This disappointing Ravens season shouldn't remind anyone of an uplifting holiday movie, but I guess my mind works in strange ways. (Go ahead, make a joke.) As the games dwindle to a few, I find that a comparison to "It's a Wonderful Life" is hard to miss.
Stick with me here.
In that classic film, Jimmy Stewart's character gets to see what the world would be like if he'd never been born, and it turns out his impact is far more reaching than he imagined. The Ravens and their fans are having a similar experience in the final month of the 2015 season, only with quarterback Joe Flacco cast in Stewart's central role.
After being able to count on Flacco as their starter for every game since they drafted him in 2008, the Ravens are learning what life would be like if he'd never been born. Flacco tore knee ligaments in the final seconds of a game on Nov. 22 and hasn't played since.
How's it going? Well, a heartwarming remake of "It's a Wonderful Life" probably isn't in the cards. If a film were to ensue from the Ravens' dismal 29-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, it would be more out of Stephen King's horror oeuvre – something that might send little kids scurrying for the exits with their hands over their eyes.
Yet in a reprise of what Jimmy Stewart's character experienced in "It's a Wonderful Life," Flacco's absence has made his importance abundantly clear.
I don't want to diss Flacco's stand-ins, Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen, whose job description, in this case, amounts to taking over an injury-depleted offense in a season gone awry – not exactly a blueprint for success. Schaub and Clausen are backups, and they've actually fared fairly well in tough circumstances. In three games, they've completed 62.5 percent of their pass attempts for an average of 271 yards per game. They've moved the chains.
Just 19 days into his tenure with the Ravens, while his running game was being thoroughly stuffed, Clausen made enough plays with his arm Sunday to draw praise from coaches and teammates.
But on the other hand, the Ravens offense has scored just three touchdowns in three games without Flacco while giving up a pair of scores on pix-sixes thrown by Schaub. That's just a plus-1 touchdown ratio in 180 minutes of football, hardly a winning formula.
There's no telling how things would have gone if Flacco had been on the field – he wasn't having his best season – but you have to believe the offense would have produced more.
Flacco's pros and cons have been debated for years, of course, with some fans actually vocalizing that they wish someone else could get a shot, perhaps for lesser pay. Well, now that that scenario is playing out, I'm guessing it's not going as swimmingly as the nays envisioned. In all, Flacco's fills-ins have thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions while guiding the Ravens to a 1-2 record that was almost 0-3 if not for a game-winning blocked field goal return in Cleveland.
There's also the durability issue, perhaps the most underrated aspect of Flacco's value. Flacco made 122 straight starts before getting injured. Schaub lasted two starts before getting so banged-up he was deactivated Sunday.
Getting injured is never a good negotiating tactic, but if Flacco wondered whether his injury might impact his pending contract talks with the team – I'm expecting him to renegotiate his big deal to lower his reported $28.6 million salary cap hit for 2016 – he can rest easy. The Ravens recognize that stability under center is the No. 1 factor that enabled them to make six playoff appearances and win a Super Bowl between 2008 and 2014. Whatever else you have going for or against you, you can't win consistently like that without being stable at quarterback.
It's an either-or situation. If you aren't stable, you're in that frightening limbo land where you're constantly sorting through candidates, searching for options, hoping for answers and dealing with issues, always fearing you're not far from starting all over again. Sort of where the Ravens are now under center.
It's not a fun place to be, and the Ravens are looking forward to ending their brief visit when Flacco returns in 2016.