not a good fit for a lot of people who are still down there. ... You've got to look at the play calling. You've got to put your players in position to make plays," he said. Asked if he talked with Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Reed replied, "He came and basically made sure I was leaving. Of all people, he's probably the guy, the reason that I'm not there."
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