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As gameday nears, QBs are the hot topic for both the Ravens and Jets

On a day when the New York Jets made a quarterback change, the Ravens have a QB issue as well.

As they were finishing their practice Wednesday afternoon, word circulated to the Ravens' players and coaches that their opponent Sunday was making a quarterback change. Losers of four straight games, the New York Jets are benching Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Geno Smith.

It might be a couple of more days before the Ravens know the identity of their own starting quarterback for Sunday.

Joe Flacco missed practice Wednesday due to a sore right throwing shoulder and while the quarterback and coach John Harbaugh both expressed optimism that the veteran starter will play Sunday, they acknowledged that's hardly a certainty. It's possible that Flacco, who played in 137 consecutive games to begin his career before he tore up his left knee last November, doesn't practice all week and is a game-time decision.

"It's really just about getting to the point where I feel like I can go out there and sufficiently throw the ball and I guess that a little bit of rest right now is probably the best thing," Flacco said Wednesday. "I'm not nervous. It's just a matter of how I'm going to feel. Like I said, I think today, just staying there and doing some rehab and trying to get it warmed up a little bit is probably the best thing."

Flacco was sacked twice in Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Giants, and was hit four more times. He said he didn't feel any soreness in his throwing shoulder until after the game. He reported it to team officials Monday and was sent for an MRI on his shoulder.

Flacco wouldn't comment on what the MRI showed, but said it was "nothing to worry about."

Still, any injury issues with the starting quarterback make Sunday's situation even more dire for the Ravens (3-3). They have lost three straight games and dropping a fourth heading into their bye week would be awfully tough to recover from, given the difficulty of their second-half schedule.

Flacco adds one more prominent name to an injury list that also includes the team's top receiver (Steve Smith Sr.), offensive lineman (Marshal Yanda), inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley), pass rusher (Terrell Suggs) and kick returner (Devin Hester Sr.).

Flacco hasn't played consistently well, throwing five touchdown passes and six interceptions over the past six games. However, the success of the Ravens' struggling offense starts and ends with Flacco. If he can't go, veteran backup Ryan Mallett, who got plenty of repetitions with the first-team offense this summer with Flacco rehabbing his left knee, would start.

Mallett, who has started eight games in his career, including two for the Ravens last year, stayed on the field after practice Wednesday to get some additional work in.

"That will not be a problem if he plays," Harbaugh said of Mallett. "I'll feel very confident if Ryan Mallett is out there playing. I'm going to want Joe out there. Everybody knows that. Joe knows that. Joe will be out there if he can be. There's no tougher guy than Joe. To me, he will be out there. It's my belief he'll be out there. But the way it heals is the way it heals."

Harbaugh said he'd be comfortable starting Flacco even if he doesn't practice all week. That, of course, is not ideal, especially with Marty Mornhinweg looking to put his imprint on the offense in his second week as play caller.

"Even though we need all of the practice we can get right now, one day of practice won't hurt. I'd rather have him for the game than practice any day," Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "He knows the playbook in and out. It's all about the feel for the game, and he has that."

Flacco has taken a beating this year behind an offensive line that seems to change every week. He's been sacked 13 times. Only eight quarterbacks have been sacked more. The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder is known for his durability and never complains publicly about taking hits. However, he's looked especially beat up following the last two losses to the Washington Redskins and Giants.

"It's not about being pain free," said Flacco, who hasn't had any previously reported shoulder issues in his nine-year NFL career. "You can deal with a little pain. It's just about making sure you can throw the ball good enough to go out there and help your team."

Jets coach Todd Bowles told Baltimore-area reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he's preparing his team for both quarterbacks, but his gut tells him that the Ravens will start Flacco.

"Joe is tough and he's a warrior," Bowles said. "I think if he can be out there, he will be out there. We're preparing for him to be out there. If not, they have an equally good quarterback in Ryan Mallett. Ryan has a strong arm, and he can make all of the throws as well."

Bowles had his own decision to make Wednesday, and his move to yank Fitzpatrick, who led the Jets to a 10-6 record last season, represented an about-face. Following the Jets' 28-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, Bowles reiterated that Fitzpatrick, who was benched late in the game, was still his starter.

However, after meeting with his staff and other Jets' officials, Bowles handed over the reins of the offense to Smith, a second-round pick in 2013 who started 29 games over his first two NFL seasons. The decision comes with the Jets in the midst of a four-game losing streak and with Fitzpatrick having thrown five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions on the season.

"I think we needed a change on offense," said Bowles whose team enters Sunday's game with the 26th-ranked offense in the NFL. "We have two evenly good quarterbacks, and Ryan wasn't playing as well, so we decided to make the change and go with Geno."

Harbaugh said the Jets' switch doesn't change much in the Ravens' preparation for the game.

"I think the offense is going to remain, essentially, the same with what they do," Harbaugh said. "It will nuance a little bit in certain directions. We didn't hear that until right at the end of practice out here, but we already put in some stuff that we thought would be more Geno Smith-oriented-type things. We practice those plays already, so we were prepared for that."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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