The Baltimore Ravens had not been in the postseason since 2014 before yesterday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. It took them a change of quarterback in the middle of the season to turn their season around, going from 4-5 to 10-6 over the final seven games of the season with rookie Lamar Jackson under center.
While the Ravens had a losing record, the door opened for Jackson to start only because Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury, which ended up sidelining him for about a month. It wasn’t until after the team had begun racking up wins that Flacco was healthy enough to play, at which point the decision to stick with Jackson was made.
Head Coach John Harbaugh almost yanked his rookie first-round pick, however, after he struggled mightily in the first three quarters of the game. It was only midway through the fourth quarter that he began to show signs of life once the Chargers mounted a three-possession lead, throwing a pair of touchdown passes.
But he, and the Ravens, ultimately would fumble the game away after riding the rookie wave into the postseason. Jackson, who fumbled 12 times in the regular season—including 10 times in his seven starts—would fumble three more times against Los Angeles, including a game-ending strip sack. He also threw an interception, finishing the game completing 14 of 29 pass attempts for 194 yards, the vast majority of which came on their two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
“I can assure you, we were considering putting Joe into the game and all that kind of stuff”, Harbaugh said. Flacco even spent much of the second half with his helmet on, which is unusual for a backup quarterback.
Yet he said “it really wasn’t” frustrating that he didn’t get the chance to play in what will surely be his final game in a Ravens uniform. Of Jackson, he said, “everyone was talking to him. I told him, ‘hey, just tell everybody to shut up at some point’”.
The rookie took the loss hard. “I felt like I played poorly”, he said (he did play poorly). “I wasn’t playing my game today. I’m ticked off about that, definitely”. He was limited to 54 yards rushing on nine attempts, the Ravens as a team with just 90 rushing yards.
Flacco knows what it’s like to be a rookie starter. He went 2-1 in three postseason starts in 2008 during his rookie season, so he tried to be there for his 21-year-old teammate, whose birthday (turning 22) is today.
“I just told him, ‘listen, finish strong. At some point, you’re going to be proud of how you finished, no matter what happens. This is all part of it. You know, dealing with the situation right now. 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’”.
Say what you will about Flacco as an elite athlete and as a somewhat awkward public figure, but I don’t recall ever seeing anything from him that doesn’t suggest he’s a good guy.