Ravens coach John Harbaugh, along with several teammates, talk about what Joe Flacco's injury means to the team. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
With Sunday's season-ending knee injury to Joe Flacco, the Ravens lost their stalwart quarterback who had been a picture of durability over his eight-year career and of stability during an injury-ravaged, disappointing season.
But Flacco's statistics paint the picture of a quarterback who was among the least efficient and productive in the NFL this season.
When the Ravens and Flacco evaluate what he did before the torn ACL and MCL, the context of his performances might be the most important thing they can take away from what is now a 3-7 season.
"Given that this is what, his fourth offensive coordinator in the last [four] years, and all the injuries you're talking about prior to him getting his on Sunday … I think he gutted through it the best he could," former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein, an analyst on "NFL on CBS," said Tuesday.
"Before I heard that he had gotten hurt yesterday, I was just talking to some people about how impressed I was about the way he handled it this year. He doesn't make any excuses, he doesn't play the sympathy card and point fingers. … It was probably a very, very difficult year for him, and ended in a horrible way, but I think he can look back at it and be proud of it at the end of the year."
Flacco had no replacement for wide receiver Torrey Smith, as rookie first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman (strained posterior cruciate ligament) didn't play.
Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was limited to seven games after a back injury and a season-ending Achilles tendon tear. Tight end Crockett Gillmore, who missed two games with a calf injury, and receiver Kamar Aiken emerged as consistent targets, but injury and ineffectiveness limited others.
The Ravens rushing offense also fell from eighth a season ago to 22nd this year. Flacco, more often than not, had been asked to do everything with a patchwork cast around him.
Separating Flacco's performance from the circumstances, including his adjustment to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and the ever-changing cast of skill-position players around him, only mitigates some of the problems.
When accounting for them, his production is commendable. He was on pace for 16-game career highs in completions (425), attempts (661), completion percentage (64.6) and passing yards (4,465).
Flacco was also on pace for 22 touchdowns, right around his career average, though short of last season's career-high 28. And with a dozen interceptions, Flacco was on pace for 19, which would have been the second highest total of his career.
All of those career highs other than completion percentage, however, are volume stats, contributed to by the fact that only San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown more times than Flacco this season.
In terms of efficiency, Flacco ranked among the worst quarterbacks in the league.
ESPN's QBR stat, which weighs performance by game situation and generally parses out the quarterback's responsibility on each play, ranks Flacco 29th in the NFL with a 40.9 QBR. He fell behind Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after Sunday's games, even though Manning didn't play.
On Football Outsiders' per-play metrics known as DVOA, which shows a player's value over an average player at his position in the same situations on a per-play basis, Flacco ranks as the 25th-best quarterback in the league. His performance, by that standard, is below the production a replacement-level quarterback would provide in the same circumstances.
Sunday's win over the St. Louis Rams was a microcosm of Flacco's season. After three quarters, he'd completed 18 of 32 passes for 170 yards with two interceptions, and the offense looked punchless. Then he ripped off nine completions for 120 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.
Flacco chided himself for making bad decisions on interceptions last week, then threw two more Sunday. Last month, he acknowledged throwing off his back foot too much when under pressure. Both of Sunday's interceptions fall into that category.
Combine the injury and grueling rehabilitation ahead and the trying season that came before it, and Beuerlein, a longtime admirer of Flacco's, says it all can serve as motivation for the quarterback and the organization to not have another season like this one.
"An injury like this kind of puts you in touch with your mortality a little bit, and makes you realize that, 'Shoot, this thing can be over at any point,'" Beuerlein said. "Each year that goes by, if you have a year like this, you feel like you've wasted a year."
That the injury comes before an offseason when the Ravens and Flacco know his contract needs to be restructured further complicates things. Flacco's salary cap figure of $28.55 million next season is unwieldy for the Ravens.
Flacco's agent can point to the general state of the offense if the team tries to cite his production this season, but outsiders say even this year from Flacco won't make him any less valuable to the Ravens or on the open market.
Former agent Joel Corry, who analyzes contracts and the salary cap for CBS Sports and National Football Post, said Flacco will still have plenty of leverage in those talks.
"Even though Flacco has had a bad year, he has a much better track record than [Detroit Lions quarterback Matt] Stafford," Corry said. "He has proven that he can win a Super Bowl and a bunch of playoff games. You put him on the open market, he's breaking the bank — bad knee or not."