As quarterback Joe Flacco, barefoot and braceless, leaned on the lectern after Sunday's 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots, he made a point not to use his left knee, sore and swollen in recent days, as an excuse for an uneven performance.
Flacco sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Monday's win over the Detroit Lions, and after practicing on a limited basis all week, he started against the Patriots, wearing a bulky protective knee brace.
Flacco finished 22-for-38 for 260 yards and two interceptions. After a sluggish first half, Flacco threw for 208 yards in the second. He was sacked four times and hit seven times. But Flacco said "the brace didn't affect anything."
"I probably didn't have the same burst, but I felt good," said Flacco, who has never missed a snap because of injury in his six-year NFL career. "I felt like I could move on it and run on it and do all kinds of things. It held up really well."
Flacco and the offense did not get off to a good start and quickly found themselves down by 17 points.
On the team's first drive of the game, Flacco put too much air on a deep pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who was open down the left sideline, and nearly had the ball intercepted by Patriots safety Devin McCourty.
On the second drive, Flacco had a pass intercepted by Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan. Instead of planting his left leg and driving the ball downfield, he tentatively tossed the ball toward wide receiver Jacoby Jones, but underthrew him. Flacco later explained that he thought he could throw it over Ryan, but didn't.
On the third drive, Flacco slipped and fell while trying to escape the pocket on third down and was touched down for a sack. He conceded that the knee brace might have affected him then.
"I think my knee's a little bit bent when I'm in [the brace] and taped up, and I just kind of misstepped and just totally whiffed on the turf," Flacco said. "It was really unathletic."
In the first quarter, Flacco was 1-for-5 for 9 yards and an interception. He had just five completions — none of them to a wide receiver — for 52 passing yards at halftime. A sitting duck in the pocket, he was sacked three times by the Patriots in the first half.
"We just weren't on the same page," Smith said. "The team's success, generally on offense, comes from what we do — us and Joe."
After halftime, Flacco looked more comfortable and played with improved mobility. On the first drive of the third quarter, he rolled out to his right and made an accurate throw on the run to wide receiver Marlon Brown for a 14-yard gain. He attempted a few other throws on the move in the second half.
Flacco guided the Ravens into Patriots territory on three of the first four drives of the second half — he threw his second interception on the other — but the Ravens turned the ball over on downs twice, and kicker Justin Tucker missed a 37-yard field goal with the Ravens trailing, 20-0.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Ravens got on the board when Flacco finished off a nine-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Flacco was 4-for-5 for 59 yards on the drive.
After another turnover on downs, Flacco was pulled from the game with about two minutes left.
Head coach John Harbaugh, who said he did not consider a change at quarterback earlier in the game, declined to say whether he thought Flacco's knee affected him.
"I think he played well, as far as [he] fought, battled out there," Harbaugh said. "I don't know about the stats or any of the other stuff. I don't have the barometer on that. I've never answered that question when you've asked it before, how much [an injury affected a player], so I'm not going to answer it now. I don't know."
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed just one of four passes, for 2 yards. The Patriots recovered a botched snap for a touchdown, and Patriots safety Tavon Wilson returned an interception by Taylor 74 yards for a touchdown.
After their most lopsided loss under Harbaugh, the Ravens will in all likelihood need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday and receive help to make it back to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
"We've never had to rely on anything else," Flacco said. "I don't know what those scenarios are. I'm not going to worry myself now. We're just going to worry about go getting a win."
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