With Joe Flacco questionable to play Sunday, Ravens inch closer to decision under center

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was a full participant in practice Friday, but was still awaiting clearance to play in Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, coach John Harbaugh said.

Flacco, listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, was limited in practice Wednesday by his right hip but was close to full participation Thursday, Harbaugh said. His recovery moves him one step closer to returning to a team that might no longer need him under center. Flacco hasn’t played since a Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers; despite returning to practice last week, he wasn’t cleared for the Ravens’ game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

In his absence, the Ravens (7-5) have won three straight with rookie Lamar Jackson starting, tightening their hold on the AFC’s sixth playoff spot. Harbaugh acknowledged Friday that there was a “scenario” in which Flacco could be a backup Sunday, something he’s never done in his 11-year career in Baltimore. But Harbaugh declined to say whether he had a decision to make at quarterback.

“I'm not getting into all that,” he said. “It's not something that we're just going to even have to talk about. I'm not trying to be coy or clever or anything like that. We're just rolling. We're just going to play the games. We don't feel like we owe any explanations to anybody or anything like that. We're just going to put our best team out there and try to go play some football.”

Flacco would risk a potentially career-altering hip dislocation if he returns too soon, according to medical experts, but Harbaugh said the Ravens’ longtime starter showed no ill effects in practice. During the portion of practice open to the media Friday, Flacco did not appear to be 100 percent healthy. But he also did not struggle to throw downfield.

“He threw. He handed off. I mean, really, what more do you want me to say?” Harbaugh said. “He played quarterback. He looked good. He looked like he always does. … I think we did the right things. It looks to me like — my amateur eye — it looks like it was the right thing [to do], and it looks like it was the right thing to give him the rest. We'll see what the docs say.”

Flacco was at his locker briefly after Harbaugh spoke, but did not talk to reporters. If he’s active Sunday, the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player could face postgame questions about his role and health for the first time since Nov. 4, when back-to-back hits by Steelers defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward left Flacco in apparent distress.

Flacco, 33, is 1-4 over his past five starts and has as many touchdowns as interceptions (four) during that stretch. One of the league's highest-paid quarterbacks, Flacco has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,465 yards and ranks No. 29 among qualified quarterbacks in passer rating this year.

After sharing time on the field with Flacco earlier in the season, when he was featured mainly as a running threat, Jackson is expected to make his fourth straight start Sunday. Only one rookie quarterback since 2001 has won his first four starts: Steelers star Ben Roethlisberger, who went 13-0 in the 2004 regular season and led Pittsburgh to a win in the AFC divisional round before falling in the conference championship game.

The Chiefs (10-2), the AFC’s odds-on favorites to make the Super Bowl, will push the Ravens in ways they haven’t been with Jackson in charge, from the awesome passing attack led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes to the ruckus expected at Arrowhead Stadium. But Kansas City also struggles to stop the run, and the Ravens’ ball-control philosophy and top-ranked defense could limit the Chiefs’ offensive pyrotechnics.

After a game in which Jackson missed a quarter because of a concussion scare and struggled as a passer, Harbaugh said Sunday that there was “no quarterback controversy” inside the Ravens’ locker room. Publicly, players have been reluctant to pick sides, as much out of respect for the team’s three quarterbacks — third-stringer Robert Griffin III played his first significant snaps of the season in Atlanta — as uncertainty over Flacco’s return. But with little wiggle room in the playoff chase and two healthy quarterbacks, a decision will have to come sooner than later.

“They’re all really good supporters of each other,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. “Joe is doing just a little bit more every day, and so that’s a good thing, and I check with him every morning, and he’s getting mad at me for checking with him, because it’s doing … well, you need to ask him, but apparently, it’s doing pretty well.”

jshaffer@baltsun.com

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