Baltimore Ravens

John Harbaugh staying attached to Joe Flacco right to bitter end

Joe Flacco is banged up, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh seems set to remain married to his quarterback.

The Baltimore Ravens went into their bye week on a three-game losing streak, so the break came at a good time. A hip injury surfaced for Joe Flacco during the idle week, which has brought a possible switch to Lamar Jackson under center into the conversation. Then on Sunday, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens are headed for a mutual parting of ways after the season.

Harbaugh was hired as Ravens head coach heading into the 2008 season, and Flacco was drafted that April. The relationship was successful right from the start, with an 11-5 regular season record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game with a rookie Flacco starting every game.

Four more playoff berths and three more double-digit win seasons followed, culminating in a win over Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco finished his contract year by winning Super Bowl MVP, and he cashed in nicely.

The results have not been the same since that Super Bowl run, with only one playoff berth and two winning records for the Ravens from 2013-17 to go with a 4-5 mark so far this season. Harbaugh has been on the periphery of hot seat talk, and Flacco turned back into a middle of the road quarterback as he has started every game besides the six he missed with a torn ACL in 2015.

In line with Baltimore’s downturn this year, Flacco’s play has dropped off after a solid start. Now he’s hurt, and a hip injury stands to render him even more immobile. Heading into Sunday’s game against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, Harbaugh is committed to not fully answering who his starting quarterback will be.

“I don’t know who’s going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll prepare all the [quarterbacks] to whatever degree we think we need to, in terms of what the plan is.”

In talking about Flacco more specifically, Harbaugh’s comments are telling.

If Joe can play, he’ll play,” “And he’s rehabbing to play. Joe does not have to practice to play. He’s practiced the whole season. He’s practiced for 11 years. But he might practice.”

Not having to practice to play is hardly a new concept in regard to a veteran quarterback. But most of the time a significant injury is not involved, and Flacco’s hip is bad enough that he was on crutches during the bye week.

The Ravens are heading into a must-win game this week, against a similarly reeling Bengals squad that’s also clinging to playoff hopes. Using a quarterback that will surely be operating at less than 100 percent, even against a horrible defense, doesn’t feel like the start of a winning formula.

Jackson was drafted to be Flacco’s successor, and the Ravens can get out of that previously mentioned bloated contract with far less financial consequence for the first time after the season. Any similarity to the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes dynamic in Kansas City last year and the motivated sugar-high in Flacco’s play has faded, possibly due to the hip injury if the root of it goes back beyond Week 9.

Next: NFL Quarterback Rankings: Week 11

Harbaugh and Flacco have had a lot of success together, and that can’t be taken away. But as a new era gets set to dawn in Baltimore, the second-longest head coach-quarterback marriage in the league will remain right to the bitter end if the head coach has any say in the matter.

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