The chants for the Ravens to insert former starting quarterback Joe Flacco in place of rookie Lamar Jackson began in the fourth quarter. But aside from removing his coat and occasionally rising from the bench, the 11-year veteran did not take a single snap in the team’s eventual 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC wild-card-round playoff game Sunday.
According to Flacco, his absence from the field went as planned.
“We made the decision what was going to happen here weeks ago,” he said after the game. “I just really wanted to see the guys turn it up a little bit and make a play of it, which they did.”
Jackson, the precocious second of two first-round picks in April’s NFL draft who turns 22 on Monday, endured the worst effort of his rookie season. Through the first three quarters, he completed only three of nine passes for 25 yards, had no touchdown passes, threw one interception, was sacked three times, and fumbled the ball three times.
Jackson, who did lead the offense in carries (nine) and rushing yards (54), finished 14-for-29 passing for 194 yards, including two fourth-quarter touchdown throws to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. While the fans made public their feelings for Flacco in the final period, he refused to say whether he could have made a difference in the second half.
“You can’t even go there,” he said. “I thought Lamar did a great job of just hanging in there and giving us a chance at the end.”
Coach John Harbaugh said the staff had given some thought to playing Flacco, who has ignited 18 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.
“We were just talking about all those possibilities,” he said. “I’m probably not going to get into all that in terms of what was said or not said. I can assure you we were considering putting Joe in the game and all that kind of stuff. That was part of the conversation. Certainly thought about it. Certainly talked about it with everybody. I can tell you this. Everybody was on the same page with what we did, everybody including Joe. That’s where it was at.”
Flacco, who was the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player in the 2012 season, said he was never frustrated by the coaches’ decision to stick with Jackson.
“You’re a part of the team,” he said. “As a backup, really you’re just ready to be called on. You want to see your guys play well. So the fact that we weren’t playing maybe the way we wanted to, I just felt for the guys on the team. I didn’t really feel any way about me doing anything about it.”
Flacco said he tried to be a sounding board for Jackson without meddling too much.
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“Everybody was talking to him. I told him, ‘Hey, just tell everybody to shut up,’ at some point,” he said. “I just told him, ‘Listen, finish strong. At some point, you’re going to be proud of how you finished, no matter what happens, and this is all part of it, dealing with this situation right now. And it’s still a game. So go out there and do what you can to get us back in it. Handle yourself the way you would like to see yourself handle the situation,’ and I thought he did that.”
Flacco’s ability to avoid adding fuel to any quarterback controversy enhanced his reputation among his teammates.
“He’s handled it like a pro,” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “Obviously, he has to deal with it, and he’s a professional. I think he’s handled it great. Obviously, he’s kept his head high. Control what you can control, things are out of your hands, out of your control, and you can’t worry about that stuff. You’ve got to focus on what you can control and go about it in a positive way.”
So what does the future hold for Flacco? He said he is not sure, but he insisted that “there’s no doubt about” his belief that he wants to be a starter again. Harbaugh implied that possibility will take place elsewhere.
“Lamar is the quarterback going forward. There’s no question about that,” he said. “Joe Flacco is going to play really well in this league. Joe can still play. I think you saw that the first half of this season. Joe’s going to have a market. There are going to be a lot of teams that are going to want Joe because they understand that. And I’ll be in Joe’s corner wherever he’s at, unless we play them.”
If Sunday turns out to be his final game as a member of the Ravens, Flacco, who turns 34 on Jan. 16, had a parting message for fans.
“I love the people of Baltimore,” said the organization’s first-round pick of the 2008 NFL draft. “It’s been 11 years, and you come in and you feel one way and you don’t know what to expect, but the people warm up to you, you warm up to the people, and to be honest with you, I can’t imagine a better 11 years with this place becoming my home, my children’s home and just how many different life changes I went through and how much we won here. I’m not from too far up the road, and the people here are a lot like the people I grew up with. Definitely a group of fans and a community that I love to be around.”