Who Wears the Crown: Who Is the Best Player for the Baltimore Ravens Right Now?

Mike Fast@@michaelfast1Contributor ISeptember 26, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws an interception in the first quarter against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

First of all, congratulations to Torrey Smith for a stirring and spectacular performance (six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns) Sunday night. Following the game, Smith addressed his team in the locker room.

No matter who you were rooting for, it's difficult to aptly describe all that went into the final result of the Ravens beating the Patriots 31-30.

There were moments of enraged confusion and sudden joy woven into a wildly entertaining football game.

The Ravens' win last night was their 13th straight home victory, their 21st win in their last 22 home games and their 14th straight win following a loss.

Furthermore, the Ravens now have at least one regular season win against every team in the NFL.

How good is this team right now? How good can they be?

That depends on many factors, not the least of which is the quality of players on the roster.

There are many players on the Ravens who are experienced, talented, athletic, perceptive and other positive attributes. Who is the best? Who is the one who will put the team on his back and lead the team to victory in pressure-filled situations?

I came up with four players who are absolute game-changers, and all four of them could be chosen for this distinction. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are players who can make crucial plays at crucial times on a consistent basis.

Rice led the league a year ago in yards from scrimmage with 2,068. His durability, ball security, pass blocking and his ability to line up at any receiver position certifies his talent is rare.

Reed is Reed. In 2010, he led the NFL in interceptions (eight) despite only playing in 10 games. Last week against the Eagles, he became the all-time leader in interception return yards (1,506). The next active player is Charles Woodson (896). As you saw Sunday, he's hitting like he used to.

Ngata, being a defensive lineman, doesn't get as much publicity as most players do. Make no mistake, however, he's the best at what he does.

His combination of size, quickness, strength, experience and football intellect aren't matched. Ndamukong Suh is somewhat similar, but Ngata has better technique and is a better pass defender.

As Ngata has just come into his prime, he's racked up 143 tackles, 13 sacks, 11 passes defensed and two forced fumbles in his last 35 games. That's excellent for a 3-4 defensive lineman.

As great as those players are, you must consider how this league operates. The most important position in the sport and probably in all of sports is the quarterback.

Therefore, the one Raven I chose to 'wear the crown' is Flacco.

As last night showed, Flacco is able to repeatedly perform better than and beat elite quarterbacks and elite teams. For the second time in as many games, Flacco outplayed Tom Brady.

He's been successful in every environment: home, road, division, out of conference, indoors, outdoors and in the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoffs, of the 32 current starting quarterbacks in the NFL, 18 of them have started at least one playoff game (including Flacco). Of those 18, only seven have winning records (Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Flacco and Mark Sanchez).

After Brady (16), Roethlisberger (10) and Manning (8), the other four are tied with five postseason victories.

The reason Flacco is so noteworthy is because he's the first quarterback ever to win a road playoff game in each of his first four years.

Some people say Flacco was riding the coattails of a great defense and a strong running game.

To those people, I submit that the Ravens were a run-first team until this season.

So since Flacco has the best all-around running back in football (Rice), his passing stats aren't going to be as good as Rodgers', Brady's or Brees', because those players have to pass to win.

Although Flacco wasn't the main factor in recent Ravens postseason success, he was a significant factor in the Ravens getting as far as they did.

If you watch Flacco and observe his progression from year to year, it's been steadily improving.

Take this season for example. He's on pace to complete 379 of 587 passes (64.6 percent) for 4,869 yards, along with 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 104.3 quarterback rating. Every one of those marks would be a career best.

His receivers, backs and linemen have, for the most part, gelled to the point where Flacco finally looks comfortable running any play in this offense.

Among all NFL quarterbacks, Flacco is second in passing yards (913), fifth in touchdowns (6), ninth in quarterback rating (101.1), second in plays of 20 yards or more (18) and second in plays of 40 yards or more (3).

Statistics aside, his command of the offense and overall decision making has gotten remarkably better from even a year ago. He's identifying defenses and calling audibles with more effectiveness than ever before.

If you've heard that Flacco can't win the big game, tell those people this: Since 2010, Flacco is 5-2 against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks (The 2010 win at Pittsburgh was against Charlie Batch, due to Roethlisberger's four-game suspension).

Of course, Flacco isn't perfect. He's not even the best quarterback right now (for my money, it's Aaron Rodgers). And yes, football is a team sport.

That said, rankings are irrelevant to a point, because what the fact of the matter comes down to is: Can this player make the big play to win the big game?

Recent history proves Flacco to be elite in that respect.