OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The qualities that enabled Ryan Mallett to succeed in his debut with the Baltimore Ravens were noticeably absent during his rocky tenure with Houston earlier this season.

Combining diligence, professionalism and a strong right arm, Mallett engineered a 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. The fifth-year quarterback will try to pull off another upset this weekend against Cincinnati in his eighth career start.

Asked Wednesday whether his performance against the Steelers was the highlight of his career, Mallett replied, "Well, since there's not many it's been pretty good. Hopefully there's more to come in the future."

With Joe Flacco out for the season and backup Matt Schaub nursing injuries following a December loss in Miami, the Ravens need depth at quarterback. Mallett was available, but presented a risk to a team that places a heavy emphasis on character.

Cut by Houston in October after performing poorly on and off the field, the 27-year-old needed to display more than just his passing ability to get a job in Baltimore.

Mallett went 1-3 as a starter with the Texans. Worse, he showed up late for a training camp practice and missed the team charter before an October road game.

"There was a lot of talk about that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It was mostly (general manager Ozzie Newsome) making a lot of calls and doing a lot of homework and a lot of research. We just decided it was worth the risk."

Mallett signed a two-year contract on Dec. 15.

"I guess one thing you can say we talked about was: Everybody gets a second chance. It's what you do with it," the quarterback said. "This is my second chance and I'm trying to take it and run with it."

So far, he's done everything right. Mallett worked night and day to learn the Baltimore offense, and by last Sunday — less than two weeks after meeting his new teammates — he was ready to start.

"This kid was in there 24-7," Harbaugh said. "This kid was in the staff meetings at night. He's walking in the building with me."

Mallett set career highs with 28 completions and 274 yards passing, threw a touchdown pass and was not intercepted in the Ravens' stunning victory.

"To operate the way he did, change plays at the line the way he did," Harbaugh said, "I think it says a lot about him."

Just as important, Mallett has taken strides to improve his off-the-field performance.

The day after he signed with Baltimore, Mallett said, "The best thing probably was for me to be cut. I've learned a lot from it. ... It was a piece of humble pie, but it digested real quickly."

And now, perhaps, Mallett has found a home. Drafted out of Arkansas by New England in the third round of the 2011 draft, Mallett threw four passes in three years with the Patriots before being traded to Houston. After starting twice in 2014 for Houston, he lost a duel against Brian Hoyer for the starting job this summer but jumped atop the depth chart after Hoyer struggled in the season opener.

Mallett threw only two touchdown passes over the next four weeks and was cut soon after missing that team charter, a misstep he blamed on traffic.

In his role as the Ravens' starting quarterback, his immediate task is to put a positive finish on a season that's been a struggle for himself and Baltimore (5-10). If Flacco recovers from left knee surgery in time for training camp next summer, as expected, Mallett will likely be his backup.

If, that is, he avoids old habits.

"The risk is still out there," Harbaugh warned. "We all have our issues ... but you would hope and pray that Ryan's to the point in his life where he has realized things are more important than the things that were bringing him down before. He has an opportunity here to turn things around, and it will be up to him to do that."

Notes: WR Steve Smith said on Twitter that he plans to return for a 16th season after previously saying he would retire after this year. The 36-year-old tore his right Achilles tendon on Nov. 1. ... WR Marlon Brown (back) was placed on IR and CB Sheldon Price was signed off the practice squad. ... Harbaugh on rumors connecting him to the Eagles' head coaching job: "It's not even part of the conversation."

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL