BOSTON (CBS) – Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has gotten his fair share of criticism since entering the league five years ago, but you won’t be hearing it from the New England locker room leading up to the AFC Championship Game.

It’s hard to criticize Flacco too much after his performance in the Ravens’ 38-35 double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round over the weekend. Flacco was 18-for-34 for 331 yards and three touchdowns, out-dueling future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning in the process.

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“He’s a confident guy,” Patriots safety Steve Gregory said on Monday. “He makes good decisions with the ball and has a strong arm. He throws the ball well and he’s a leader on that team. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league and it definitely poses a challenge whenever you have to play a guy like that.”

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Flacco isn’t afraid to air it out, and he did so quite often in Denver. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Flacco was four-for-seven on throws of 20 yards or more on Saturday, with each of his three scores on deep balls downfield (59, 32, and 70 yards). None was more impressive than his 70-yard, game-tying bomb to Jacoby Jones with just 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“I really thought he showed a lot mental toughness,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Flacco. “I think the team in general are a very mentally tough team, very physically tough team, a team that went into Denver and took their shots, weren’t afraid, went right after them, played aggressive. (Flacco) knew what he was looking for and found the open guys and got the ball downfield, which was very impressive for him. I just think it was a real good job by them, going out to Denver and playing their style of football, starting with the quarterback.”

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But the Patriots already knew this. When the Ravens beat the Patriots 31-30 in Week 3, two of Flacco’s three touchdowns were 20 or more yards. So Gregory and the rest of the Patriots secondary, who had problems with the long ball until the mid-season acquisition of corner Aqib Talib, know the Ravens will be a tough challenge on Sunday.

“They have some great receivers over there, guys with speed,” said Gregory. “Flacco has a big arm and makes good decisions with the football. They have the ability to beat you in many different ways, definitely over the top as well.”

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“When you have guys like that, a guy like Torrey Smith (who averaged 17.4 yards per catch this season –4th highest in the NFL) who can really stretch a defense with speed like that, that’s the kind of guy that can get behind a defense. They definitely take their shots at it,” he said.

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Tune in to the AFC Championship game at 6:30pm on Sunday on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ-TV, or LISTEN LIVE on! Pregame coverage begins on WBZ with Patriots GameDay at 11:30am, and at 3pm on 98.5 with Patriots Preview. Following the game, tune in to three hours of coverage on the Sports Hub, and to Patriots 5th Quarter over on myTV38.