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Change is coming for Joe Flacco, other longtime Ravens after AFC wild card loss

Change is coming for Joe Flacco, other longtime Ravens after AFC wild card loss

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.”

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Lamar Jackson stymies Seahawks' defense, runs wild in 30-16 road victory

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USA Today Sports Images

Lamar Jackson stymies Seahawks' defense, runs wild in 30-16 road victory

Lamar Jackson was incensed coming off the field at the end of the third quarter. 

His most reliable offensive weapon, Mark Andrews, had just dropped two passes, and Jackson’s rush on third down only left the Ravens with fourth and two. So coach John Harbaugh asked his quarterback if he wanted to go for it on 4th down. The answer was a definitive yes.

The offense trotted back onto the field and Jackson scored a touchdown on the ensuing conversion as the Ravens, from that fourth down on, ended the game on a 17-3 run to pull out a 30-16 victory against the Seahawks in Seattle.

“I decided to stay with the field goal, play it safe a little bit,” coach John Harbaugh explained. “He came off, you could just see it in his face. I asked him, ‘You want to go for it?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I wanna go for it.’ I was told that Marshal (Yanda) said, ‘If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it.’ I felt the same way. If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it, too.”

Jackson’s run on a quarterback power — and his confidence in the decision — inspired the rest of the team.

"I was just charged up,” Jackson said. “I was tired of not scoring."

But while the fourth down was where the game turned on its head, Baltimore’s next drive was its most impressive of the afternoon.

The Ravens, more specifically Jackson, drove 96 yards down the field on 13 plays and used nine minutes of game clock as a Justin Tucker field goal put the the team ahead by 10.

“He’s a competitor,” Harbaugh said. “This guy is a competitor of the Nth degree. I don’t know how to describe what a competitor Lamar Jackson is. He wants to win at everything all the time. We feed off that, he carries that. I think that’s who we are as a team, I think that’s why he fits us so well.”

On the following Seattle drive, Marlon Humphrey picked up a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown to put an exclamation point on the Ravens’ biggest win of the season

The Ravens defense played its best game of the season against the MVP favorite through six weeks of the season. 

Still, the story of the game was Jackson and his ability to seemingly drag the Ravens offense down the field by himself for first downs. 

“People just don’t really want to give Lamar the respect he deserves,” Humphrey said. “But what I saw today, I felt like football is a game of a lot of aggression, a lot of emotions. We had the little snap count infraction with our center, when I saw Lamar...I felt like from there, it was something different that came out of Lamar. That’s a quarterback I really like to see.”

Jackson finished with 116 yards rushing on 14 carries and 143 yards through the air. But while his passing numbers weren’t eye-popping, his runs were what extended the game and gave the Ravens a chance to win. 

In just his 15th career start, Jackson is rapidly growing into the quarterback the Ravens hoped they were getting they drafted him in 2018. And through seven games this year he’s on pace to place fifth all-time in total offense, with a projected 5,088 total yards. 

Jackson went into perhaps the toughest venue in the NFL and escaped with a convincing victory, a win in which no one will dispute who was the best player on the field. 

He’s also just 22-years old.

“We have yet to see the best of Lamar Jackson,” Peters said. “I don’t know how to stop him.”

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Ravens establish themselves as contenders with their biggest win of the season

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USA Today Sports Images

Ravens establish themselves as contenders with their biggest win of the season

The Ravens already have five wins this season, a total topped by just four other teams so far. At 5-2 with a two-and-a-half game lead in the AFC North, they’ve certainly enjoyed a strong start to the season.

As many fans and national pundits have been quick to point out, however, the Ravens’ first four wins didn’t come against the strongest level of competition.

You can only play the teams on your schedule, of course, but that didn’t make Baltimore’s 4-2 start any more impressive. Their first four wins came against the Dolphins (a threat to go 0-16), the Cardinals (worst record in the NFL last season), the Steelers (finished on their third-string QB) and the Bengals (also a threat to go 0-16). Two of those games even came at home.

Those teams are a combined 5-20-1. The Ravens entered Sunday having faced just one opponent with a winning record -- the Chiefs -- and they lost.

It was easy, and probably accurate, to point out the Ravens had yet to beat a good team this season. That statement may have been true before Sunday.

But not anymore.

The Seahawks entered Sunday’s game 5-1, looking like one of the NFC’s strongest contenders fresh off wins over preseason darlings Browns and Rams.

Russell Wilson has been something close to the consensus MVP in the NFL this season, throwing for 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions, all while leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.0).

Moreover, CenturyLink Field is notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL. Every Raven at the podium after the game mentioned how loud and difficult the atmosphere was. Lamar Jackson was beside himself after a red zone delay of game penalty caused by crowd noise.

It’s easy to see why the Seahawks rarely lose at home.

On top of all that, the Ravens are dealing with major injury issues. The secondary, having to face an elite quarterback, was without preseason starters Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and Tony Jefferson. The defense was also without its best linebacker, Patrick Onwuasor.

The offense, playing in poor weather conditions in the most difficult environment in football, was without the field-stretching Marquise Brown.

And yet, not only did the Ravens overcome these obstacles to win, but they did it with surprising ease. A few optimistic fans may have predicted a Ravens win, but no one expected it to come by two touchdowns.

This win was especially critical, considering the slate of games Baltimore has ahead. After the bye comes New England, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Buffalo sandwiched around a trip to Cincinnati. 

Those are five of the better teams in football, with very little chance to regain their breath. But Sunday’s victory shows that the Ravens actually can play with the cream of the crop around the league. 

Stop saying the Ravens haven’t beaten a good team yet this season. Now they have. And with it, they’ve announced themselves as contenders in the top-heavy AFC.

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