For the first time in a long time, Joe Flacco was allowed to dress after a game in peace.
The 11th-year NFL quarterback did not have to hustle to a news conference immediately after the Ravens’ 20-12 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. He did not have to deal with cameras or recorders thrust in front of his face while at his locker under M&T Bank Stadium.
Instead, after a brief interview, Flacco walked out of the back of the locker room in relative anonymity, just a guy who had wrapped up a day at the office and was looking forward to going home.
That’s what happens when you are a veteran who has taken a back seat to the rookie who has helped fuel the team to four wins in its past five games and put it into position for what could be its first postseason appearance since 2014. And getting to the playoffs is the top priority for the 33-year-old Flacco.
“It’s different, but it’s a good team win, and it’s always exciting to be on the sideline like today,” he said.
A right hip injury suffered in a 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 4 helped usher in the role of healthy backup for Flacco, who had been the franchise’s starting quarterback since he was drafted in the first round in 2008. He had made 163 starts, starting 16 games every season except for 2015 when he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee that sidelined him for the final six games.
But on Sunday — his first game back since the hip injury — Flacco was bundled in an official team-branded coat and watched from the sideline as Jackson, the second of two first-round picks in April’s draft, threw for 131 yards and one touchdown and ran for an additional 95 yards to keep the Ravens in possession of the sixth and final spot in the AFC postseason.
Flacco, who had acknowledged Wednesday a feeling of unfamiliarity with not playing despite being cleared to do so, echoed that sentiment after the victory over Tampa Bay.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a situation like this,” he said. “I just prepared as normal, and if anything bad happened, then I had to be ready to go for my teammates and for myself. So I was ready to go at any point.”
Early in the third quarter, it appeared that Flacco would get his first snap. After scrambling off the right end for a 22-yard gain to the Buccaneers’ 16-yard line, Jackson needed a hand from running back Kenneth Dixon and appeared to walk gingerly back to the huddle.
“I could see him. I could see him,” said Flacco, who never took off his coat. “He looked like he was walking it off good, though. But like I said, I’m ready.”
Jackson, who is set to make his sixth start when the Ravens travel to the Los Angeles Chargers for a prime-time game Saturday night, said Flacco’s support was unchanged.
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“It was just the same thing,” Jackson said. “He’s always coming to me, asking me about drives and what I felt on certain stuff. It’s pretty cool.”
Coach John Harbaugh’s announcement Wednesday that Jackson would start and Flacco would back him up drew national attention. But left tackle Ronnie Stanley said Flacco has refused to let his status become a distraction.
“I think Joe was in full support of everyone on the team,” he said. “That’s just how he’s been during this whole process. He’s just been very supportive.”
That’s not to say, however, that Flacco does not believe he can play — either for the Ravens or someone else.
Asked whether he was frustrated about the lack of activity, he replied: “I think I answered it earlier this week. Obviously, it’s disappointing to be in this situation just because you want to be out there with your guys. But it is what it is.”
Stanley said Flacco’s feelings are understandable.
“I think the competitive side of him is frustrated,” he said. “What competitor wouldn’t be frustrated to not be playing? So you can’t be mad at him for being a little frustrated. But he’s handled this whole situation very well, and he’s been nothing but supportive for all of us.”