The Baltimore Ravens will face off against their past Sunday, when they open the season against the New York Jets.
Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2013, was named Jets starter at quarterback over the injured Zach Wilson.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh will be forever linked with Flacco, the team’s first draft pick in Harbaugh’s first year in Baltimore in 2008. Flacco, who was taken 18th overall, then needed a handful of seasons before leading the Ravens to their second title when he was named MVP of Super Bowl XLVII.
Flacco led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first five years in Baltimore, ultimately going 10-5 as a starter in six postseason trips.
But in 2018, Flacco injured his hip against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. It opened the door for then-rookie Lamar Jackson to become the starter. Jackson didn’t relinquish the spot, even when Flacco, the Ravens’ starter for the past 11 seasons, returned to health.
Flacco was traded to the Broncos in 2018, and after stints with the Jets (2020) and Eagles (2021), he signed a one-year, free-agent deal with the Jets this past March.
Flacco, who has never faced Baltimore, replaces Wilson, who returned to practice on Monday for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee that he sustained against the Eagles on Aug. 12.
Jets coach Robert Saleh said Wilson won’t return until a Week 4 game at Pittsburgh at the earliest, meaning Flacco will have an AFC North reunion tour considering the Jets face the Browns and the Bengals before facing the Steelers.
“We’re rolling with Joe,” Saleh said, adding Wilson won’t be placed on injured reserve. “He’s been preparing. He’s frickin’ awesome. I’m really excited for him and his opportunity. Even at 37, I know that it’s in the back of his head. He’s getting the chance to play Baltimore and all these different things.”
In two seasons with New York, Flacco has played in seven games, including five starts, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,202 yards, nine TD passes and three interceptions.
But Flacco has lost seven straight starts – all five with the Jets and the last two with the Broncos – and hasn’t won as a starter since leading the Broncos over the Titans 16-0 on Oct. 13, 2019.
“We have to defend their offense, and Joe’s ability to play in that offense, and that’s really what we’re looking at,” Harbaugh said. “We talked about it (and) anticipated that Joe would be the guy.”
On Sunday, Flacco will get a showdown with the QB who replaced him in Baltimore. Jackson, the NFL MVP in 2019, will make his much-anticipated return to the lineup since missing the final four games last season following a bone bruise in his right ankle in a Week 13 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
“I’m not going against (Flacco), the defense is,” Jackson said. “I’m going against the Jets’ defense, but he meant a lot (to me).”
The Ravens, who were 8-5 through 13 games, lost their final four games with Tyler Huntley under center and finished 8-9. They missed the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
Jackson completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,882 yards with 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions last season. That was in addition to rushing for 767 yards and two scores on 133 carries, but he missed out on gaining 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in three seasons.
Jackson might not be the only Ravens’ starter returning from injury.
Ronnie Stanley, the team’s All-Pro left tackle who hasn’t played since having ankle surgery after a Week 1 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders last season, returned to practice for the first time on Monday. He was limited Wednesday and is expected to be a game-time decision.
Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons, with the Ravens finishing in last place in the AFC North and the Jets dropping five of their last six games to finish 4-13 and in last place in the AFC East.
–Field Level Media