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How Joe Flacco Expects to Feel Facing Ravens

QB Joe Flacco
QB Joe Flacco

As Joe Flacco prepares to take on the Ravens for the first time, you can probably guess how outwardly emotional he is about it.

"He's kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy. He's just very calm," Head Coach Robert Saleh said. "You guys know him, right?"

After the knee injury to Jets starter Zach Wilson, Flacco will officially play against the team that drafted him, where he spent 11 years, where he piled up 96 wins and won a Super Bowl. Flacco is a Baltimore legend, and now he'll be on the other side.

Even Flacco would be kidding himself if he didn't think he felt a little something this week. He's "Joe Cool", not "Joe Robot."

"Obviously there's going to be some different emotions that I haven't experienced before with this one," Flacco said Wednesday.

And then comes the "but" …

"Once the dust settles and the game gets going, it's a football game. You're lining up and playing against the guys across from you. Maybe the first snap or two will be extra crazy feelings that go into it. After that, I've been in a bunch of playoff games and all those things and it's a football game at the end of the day."

Flacco has dealt with the jolt of emotions before a big game (hello, Super Bowl XLVII). His feelings Sunday would be amplified if the game were at M&T Bank Stadium. Still, seeing the Ravens purple on the other line of scrimmage in a game is one of the few things the 15-year pro hasn't experienced. He doesn't know exactly what to expect.

When Wilson got hurt and Flacco could see the writing of a reunion on the wall, he referenced having a front-row seat for Steve Smith Sr.'s revenge game against the Carolina Panthers in 2014. Smith went to another level, putting up 139 yards and two touchdowns a few months after they released him. His sideline rants were epic. Would Flacco feel like that? Probably not.

The end of the Flacco era in Baltimore was unfulfilling but not acrimonious. Flacco said he holds no ill feelings toward the Ravens after they traded him to the Denver Broncos in February of 2019. Sunday's game feels more like a reunion than revenge.

"It's part of the business," Flacco said this week. "Obviously your competitive nature has certain feelings about it, but a lot of those things are out of my control to a certain extent. What I've been trying to do ever since then is keep my head down and work and get better at football and look for the best opportunity that I can."

Flacco has always been a professional about the Ravens' quarterback transition. When Jackson was drafted, Flacco was in his basement with his brother, cousin and former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta playing pop-a-shot basketball and keeping one eye on the TV. Throughout the first round, Pitta was teasing Flacco, pondering out loud what quarterback Baltimore might draft (because nobody in that basement thought they actually would).

When Jackson was selected, they all just looked at each other in bewilderment with raised eyebrows until ultimately breaking into a laugh.

The Ravens started the 2018 season hot but lost three straight games, capped by a Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Flacco suffered a hip injury. Jackson took over, the Ravens totally overhauled their offense in the span of two weeks, and Baltimore won six of the last seven games to reach the playoffs.

Flacco took it all in stride, and even when Jackson struggled in his playoff debut, Flacco encouraged Head Coach John Harbaugh to keep the rookie in the game.

For as much as Flacco meant to the Ravens, it was unfortunate that there was no celebration, no proper send-off for him. His final game in purple was spent on the bench. Flacco knew then that the torch had been passed to the young, exciting star.

"Joe was great with Lamar," Harbaugh said this week. "Joe supported him and helped him, even at the end there – when Joe came back and Lamar was the quarterback – Joe was very supportive of him there."

"He meant a lot [to me]," Jackson said. "Playing with a Super Bowl quarterback, seeing what he did on the field, stuff like that, how he took apart the game, took apart practice and stuff like that. … It will be great seeing him."

Flacco has still kept an eye on Jackson from afar. Flacco was always known as a quarterback who would stand tall in the pocket and take a hit. Jackson has taken hits too, only more as a runner.

"He's just a football player. He's tough and he loves going out there Sunday and playing. You can tell that," Flacco said. "Any time you have that kind of toughness, you have the ability to last a long time."

Even after becoming a backup, Flacco has lasted. The Ravens drafted a 23-year-old out of Delaware. Now Flacco is entering Year 15 at 37 years old.

Tight end Nick Boyle, who still has occasional FaceTime calls with Flacco and Pitta, is one of only two Ravens offensive players who suited up him. Boyle said he's not surprised Flacco has continued playing so long as a backup.

"He has a lot of kids. I have three kids now. Part of it may be that he wants to get out of the house a little bit," Boyle said with a laugh. "He's a tremendous player and I think when you play football for such a long time and it's a part of your life, you just want to make it last as long as you can."

Considering Flacco never got the send-off he deserved in Baltimore, Sunday's game may be a farewell of sorts, even if most Ravens fans are watching on TV. Who knows how much longer Flacco will play; he re-signed with the Jets on a one-year deal this offseason.

Many Ravens fans have expressed on social media that they want Flacco to play well … in a loss. Fans and Ravens players know that Flacco will go out chucking. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey played with Flacco for two years and has been burnt by Flacco's big arm in practice before.

"Joe can throw it," Humphrey said. "That's one thing; when Joe wants to throw the ball deep, he'll throw it deep. He's a guy that can make all the throws. So I think early on you have to limit what their core can do."

Once the game starts and the emotions settle, it's going to be Flacco vs. the Ravens defense. Once Flacco's initial emotions wane, Baltimore will be trying to rattle "Joe Cool" over the next 60 minutes. The Ravens know how competitive Flacco is, and know he'll be looking to win.

"I think he'll have a lot of feelings. This was home for Joe," Boyle said. "But I think every time he goes onto the field he's out there to compete and do his best."

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