It certainly appears Joe Flacco’s time with the Ravens is up. His starting job has gone to Lamar Jackson. His potential landing spots are being debated nationally. He gave what amounted to a farewell speech in the locker room after the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Not surprisingly, those remarks were gracious and humble. Flacco clearly was moved by time’s passage and by the fact that Baltimore will always be where he began his post-college life, became a husband and father, won more than 100 regular season and postseason games and became a Super Bowl MVP.
His brief interview was quite poignant, actually, and the only drawback was it was overshadowed by the day’s larger news, i.e., the Ravens’ elimination from the playoffs, dissecting what went wrong and beginning to think about what lies ahead.
The Ravens’ best quarterback ever – one of the five most important players in their history – certainly deserved a grander and more ceremonious farewell. Given his impact, he should have departed to cheers ringing and trumpets blaring.
Instead, he stood quietly on the sideline as his replacement struggled through a playoff defeat.
Whoever wrote that script obviously doesn’t know how to stage a tribute.
No, I’m not suggesting the Ravens should have replaced Jackson with Flacco and given him a chance to earn those cheers and trumpets by engineering a miracle comeback. The hype train for that scenario has some steam, but I’m not on board.
Flacco hadn’t played a down in two months. Rustiness was a distinct possibility. And the Chargers’ pass rush was swarming Jackson. Introducing a less mobile quarterback into that scenario doesn’t sound like a winning move.
As it was, Jackson led a major rally in the fourth quarter. Sticking with him proved productive. Could Flacco have produced more, say, three touchdowns instead of two? No one will ever know, but I don’t think the odds were great.
As for figuring out how to stage an appropriate farewell for Flacco, it was a near-impossible task.
Send him through the tunnel one more time in pre-game introductions? He never would go for it as a No. 2 quarterback. Put him on the stadium boards for a long shot late in a game? Maybe, but is that really an appropriate focus when the season is on the line?
The truth is there wasn’t a great alternative. As the Rolling Stones sang, you can’t always get what you want.
We’ll just have to settle for knowing the decision to draft Flacco in 2008 was one of the Ravens’ best.
Talk about a bountiful return. He gave the Ravens stability under center, the fundamental building block for a winning team. He lost some games, but won a lot more. He was so cool under pressure he earned the nicknames January Joe and Joe Cool. And he was always a class act, never threw teammates under the bus, answered all questions in victory or defeat.
In the end, it was his own performance that set in motion the events that led to his quiet farewell. His numbers declined. The Ravens stopped winning as many games. Yes, his not-always-stellar supporting cast was a factor, but by the end of last season, the offense had produced up-and-down results for five years. That’s a significant sample size. If Flacco had recorded better numbers, the Ravens wouldn’t have drafted his successor. When they did, even Flacco shrugged. He didn’t like it. But he understood.
An immediate regime change wasn’t planned in 2018, but no one foresaw what unfolded after Flacco suffered a hip injury and Jackson took over with seven games left in the regular season. Jackson was electric. As the Ravens surged and won a division title, it became clear the change was permanent.
No one doubts whether Flacco can still play. Some metrics indicate he was playing his best football in several years in 2018. He’ll get a chance elsewhere. Hey, he might even lead a team into Baltimore and try to win.
Eventually, he’ll get those cheers and trumpets when he goes into the Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium. There’s a 100 percent chance that happens, and I guess, in the end, that ceremony will have to suffice as the right opportunity for Baltimore fans to gather en masse and offer the thank-you cheers that Flacco deserves.