Kenneth K. Lam / The Baltimore Sun
It was a largely meaningless game to this year’s NFL standings but one that featured some of the wildest swings of big-picture emotion I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event.
At the end of the third quarter, it seemed we were watching the final unraveling of a lost season. Justin Forsett had broken his arm. Joe Flacco was lobbing passes to nowhere. The Ravens had handed 132 penalty yards to a team that could barely move the ball on its own. Fans rained boos at every misguided play call, and empty patches grew in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium as they stormed out.
Then the Ravens won the game.
And 10 minutes later, the story turned out to be worse than anyone could ever have imagined.
Flacco, the unbreakable rock on which the current Ravens are built, had suffered a torn ACL and possibly a torn MCL on the last drive. He’ll miss the remainder of this season and perhaps a chunk of next season. The injury will also add a complex layer of questions to the team’s likely plans for restructuring Flacco’s contract in the offseason.
John Harbaugh said earlier this year he’d never allow injuries to break his spirit. That was after Terrell Suggs went out with a torn Achilles tendon in the opener but before Steve Smith lost his season to the same injury, before first-round pick Breshad Perriman was officially shelved for the year and before Forsett broke his arm.
Flacco’s injury would have jolted the Ravens to their foundation under any circumstances. But on top of the others, it felt like an almost cosmic blow to a franchise that had entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations.
Certainly, the Ravens’ decision makers put themselves in peril by underestimating their talent deficits at wide receiver and in the secondary. But there’s no planning for this kind of large-scale assault from the fates.
Flacco threw two of the worst interceptions of his career earlier in the game. On the first, he never set his feet and sailed his throw well over an open Crockett Gillmore. On the second, he flipped a lollipop over Maxx Williams’ head and into the grateful arms of Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
After the second pick, Flacco paced the sideline alone, a winter cap pulled over his ears. I was preparing to write about how out of whack he looked, and I’m sure he was preparing to take responsibility, as he usually does.
Just an hour later, the specific flaws of his performance felt picayune and beside the point. The Ravens have experienced lost seasons before, in 2005 and 2007. But Flacco’s injury vaulted 2015 into a new realm.