INDIANAPOLIS -- There was a point early in the season when Joe Flacco was in the middle of the never-ending is-he or isn't-he elite debate.
The Baltimore Ravens jumped out to a 5-1 start, and the offense shifted to a no-huddle, pass-first scheme that flourished. Flacco threw eight touchdown passes and averaged 281.6 yards in those first six games.
Flacco even dropped this line about playing without a contract extension: "As time goes by, I don't see myself getting any cheaper."
The Ravens still were 9-2 after 12 weeks as Flacco plateaued. They lost four of the last five to close the season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired. Flacco was awful on the road and not much better at home.
"Well you know, we've played a lot of close teams all year round," Flacco said during a teleconference Wednesday. "Against Washington, against Pittsburgh, we just weren't able to pull it out in the end, (and) those teams were able to do it. Pittsburgh drove down on us in the last few minutes, kicked a field goal with no time remaining. Washington did a similar thing with going down for a touchdown and got two points and put it into overtime. I think those things kind of just happen.
"There's obviously a big deal made over all that stuff, but we've stayed pretty calm in-house. We were able to kind of put our heads down and push through it."
Despite the inconsistencies in Flacco's game, the Ravens won the AFC North and are hosting a playoff game. And the Colts aren't sleeping on the 27-year-old quarterback with nine playoff games, including two AFC championships, on his resume.
"Joe does a great job of managing that team," Colts linebacker Dwight Freeney said Wednesday. "He's a big guy and he's hard to get down, and he can extend plays. And he also, the vertical threat with him. He can throw the ball about 70 yards, and they have some fast receivers out there that can catch them.
"So with Joe, man, you've just got to find a way to rattle him. ... He does a good job trying to extend the plays, and it complements what they do from a run standpoint and from a play-action standpoint."
Flacco wasn't able to crack that Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers-Drew Brees-Peyton Manning club this season. He even fell behind fellow 2008 draft class member Matt Ryan. But Flacco finished with 22 TD passes and 10 interceptions and remains a very real playoff danger, regardless of those regular-season struggles.
Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.