A couple of years ago, late in the fourth quarter of a meaningless NFL game, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ruined his knee.
It seemed pretty routine as far as NFL knee injuries go. Flacco even played the last few plays of the game after the injury occurred; a sign that he had no idea what the severity of the injury was. After Flacco was sidelined, the rest of the Ravens’ 2015 season became a laughable exercise of quarterback retreads bumbling through the mechanics of the “offense”, which was tempered in the eyes of most fans as a temporary condition as long as Flacco would be back. The Ravens faithful made it through the eyesores of quarterbacks Matt Schaub, Jimmy Claussen and eventually current backup Ryan Mallett with a healthy dose of optimism, alcohol and the steadfast belief that Flacco wasn’t nearly as bad as the aforementioned cast of retreads. After all, the reasoning went, this guy’s won a Super Bowl, and before the injury had been one of the most durable players in the league. To be fair, Flacco was better, both statistically and certainly by the “eye test”, as he seemed more confident and decisive in the pocket than any of his fill-ins had been.
In 2016, Flacco came back, presumably healthy and ready to contribute. He looked slow and tentative, but, fans decided, this was to be expected from a guy that perhaps didn’t have full confidence in his repaired knee yet. He’ll get better the more he plays, they concluded. He just needs more protection, they stated. For whatever reason, Flacco posted the worst numbers of his career in 2016, although the specter of Ryan Mallett as a replacement certainly isn’t going to give any incumbent reason to be concerned about job security, no matter how poorly one may play.
Then came this year.
Lest we be reminded, Flacco missed the entire 2017 training camp with a hastily-announced and little-documented back injury. Since his return, he’s looked more tentative, indecisive and inaccurate than at any point in his career. His progressions and reads, never a premier feature of his game, are limited to his first and second options, which is okay if those options are superlative players.
With this team, they most certainly are not.
It should be noted that Flacco’s offensive line, due to a rash of injuries and front office bungling, is a shambles. He’s had little time to throw the ball, let alone on target. His terrible habit of throwing off his back foot – a hallmark of his career – has been exacerbated by the fact that he can’t find anyone to throw to. He’s thrown interceptions in 11 consecutive games, which is the NFL’s longest current streak of ineptitude at the position, because he no longer plants his foot to deliver his throws.
Seemingly every questionable Flacco movement in the pocket; every throw sailing high, wide, or in the turf; every bit of quarterback “bad behavior” is on vivid, neon-tinged display this year. The other guys, those 2015 fill-ins? They’re starting to look a little better in hindsight, as Flacco is hemorrhaging fans and supporters by the thousands every week. With the possible exception of his 2012 postseason run, his game never exactly filled fans with elation or confidence, but it was always deemed “good enough” by his apologists – of which there used to be many, if only out of team affiliation and tribalism.
As most longtime fans know, there’s always a breaking point – that moment when a player simply cannot meet the expectations of the job or deliver on the contract they signed in good faith. Given the outlandish size of Flacco’s contract, it’s pretty safe to say that that moment has come and gone – and then some. His comedic outings this year have resulted in two underwhelming wins and two gruesome losses, and Flacco has looked like an NFL-caliber quarterback in exactly none of them. “He gets no support from his skill players!” exclaim his dwindling supporters, and while there’s some merit to that suggestion, starting quarterbacks are called upon to improvise, to analyze, and to find creative ways to ensure their team’s success.
Flacco is incapable of those things, and he’s become incapable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
What can be done? Probably not much. Starting Mallett, while a real possibility, accomplishes nothing, because, as stated above, he’s not going to be any better, having squandered several previous attempts to start in other cities. There are no suitable replacements that can be obtained from around the league, unless the Ravens wish to further rile up their fanbase by signing political lightning rod Colin Kaepernick. There’s also the matter of Flacco’s contract, which averages $22 million per year, with no “out” for the organization until 2020 unless they want to seriously hamper their salary cap room…which may have to be a consideration if this obvious downward slide continues.
Would Flacco retire? Doubtful. With his ridiculous earning potential, why would he? Most quarterbacks feel they’re as good as the next game, so until Flacco comes to the conclusion the rest of us have and recognizes his unfitness, he’s not going anywhere. Not so coincidentally, neither is his team.
No; the only silver lining is that the Ravens will undoubtedly have a top-three draft position in 2018, so a blue-chip quarterback prospect is a real possibility. That’s the ideal scenario, because it would allow the Ravens to let the rookie sit and observe what not to do at the position before committing to a brighter future, Flacco’s ridiculous contract notwithstanding.
But for now, we’re got Joe. Old, broken, directionless Joe. Joe, who’s soured the good quarterback name of Joe for the rest of us forever.
I’ve seen enough. So have most Ravens fans. It’s just no fun anymore, even with a sense of the absurd.
Just go, Joe.