BALTIMORE — They chanted his name one last time from the upper reaches of M&T Bank Stadium in desperation more than adoration.
“Flacco! Flacco!” came the cry as Baltimore Ravens fans searched for the old magic with their team down 20-3 in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s AFC wild card game against the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s been gone a long time now.
Playing in its first playoff game since 2014, Baltimore could have turned to longtime starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Rookie Lamar Jackson had struggled through a miserable first half, plagued by turnovers, and nothing changed in the third quarter. But it wasn’t to be.
The 2013 Super Bowl MVP, “the best quarterback in Ravens history,” according to coach John Harbaugh, “the rock of our franchise,” said guard Marshal Yanda, watched the final, futile comeback on the bench wearing a Ravens beanie, not a helmet, in a season-ending 23-17 loss. His 11-year career with Baltimore is over.
“I love the people of Baltimore, man. It’s been 11 years,” Flacco said. “You come in, you feel one way and you don’t know what to expect. The people warm to you. You warm to the people.”
Flacco, 33, has three years left on a contract extension he signed in 2016, but Jackson is the quarterback of the future. Harbaugh made that clear in his press conference after the game. It is time to move on. And it like won’t just be Flacco leaving.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, 36, is an unrestricted free agent and will likely be elsewhere in 2019. He’s played for the Ravens since 2003, an incredible 15 years in one place filled with moments of pure joy and painful tribulations. He has 132.5 career sacks and goes down with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis as a franchise legend. During his time Baltimore won a Super Bowl, reached the AFC title game twice and had just three losing seasons.
“I would love to be a Raven for life,” Suggs said. “I’m healthy and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between now and March”
Safety Eric Weddle has only been in Baltimore for three years, but he was wistful as he spoke of his time with the organization. He, too, could become a free agent with just one year left on his contract and an uncertain future. He quickly became a key part of a defense that recovered some of its old swaggering identity.
“I was just telling the guys in the second half ‘Look, we don’t know what’s going to happen,’” Weddle said. “’This moment, this team, this defense, it might be the last time we play together. Let’s give it our all for each other and really give ourselves a proud moment.’’
That happened. Down 20-3, Jackson finally settled down and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to wide receiver Michael Crabtree to cut the lead to 23-17. The Ravens even got the ball back with 45 seconds to go and pushed it to their own 47 with a miracle comeback in sight. But not before the turnover bug struck again. Jackson was stripped by Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and the game and season were over.
“Lamar is our quarterback going forward – no question about that,” a blunt Harbaugh said. “Joe Flacco is going to play really well in this league. Joe can still play. We saw that in the first half of this season. Joe’s going to have a market.”
And how about Harbaugh himself? His time in Baltimore seemed done at midseason with the Ravens scuffling at 4-5 and a playoff berth a long shot. But they went 6-1 down the stretch to clinch to the AFC North. The switch to Jackson was a big part of that.
Harbaugh’s 11-year tenure appeared winding to a conclusion with just one year left on his contract. That now seems likely to be extended. The front office and ownership have hinted as much during this hot streak. Harbaugh is confident this is where he’ll continue to coach - but not absolutely certain.
“There’s a bible verse that says ‘Make no oath,’” Harbaugh said. “No one can saw what tomorrow is going to bring other than God willing – Deo Volente. Those are the only two Latin words I know, but the two most important.”
Even general manager Ozzie Newsome is moving to another role with the organization. That was announced last February. His longtime lieutenant Eric DeCosta will take over as GM.
Newsome, 62, has held that role since 1996 when the Ravens arrived from Cleveland. He built two Super Bowl champions (2000, 2012) and his teams won five AFC North titles with 11 playoff appearances. Harbaugh called Newsome “a Hall of Fame GM” to go with his credentials as a Hall of Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns.
And so even with their first playoff appearance since 2014, changes are coming. Flacco, whose massive contract extension after the Super Bowl win often drew the ire of the Baltimore fanbase when his production lagged, drew warm applause as he left the field for the final time.
“Every ending is a beginning,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said the entire coaching staff discussed the idea but was in agreement that Flacco would not replace Jackson even when Sunday’s game got out of hand. Flacco said he understood. It will be weird, players and coaches said, not seeing Flacco and his wife, Dana, and their five children around the team.
“This place became my home and my children’s home,” Flacco said. “Just how many life changes I went through and how much we won here. I’m not from too far up the road [in suburban Philadelphia and the University of Delaware]. People from here are a lot like the people I grew up with. It’s definitely a group of fans and a community that I loved to be around for 11 years.”
MORE RAVENS NEWS:
- Still See a Future: Despite uneven performance, Ravens confident in Jackson
- Where's Flacco: Should veteran have played vs. Chargers?
- Season comeback: How the Ravens turned it around