Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco is doubtful to play Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, opening the door for rookie Lamar Jackson to possibly make his first career start in the team’s most important game of the season.
Flacco missed his third straight day of practice Friday with a right hip injury, and the team did not practice during its bye last week. Flacco last practiced before the Ravens’ Week 9 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he was injured.
Coach John Harbaugh reiterated Friday that Flacco will play against Cincinnati (5-4) if he’s able to, but no Raven in recent history listed as doubtful has gone on to play. Flacco has started every game since the start of the 2016 season, a streak of 41 straight, and has missed just six games in his career, all in 2015, when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
“He's coming along beautifully,” Harbaugh said of Flacco, grinning wryly. “It's just amazing. It's amazing, the recovery he's making.”
Flacco’s potential replacement remains unknown, at least outside team headquarters. Harbaugh said Monday that the initial reports on Flacco’s injury made it “tougher for the Bengals to prepare,” and he declined to elaborate on a backup plan.
Jackson has played in every game this season but has attempted just 12 passes, his standout plays having come in the running game. Robert Griffin III, who was signed to a one-year deal just three weeks before the Ravens (4-5) traded up to draft Jackson No. 32 overall in late April, last played for the team in the preseason. He hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since the final week of the 2016 season, when he started for the Cleveland Browns.
After missing practice Thursday with an illness, Jackson joined Griffin on the team’s indoor practice field Friday and was a full participant. Harbaugh acknowledged that "it's not ideal" for Jackson to have missed practice Thursday, but Jackson on Friday told reporters only, "I'm good," before leaving the locker room for a meeting.
Teammates expressed confidence this week in Jackson, who seemed unfazed by the prospect of leading the offense into a game with significant implications for the Ravens’ postseason hopes.
“You have to have trust with your guys,” he said Wednesday. “You have to have them believing in you to put points on the board. So that’ll be my job if I’m out there.”
Added Harbaugh: “Very diligent, very smart, very aware quarterback. He sees the game well, and then now all the process that goes into just training that eye has been valuable. So we have seen improvement, and in practice, he looks good.”
Jackson would be the last of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of this year’s draft to start a game. He also would be the first Ravens rookie to start at quarterback since Flacco, who went 15-for-29 for 129 yards in his first career start a decade ago.
In other injury news, right tackle James Hurst was ruled out of Sunday’s game with a back injury that has sidelined him since mid-October. Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) will miss his second straight game.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was a full participant in practice Friday and is questionable to play after missing the Ravens’ loss to Pittsburgh, their third straight defeat. Also questionable are safety Tony Jefferson (thigh), who participated fully Friday, and cornerback Tavon Young (ankle), who was not limited at practice this week.
The Bengals’ injury report is no less significant. Starting linebackers Preston Brown and Nick Vigil are out, while third starter Vontaze Burfict is questionable. Starting tight end Tyler Kroft was placed on injured reserve Friday.