One of the Ravens' biggest questions entering the 2016 season was how quarterback Joe Flacco would fare in his return from a season-ending knee injury.
It was the first major injury of Flacco's nine-year career, and what followed was an up-and-down performance that Flacco and other Ravens agree needs to improve.
Now that the 2016 season is in the books, the question of how much the knee injury impacted Flacco has come up once again.
"I don't think it had an effect on me this year," Flacco said as he cleaned out his locker.
Flacco is one to never make excuses. He hardly ever admits to being hurt or injured, so he wasn't going to blame some of his 2016 struggles on his knee.
Yet, after saying he thinks it had no effect, Flacco did add that he does think the knee can still improve, which means it wasn't 100 percent.
"When you are only seven or eight months out of an injury, no matter what it is, there is going to be a growing process for it," Flacco said. "This offseason will definitely help with that."
Flacco suffered the knee injury on Nov. 22, 2015. He took the field again with all of his teammates at the start of training camp on July 28, 2016. It was a quick turnaround, as Flacco was aggressive with his rehab.
Still, there was a lot of missed time when he could have been throwing to new wide receiver Mike Wallace, or returning second-year wideout Breshad Perriman, for example. A pair of his other main targets, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles) and tight end Dennis Pitta (hand), also missed time during training camp/preseason.
When Flacco returned to the field in training camp, he looked like his old self, except with a knee brace on his left leg. He still moved well and could occasionally get out of the pocket and scramble. There didn't seem to be physical limitations – although there were some awkward slides because of the brace.
But once the games started (he only played in part of one preseason game), Flacco sometimes didn't look as comfortable as in past seasons.
He had some accuracy issues, even on short passes, which he said was a part of the offense's slow start to the season. He also relied a lot on check down passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco attempted 251 passes over the middle between zero and 9 yards. That's 37 percent of his passes – a significant chunk. The next closest was 72 attempts over the middle between 10 and 19 yards.
So was Flacco dumping the ball off too quickly because of his knee?
"The recovery from what everybody else says that they are not back completely, did that mess with his mind? Did that mess with his timing, his accuracy?" Owner Steve Bisciotti asked. "I think it did."
As Bisciotti mentioned, it's one thing for a player to take the field again after tearing an ACL. It's another to feel completely back. Other Ravens who have suffered the same injury, such as safety Lardarius Webb, say it takes more than a year.
"It's just the nature of the injury, I think," Flacco said. "As time goes by and you are able to focus on it more and more, the more it comes back to what it was."
Flacco said he plans on getting together with his wide receivers this offseason. It should be a drastically different few months for Flacco compared to last year, when he was still at the Under Armour Performance Center going through rehab.
"[Next year] he is going to be that much further along because he is going to have an offseason of training this year," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"I'm pretty optimistic that Joe is going to be better next year than he was," Bisciotti said. "That, to me, is the biggie on the offensive side of the ball."