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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Ravens' Joe Flacco feeling, acting like No. 1

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before a

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before a NFL preseason game against the Detroit Lions in Baltimore. (Aug. 17, 2012) Credit: AP

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The radio talk show host asks the quarterback if he's among the best in the league, the quarterback responds that he is, and the topic is immediately fodder for intense media scrutiny, accompanied by a bunch of criticism that the quarterback is too full of himself.

Eli Manning before last season? Yup.

And now it's Joe Flacco's turn.

The Ravens quarterback unwittingly created his own media brushfire when asked in an offseason radio interview where he ranked among NFL quarterbacks. While Manning classified himself as "elite" in last year's interview, Flacco upped the ante and said he was No. 1.

There was plenty of blowback after Flacco's boast, but the Ravens' fifth-year quarterback mostly got a kick out of it. While the controversy has since died down, Flacco chuckled about the interview when we talked about it this week in the Ravens' training facility.

"It's just weird how people take little questions that you answer and make it into a big deal," Flacco said, sounding remarkably similar to Manning when he explained his "elite" comment during an interview with ESPN Radio's Michael Kay. "I was doing a radio show and answering a question. That's exactly the same thing as Eli. I can't imagine a quarterback that wouldn't answer the same way we've answered. That's the thing I find funny about it. I can't imagine an organization that wouldn't want a quarterback who wouldn't answer it that way."

Translation: Why bother playing at all if you don't think you're the best?

Clearly, Flacco's confidence is high, even if others don't share his contention that he's a better quarterback than the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and, yes, Manning, too. Then again, if things turn out for Flacco this year the way they did for Manning last season, he'll be one happy quarterback.

And the way Flacco has looked and felt so far in training camp, a Ravens' Super Bowl run would not be a surprise. After all, it was nearly a Ravens-Giants Super Bowl matchup in Indianapolis. Flacco threw what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the AFC Championship Game, but wide receiver Lee Evans failed to hold onto the ball in the end zone. Two plays later, kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime and the Patriots held on for a 23-20 win.

Flacco has looked terrific in camp, and his teammates and coaches have noticed. His general manager, too.

"He's taking more command of the offense, and I think he's been throwing exceptionally well this offseason," GM Ozzie Newsome said. "He's playing quicker. He's anticipating. He's so much more sure of where he wants to throw the ball."

The Ravens have long been known for their ability to play great defense, run the ball, and ask the quarterback to manage the offense and not make mistakes. But the way Flacco has progressed in his first four years on the job, helping Baltimore to the playoffs each year, this might be a different team than in previous years. They'll still run it plenty with All-Pro Ray Rice, but with Flacco showing more confidence in his game and with second-year receiver Torrey Smith and veteran Anquan Boldin on the field, this could be more of a pass-happy team.

"I can't imagine what would hold us back," Flacco said. "I'm excited about what we have."

And how about this one: Chad Unitas, son of Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas, thinks Flacco shows an eerie similarity to his dad. Chad works in the Ravens' corporate sales department, and told Flacco his father would have enjoyed watching him play.

"Johnny Unitas was awesome, so to play quarterback here and to have even anything said about that is pretty cool," Flacco said.

No one is saying Flacco is the next Johnny U. But the Ravens might have a quarterback who can get them to the top once more. He came close last year, so there's no reason to think he can't take the next step. If not this season, then not long after that.

"We're more ready this year," Flacco said. "I think we're a better team than last year. If we get back to that point , we think we can get there."

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