The season is over for the Baltimore Ravens because they struggled to find offense until it was too late in a 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. From start to finish, the Ravens stuck with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, while former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco watched from the sideline.
In the first half of the Wild Card matchup, Jackson was unquestionably awful. He completed just two of his eight pass attempts for 17 yards. He rushed for 31 yards, but fumbled twice, and one of his throws was deflected into the air and intercepted by Chargers safety Adrian Phillips.
The horrible start for the Ravens offense put them in a 12-0 hole at halftime. By the time Jackson finally got going in the fourth quarter, Baltimore was facing a 20-point deficit. He threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to help quiet calls from fans for Flacco to enter the game.
Then he got the Ravens in position for another touchdown by pulling off a play that Flacco never could’ve dreamed of making.
But a fumble for Jackson in the final minute of the game — his third of the day — ended what could’ve been a game-winning drive for the Ravens. It sealed the deal for the Chargers, and ended Baltimore’s year.
So on the surface, it made sense earlier in the game that Ravens fans wanted the team to turn to Flacco — an 11-year veteran who led the team to postseason magic six years ago. The 33-year-old quarterback has 15 postseason starts with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
But the Ravens made the right call for their by sticking with Jackson.
Flacco wasn’t going to rescue the Ravens
The veteran lost the starting job after he suffered an injury in Week 9. The team was just 4-5 at the time Jackson took over, and Flacco had four touchdowns and four interceptions in his last five games.
The Ravens found new life with the rookie at the helm, and climbed into the postseason with six wins in their last seven games. They got there by leaning on a running game that was complemented by Jackson’s rushing ability. Flacco doesn’t have that.
When Ravens fans started chanting for Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith reportedly reminded them of that fact. The CBS broadcast said Smith told fans that No. 8 is the reason they’re in the playoffs in the first place.
To pull off a comeback, Flacco would’ve needed to find success throwing the ball with a subpar receiving corps against a defense that finished the 2018 season No. 8 in points allowed and No. 9 in passing yards allowed.
The decision to play the veteran would have been lauded as a smart move if the Ravens came back to win, and justifiably so. But the question is whether it’s smart to undermine the team’s 21-year-old future of the franchise — especially if it proved to be a futile attempt.
It’s also worth questioning if the Ravens’ best chance at a comeback was turning to Flacco, or if it was better to hope Jackson could shake off his struggles and get back on track. After all, Jackson’s combination of rushing and throwing ability was the reason the Ravens scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Both Harbaugh and Flacco said that late surge showed Jackson deserved some credit:
HC John Harbaugh said that he considered Joe Flacco, but wouldn’t go into the details. He ultimately stuck with Lamar Jackson: “I don’t think Joe would’ve played any better than Lamar did in the last few minutes. So, give Lamar some credit.” #Ravens pic.twitter.com/hlUDVmzBF6— Kyle J. Andrews (@KyleJAndrews_) January 6, 2019
Joe Flacco on if he could've made a different in the game: "No, no, you can't even go there, man. I thought Lamar did a great job of just hanging in there. You know, he gave us a chance at the end."— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) January 6, 2019
Jackson is the future, not Flacco
Putting in Flacco would’ve been a regrettable decision if it didn’t work. Flacco will likely be on a new team in 2019 — whether that’s via trade, or a release that would save the Ravens $10.5 million in cap space. Ravens coach John Harbaugh essentially confirmed as much after the game.
John Harbaugh on Joe Flacco: “Joe can still play... Joe’s going to have a market, a lot of teams are going to want Joe. ... Joe Flacco is a great talent, he’s a better person, he’s the best QB in the history of the Ravens... he’s going to be just fine.”— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 6, 2019
Would it have been worth it for the Ravens to pin their hopes on a player who won’t be a part of the team much longer?
The consequence likely would’ve been an offseason of questions about who the team’s quarterback will be moving forward, or why they chose not to trust the one they’re playing with in 2019.
The question now is why the Ravens only threw nine passes in the first three quarter, and chose not to trust Jackson as anything more than a runner until it was too late.
Putting in Flacco would’ve been a roll of the dice that probably wouldn’t have worked for Baltimore.