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      Joe Flacco defends himself to critics

      Flacco with his quarterbacks coach, Jim Zorn.

      OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - What a crazy offseason it was for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

      Instead of working with coaches and teammates to prepare for the 2011 season, Flacco got married and took some flagrant hits from a few outspoken critics.

      Then, almost immediately after the NFL lockout ended, Flacco learned he might be without two of his favorite targets: tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, who have been told by the Ravens they will be cut.

      Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his three seasons, yet some people aren't impressed.

      Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said the Ravens won't win a Super Bowl with Flacco "in this lifetime." NFL analyst Jaime Dukes questioned the quarterback's work ethic, and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones said, "If you put a lot of pressure on him, he makes bad decisions."

      After taking his physical and conditioning test Wednesday at Baltimore's training complex, Flacco addressed the criticism with his head held high.

      "We've had a good team the last three years and I think I've gotten better each year and played pretty darn good, so I don't understand it," he said. "People are going to say what they're going to say. We've just got to go out there and win football games, continue to win football games really, because we've won football games every year here."

      Flacco gets it. The Ravens haven't reached the Super Bowl during his tenure, and until that happens he knows there will be people who question his performance.

      "The world we live in today, there's usually one good quarterback at the end of the year and 31 other not-good ones," he said.

      That, however, is not his perspective.

      "I think I'm pretty (darn) good, and I don't need to go out and tell everybody that and show it on every given day, every play, every Sunday and do all that stuff. I go out there and I play," he said. "You can think what you want about me. The bottom line is, I'm still going to think the way I think about myself, and I feel pretty good about myself. I would like some more people than myself to think good about me, but they never do. They never do."

      Sporting a wedding ring on his left hand, the 26-year-old quarterback declared himself in excellent shape and ready to get back on the field. He spoke hopefully about getting back Heap and Mason, who haven't signed yet with another team and could still return if the price is right.

      "I had no idea anything like that was going to happen," Flacco said. "You expect to come back and see some new faces just like every year. But I definitely was not expecting (Baltimore) to get rid of Derrick and Todd. I wasn't even really thinking about that. I was thinking about getting back to playing football, getting back to normal life for us."

      It's going to take Flacco a while to get used to playing without Mason, the team's career leader in receptions, and Heap, the starting tight end for the past 10 years.

      "I'm sure at first there will be an initial shock without those guys being out there," Flacco said. "I hope we can go out there and operate no matter what. If those guys aren't there, it's because we are confident with the guys that we have. I would say if they're not there, we know we have a great group of guys. If they are there, then we're only going to benefit from that."

      Replacing Heap, at least initially, is second-year tight end Ed Dickson. He doesn't have the credentials of Heap, but is not backing down from the challenge.

      "It means a lot to me that they have that much faith in me," Dickson said. "I've got a year under my belt, so I'll definitely be more comfortable in our playbook."But it's going to be up to Flacco to make the offense work, and he's ready to do just that.

      "I just want to go out there and win football games. I want the ball to be put in my hands. I want to be in control," he said. "I want to be in position to lose football games, I've always said that. I want it to be on me. ... In order to do that, you got to have trust in me, and I think we're there. I think we just need to go out there and put it all forward and do what we need to do to get to that next step, get past the hump and win these really big football games."