Four days after taking a vicious hit to the head by Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is exhibiting “zero” concussion symptoms, coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
If Flacco remains on track and suffers no setbacks, there’s a good chance he’ll play Sunday, when the Ravens (4-4) face the Tennessee Titans (4-3) at Nissan Stadium.
“He will play if he's ready,” Harbaugh said in his Monday afternoon news conference. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll play.”
Flacco has been in concussion protocol since he left Thursday night’s 40-0 victory over the Dolphins in the second quarter after he was struck flush in the head by Alonso’s right shoulder and forearm. Flacco, who slid after a 9-yard scramble and was promptly leveled by Alonso, looked weary as he slowly walked off the field. He was also bleeding from his left ear.
After the game, Harbaugh announced that Flacco had a concussion and needed stitches to repair the damage to his ear. However, the 10th-year NFL quarterback was at the team facility the next morning and was already feeling significantly better. That trend continued over the weekend as Ravens players got a few days off.
“There's a routine he does. There's a process for that. I don't really know the details of what the rehab process is,” Harbaugh said. “We're working on the football. The trainers and doctors work on that part of it, but he's been here every day, doing what he's supposed to do.”
Players in concussion protocol must pass a five-step process before they’re able to return to the field. In the first step, which is the rest-and-recovery stage, players are allowed to do only light stretching and balance activities. The second step includes light aerobic activity, which is increased to strength training in the third phase. Players graduate to the football-specific work in the fourth phase and then are fully cleared in the fifth, assuming they pass neurological tests and show no symptoms.
Harbaugh was noncommittal about whether Flacco will be on the practice field this week. However, he said he immediately expects the quarterback to take part in meetings as the Ravens begin preparations for the Titans. The first practice of the week is Tuesday, and Harbaugh said it won’t necessarily matter how much time Flacco gets on the field this week.
“If he is ready, he is playing,” Harbaugh said.
Veteran backup Ryan Mallett relieved Flacco and went 3-for-7 for 20 yards and a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson with under two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Mallett said after Thursday’s game that he always prepares as if he’s going to start the game and that this week would be no different regardless of Flacco’s status.
Mallett, though, hasn’t started a game since the 2015 season, when Flacco missed the final six games after tearing up his left knee. Mallett also struggled throughout the summer when he was leading the first-team offense with Flacco sidelined because of a back injury.
Harbaugh expressed confidence in Mallett if he has to start against a Titans defense that is ranked 16th overall in yards allowed per game.
“Ryan’s definitely a drop-back thrower type of a guy, a student of the game, always prepared, always studies it and knows the game plan inside and out. He’s always ready to go. He was ready to go Thursday night,” Harbaugh said. “Didn’t skip a beat as far as the different operational things he had to do — the run checks, the pass checks, the protections. Did a good job with all of that, and that’s really very important. Made some throws that he needed to make. I thought the touchdown pass was really a great throw. So that was good to see, and yeah, that’s a plus for us.”
Still, the Ravens obviously would feel better about their chances Sunday with Flacco under center and how he’s already progressed since suffering the concussion has to have prompted some members of the organization to breathe a sigh of relief.
In the immediate aftermath of Alonso’s hit, Flacco certainly didn’t look like a guy who would have a decent chance to play in 10 days.
“You kind of learn not to make any kind of assumptions with injuries. There's been plenty of times where you think a player's fine and it doesn't look like much, and it turns out to be a season-ender — some kind of a tear. Other times, what looks to be a very serious injury isn't,” Harbaugh said. “I don't want to minimize what happened to Joe, I thought that was a very vicious type of a hit. He was definitely defenseless, he couldn't protect himself, and therefore, he got his ear sliced open and he got hit in the head. I'd never minimize that.
“I think he's an extremely tough person. We missed him for the rest of the game. He missed over a half of football. We're very hopeful for this week, and it'll be in the hands of Joe and the doctors to decide what we can do, but we'll get him ready to play if he can play. That's all you really can do.”
As the Ravens continue to monitor Flacco, the NFL continues to review Alonso’s hit, which drew an unnecessary-roughness penalty. Alonso figures to at least get a hefty fine, but some have called for the linebacker to be suspended.
Alonso said repeatedly after Thursday’s game that he had no chance to hold up on the hit because Flacco slid late. Harbaugh disagreed.
“I've been in those [rules)]meetings a lot, and that's just not the case. Joe slid. He's protected,” Harbaugh said. “There's a technique to teach those guys coming in there and we teach our guys that. We try to do the best with it, but the responsibility's on the defender, clearly. That's not even part of the conversation in the NFL meetings, the officials meetings. We understand how that rule works.”
Asked about a potential suspension for Alonso, Harbaugh said: “It's really not a concern of ours right now in all frankness. It's not going to impact our game against the Titans.”